Spring is not too far away, and in the cycling calendar that means Classics.
The Hell of the North, La Classicissima, Vlaanderens Mooiste, the Walloon Arrow and La Doyenne provide some of the harshest conditions and deliver some of the most exciting racing of the year.
The Grand Tours over three weeks through Italy, France and Spain are the greatest prizes in bike racing. For pure drama, excitement and guts, however, the roster of one-day Spring Classics takes some beating and are the best racing of the whole year for many people.
The Classics include events in Italy, France and The Netherlands, but it is Belgium that is the heart and soul of spring racing. And it's not just the pros who can test themselves. Almost all of the red letter days of the spring season have sportive versions to allow the amateur to suffer on the same roads as the biggest names of the sport.
Let's start at the beginning.
There is no cast-iron definition of a Spring Classic, but the generally accepted list is Milan-San Remo, the four Cobbled Classics and the three Ardennes Classics for eight in total.
2016 Spring Classic Calendar and Sportives
19 March 2016: Milan - San Remo, Italy
19 March 2016: Granfondo San Remo-San Remo
The Cobbled Classics
25 March 2016: E3 Harelbeke, Belgium
26 March 2016: Gent-Wevelgem Cyclo
27 March 2016: Gent-Wevelgem, Belgium
2 April 2016: Tour of Flanders Cyclo
3 April 2016: Tour of Flanders, Belgium
9 April 2016: Paris-Roubaix Challenge
10 April 2016: Paris-Roubaix, France
The Ardennes Classics
16 April 2016: Tourversion Amstel Gold Race
17 April 2016: Amstel Gold Race, Netherlands
20 April 2016: La Fleche Wallonne, Belgium
23 April 2016: Liège-Bastogne-Liège Challenge
24 April 2016: Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Belgium
5 June 2016: Granfondo MILAN - SAN REMO Cicloturistica
The outlier in Italy, Milan-San Remo, is known as the Sprinters' Classic, La Primavera (the spring) or La Classicissima. Dating back to 1907, it is the pros' longest one-day race at 300km.
For the amateur there are two ways to experience it. The day after the race itself (20 March), the 120km Granfondo San Remo-San Remo runs over the same roads as Milan-San Remo for the last 30km with an uphill finish on the Poggio di Sanremo.
Just over two months later on June 5, Granfondo MILAN - SAN REMO Cicloturistica follows the famous profile of the complete 300km route of the Classic from Milan down to the coast with just a couple of minor adjustments at the start and finish.
The Cobbled Classics
On the last Friday in March, things really kick off with E3 Harelbeke. Won five times by Tom Boonen, E3 only started in 1958, but is now firmly entrenched as the start of an action-packed four weeks of racing. E3 covers many of the same hills as the Tour of Flanders nine days later and is often seen as a dress rehearsal for De Ronde.
Two days later comes Gent-Wevelgem. Though a Cobbled Classic, Gent-Wevelgem has fewer bumpy bits than the others in the category and the relative lack of hills favours the sprinters. It does, however, have the famous Kemmelberg, which is tackled twice, hits 23%, and is cobbled and technical - up and down. It also often has particularly bad early season weather.
If all that appeals, the day before the main event the Gent-Wevelgem Cyclo offers four routes of between 60km and 220km for the grand price of €10.
It all combines for a great long weekend, with the Cyclo sandwiched between watching the pros at E3 Harelbeke on the Friday and Gent-Wevelgem on the Sunday.
The biggest day of the Flemish cycling calendar falls a week later as the Ronde van Vlaanderen, or Tour of Flanders takes centre stage.
2016 is the 100th running of the event. The modern race starts in Bruges and finishes in Oudenaarde after a looping finish that takes the riders over the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg climbs twice.
On April 2 this year, the Tour of Flanders Cyclo is run the day before the pros battle with options of 237km, 127km and 71km and no shortage of cobbles.
Not one for those afraid of crowds, each year 16,000 riders pony up between €20 and €50 to test themselves on the Molenberg, Koppenberg, Taaienberg (aka Boonenberg), Paterberg and, of course, the Oude Kwaremont, the longest paved climb in Belgium.
All the courses end in Oudenaarde. The shorter distances also start there. The long course starts in Bruges with riders' kit transported to the finish.
Read more: Tips for first-time Flandriens
Farewell to the Classics: Riding the 2015 Tour of Flanders
The encore to the Ronde is France's contribution to the Spring sufferfest — Paris-Roubaix.
La Reine (Queen of the Classics) or l'Enfer du Nord/The Hell of the North is perhaps the best known of the Spring Classics in the English-speaking cycling world and has spawned a multitude of tribute events across the globe.
The Paris-Roubaix Challenge on April 9, the day before the main event, gives the ordinary rider the opportunity to bounce over the same pavé as the professional peloton.
All three routes finish in the famous Roubaix velodrome. The shorter courses also start there, with the 170km challenge running from Busigny.
2015 saw a sell out thanks to a British invasion providing over a third of the 4,500 participants.
The full 163km course includes a hand-numbing 52.5 km of the cobbles in 27 separate sections. 139km riders had 18 sectors of the rough stuff, while those choosing the 70km option still got to experience seven sectors before heading for the velodrome's legendary showers.
Read Josh Mott's ride report from the 2014 Paris-Roubaix sportive
The Ardennes Classics
The Ardennes Classics have a different flavour than their Cobbled neighbours, but don't be fooled into thinking they are easier. They just package the pain slightly differently.
Amstel Gold Race
From Roubaix the action switches first to the Netherlands, with the Amstel Gold Race the following Sunday marking the start of the Ardennes Classics (despite it not being in the Ardennes).
The biggest bike race in the Netherlands dates to 1966 and the route looks as though the organisers have enjoyed too much of the sponsor's output, with a course that twists and turns crazily to take in dozens of climbs before ending with a final turn up the Cauberg.
For €40, 12,000 amateurs can ride the same route in the Tourversion Amstel Gold Race. There are six rides from 60km to 240km from which to choose. All start in Valkenberg and finish on the Cauberg.
La Fleche Wallonne
Next, it's back to Belgium for the mid-week running of La Fleche Wallonne (The Walloon Arrow) on 20 April.
The race heads east from Charleroi to Huy before completing three laps of a brutal circuit that includes the Mur de Huy, which tops out as 26%.
Finally, Liege-Bastogne-Liege caps the Spring Classics season on 24 April.
L-B-L was first raced in 1892, hence the nickname of La Doyenne (the oldest/old lady). The course is adjusted every year, but is always long and is never flat for long as it winds south from industrial Liege to Bastogne and back. Crucial climbs of the Côte de La Redoute, Roche-aux-Faucons and Saint Nicolas just before the finish often decide the outcome as riders hit them with just the 250km or more already in the legs.
The Liege-Bastogne-Liege Challenge 24 hours before La Doyenne allows you to do the full 273km (with circa 4500m of climbing) or throttle back to 156km (2647m) or 75km (1250m). All routes start and finish in Liege and cost between €20 and €55.
Read Rob Wakefield's account of riding Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2015
There are a multitude of options for getting to the Spring Classics and collecting a cache of tales to tell on group rides for years to come. "Call this road bad? Did I ever tell you about riding the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix?"
The basic choice is between self-organised and a package. Race entry, accommodation, travel and even bike rental can all be booked with an internet connection and a credit card, or you can write a cheque and leave everything to the professionals.
In no way an exhaustive list here, in no particular order, are five tours that will put you on the cobbles of Belgium. Prices do not include flights/transport.
Bike Belgium offer packages covering all the big events and starts off the season with its four-day Gent-Wevelgem offering from March 20 to March 24.
"Experience some of the best roads Flanders has to offer ... Feel the bone-chilling rain, piercing cross-winds, and roll over the chocolate-brown mud. You will know you are in Belgium in the spring."
It costs $1,900 (£1,312).
"Ride with and watch the best cyclists in the world in action all guided by George Hincapie and Christian Vande Velde, who have a combined 20 years of Tour of Flanders experience."
With two ex-pros guiding you, the Tour of Flanders package from March 31 to April 5 will give you insight on how the very best in the world tackle the Spring Classics as well as a ton of complimentary kit and top-notch food to fuel the experience from Chef Matthew Accarriono.
Friday sees a taster ride on the key climbs of the Tour of Flanders before the Cyclo on Saturday, and great seats on the Oude Kwaremont to watch the Tour itself the next day. There is just time for a Paris-Roubaix recon ride on Monday starting at the legendary Forest of Arenberg before departing on Tuesday.
The price is $8,000 (£5,523).
Carmichael Training Systems
CTS's Tour of Flanders Experience is already sold out for 2016, but the Paris-Roubaix option from April 7 to April 12 covers much of the same ground, literally, with the final ride of the tour over the last 150km of the Tour of Flanders course.
Before then you will warm up on 8 April 8 tackle the main event of the Paris-Roubaix Challenge alongside Chris Carmichael on April 9 and watch the pros the following day.
The cost is $6,000 (£4,143).
Cycling Camp San Diego (CCSD)
CCSD is offering eight and 12 day options for its Ardennes Spring Classics Cycling Tour covering all three races — Amstel Gold, La Flèche Wallonne and L-B-L. Entry is included for the Amstel Racetour and L-B-L Challenge and a local sportive/gran fondo over the Flèche's roads.
"This is one of our favorite tours, with spectacular cycling and a chance to experience the passion of Belgian cycle racing. Even those who don't usually follow racing can't help but get swept away in the excitement of the race and the fever of the crowds."
12 days, April 14 - 25, $3,795 (£2,621)
8 days, April 18 - 25, $2,795 (£1,930)
Velo Classic Tours
'"If you want to see a sporting event, go to the Tour de France. If you want to see a bike race, go to the Tour of Flanders." Such are the words of the Flandrians, and a sentiment shared by us.'
Velo Classic offer a range of packages covering all the big weekends as well as offering trips over the same roads and climbs in June and July when the weather will (probably) be better.
The Liege-Bastogne-Liege Experience runs from April 18 to April 25 and costs $4,995.
"If the Tour of Flanders is in your heart and Paris-Roubaix is in your head, then Liege-Bastogne-Liege is a race that is in your legs."
Closer to home?
If a trip to to the land of Trappist Ales, mud, muurs and bergs is not possible a raft of events has grown up in tribute to the Spring Classics everywhere cycling is a thing, including here in the UK.
You too can live out your Flemish fantasies - look out for our guide to Classics-inspired sportives in the UK, coming soon.