They’re known as the monuments of cycling. For enthusiasts of European road cycling, they represent the pinnacle of achievement, constituting the sport’s greatest single day races. The Spring Classics captures the glory of these contests – some of them over a hundred years old – in an exceptional photographic volume.
The majority of the book focuses on the six most ancient races, including Milan-San Remo – also known as the Primavera and the traditional beginning of hostilities each year – as well as the Tour of Lombardy – or the Classic of the Falling Leaves, which closes the racing season in the fall. The other classics wait for spring to arrive in the higher latitudes, but are equally venerated, including the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Paris-Tours and Liège-Bastogne-Liège – the eldest of the group, celebrating its 120th birthday this year.
The book also includes a collection of lesser classics – some of them younger but still of fine pedigree and others that are no longer with us. Most notable of the latter group was Bordeaux-Paris, which was over 700km on occasion and allowed for the use of motorized bicycles for drafting support.
Starting with an introduction by former rider and current commentator Paul Sherwen, the book is separated into chapters that include a few pages of prose about each race by Philippe Bouvet and a handful of other cycling historians. However, most of the book is devoted to hundreds of photographs that capture various moments of spectacle or beauty over the past century of racing.
The photography is truly spectacular, capturing so much of what is special about these races – the picturesque countryside, the quaint medieval towns, the ancient cobbled roads and the robust, maniacal and usually mud streaked competitors who show up every year to try their luck. The superstars like Merckx, Hinault and Moser get plenty of attention, but many other riders are included as well.
It’s hard not to be superficial when summarizing over 1000 races in a few pages and it’s also hard to compete with large full-spread action photography, but the prose sections provide some interesting historical context as well as some infectious enthusiasm. In addition, each picture comes with a year of origin as well as some well researched details that don’t simply repeat the text.
For trivia buffs, the top three finishers for every race are included in an appendix, revealing how few interruptions have occurred despite the inconvenience of a couple World Wars. One amazing picture from the spring of 1918 shows Costante Girardengo riding to eventual victory in San Remo on a snow covered road accompanied by an armored truck.
The combination of great photography – both old and new – with informative prose and captions, backed up by extensive research makes The Spring Classics a thoroughly entertaining adventure for this cycling enthusiast, giving me the overwhelming urge to find a way to be in Belgium and northern France this April.
Other driftless cycling reviews:
We Might As Well Win -- Johan Bruyneel
Bicycle Diaries -- David Byrne
The Lost Cyclist -- David Herlihy
Bobke II -- Bob Roll
A Dog in a Hat -- Joe Parkin
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