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Peter Cossins has updated The Monuments, his 2014 account of cycling's most famous one-day races. This new edition colours in the nine years since, in the same informative and illuminating style in which he brought to life these five pillars of the modern cycling landscape. Whether you're into bomb-shelled France, freezing Milan, the leaves of Lombardy, the grey grit of Liège, or the beer-soaked chaos of Flanders – it's all covered here.
Around 50 monuments, give or take some Covid cancellations, have taken place since The Monuments was first published back in 2014, and in that time the races themselves and the riders who win them have evolved, so an updated edition very much makes sense.
Dan Kenyon heaped praise on Cossins' ability to bring the history of these great races to life previously and his review gives you a good idea of the book's structure.
Having soaked up much of the early history of Liège from the opening of the book, it's nice to approach the threshold of the updated section alongside Dan Martin, who triumphed at Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2013, while being pursued by a giant panda – okay, so perhaps it wasn't a real one...
There has certainly been a change in the way L-B-L has been raced in recent years, but rather than attribute this solely to course changes, Cossins senses a broader change in rider attitudes, with the new generation of fearless attaquers more than happy to throw caution to the wind.
Cossins is particularly strong when unpicking the limitations and shortcomings of these Monuments. Despite their grandiose collective name, these races are far from perfect, and have all in their time – maybe as part exchange for the bountiful excitement – inflicted hours and hours of boredom on spectators and riders. Liège, probably the least aesthetically pleasing of them all, is no different, with opinion veering between mesmerising chess match and dull six-hour preamble.
While tradition is at the beating heart of these races, Cossins demonstrates how it is their ability to change and evolve that has both defined them and guaranteed their survival. Whether it's Liège binning off two famous climbs to incorporate a new finish line, Lombardy perhaps tinkering with its route a little too much, or Roubaix organisers going in search of fresh hellish pavé, these races simply cannot stay still.
In what is an eminently readable book, there is one significant flaw, which is most glaring in the Paris-Roubaix section. Cossins seems totally uninterested in the machines these guys are riding. As anyone who follows the sport will know, bikes, kit, and tech are inseparable from the symphony of the race itself.
For Paris-Roubaix, developments in technology make almost as many headlines as the riders themselves before the start of The Hell of the North. I spied one mention of the RockShox suspension forks used by Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle in 1992, but other than that, you'd be forgiven for thinking every rider had lined up on a velocipede that hadn't evolved since the dawn of time.
Off the top of my head, some discussion of the movement from tubular to tubeless tyres, and now tubeless with foam liners, would have been an interesting bit of background – especially alongside some discussion of Sonny Colbrelli riding to victory with essentially flat tyres in 2021. Perhaps it just isn't an area that interests Cossins.
One unavoidable mention of tech does crop up in the Milan-Sanremo section, where we get an in-depth commentary of Matej Mohorič's use of a dropper post to descend to victory in 2022, but as it defined the entire outcome of the race, you'd be hard pressed to leave it out! Equally, there are a few moments where I'd be keen to know whether prize money of 700 lire in [insert historical date here] buys you an entire villa or merely a bowl of vermicelli.
Alongside The Tour of Lombardy – or Il Lombardia – Milan-Sanremo is the second Italian monument and also one of the longest, sometimes straying beyond 300km. This most glamorous of all the showpiece events takes riders from the often-snowy chill of springtime Milan, over the Ligurian Apenines, and into the hopefully fairer climes of Sanremo, which lies just east of Nice and Monaco. Nothing can quite compete with Roubaix for the impact of the weather on a race's outcome, but Cossins goes through some savage days on the bike where having to pass through the 532m Turchino Pass throws Milan-Sanremo into snowy disarray.
In the years since 2013, many different types of riders have triumphed at Sanremo. Cossins stresses that, as with Liège, it's a race of fine margins that can be decided by tiny misjudgements. The climbs and, vitally, the descents, that arrive just before the line often provide a platform for victory – but the race also attracts its fair share of sprint finishes.
In the end, we will only continue to watch and find interest in these monuments if non-favourites are still able to win. Cossins' attention to detail helps to demonstrate when organisers have been successful in striking this balance, and when they have slightly failed. Much as it can be thrilling to watch Van der Poel steamroller the World Championships, knowing that an outsider can triumph from sheer nous is essential, and Cossins certainly sees this in his cataloguing of Milan-Sanremo down the years.
To my mind, classics mean cobbles – and the cobbles of both Roubaix and Flanders have come under threat frequently during their lifespan. Cossins details a pretty spectacular April fools gag from Belgian paper Het Nieuwsblad in 1997 that prompted a thousand fans and the mayor of a local town to protest against the fictitious resurfacing of the treasured cobbles. It's a kind of passion that we can't really replicate in the UK.
Cossins is certainly keen to emphasise this maelstrom of national fervour that whips through Belgium during the Tour of Flanders. In that sense, it really does sit above its fellow monuments. None of the others can compete with the carnivalesque football terraces that spring up on these damp spring days in Flanders fields.
The individual climbs of Flanders probably elicit more emotion and raw passion than any of the other monuments' ascents. So the re-routing in 2012, which created a logistically simple race circuit and a welcome opportunity for the organisers to maximise hospitality revenue, caused a colossal rupture, with some fans even staging a mock funeral for the race – complete with coffin!
Throughout the book, Cossins takes care to mention actual fatalities that have occurred during the racing – refrains that are hauntingly frequent. With the recent passing of Gino Mäder in the Tour de Suisse, it's a sobering reminder of how this sport of ours goes beyond the difficult and into the realm of the heartbreaking.
In this new edition of The Monuments, the rundown of the last nine years' races indicates the unavoidable ascendancy of a certain Mathieu van der Poel, who we are witnessing – along with Tadej Pogačar – receive the torch from Fabian Cancellara, Vincenzo Nibali, Tom Boonen and Alejandro Valverde as the modern despots of the monuments.
Brilliant as Pog and VdP are, Cossins' book does a fine job of reminding us that the Monuments, historically, are nothing like flat-track horse races. You may well be the favourite, but what lies between any rider and victory in one of these five utterly bewildering events, is an infinite array of calamity, skulduggery and the downright unforeseeable. Those who can repeatedly overcome this kaleidoscope of pitfalls very much deserve the greatness bestowed upon them.
An eloquent and flowing history of cycling's most famous one-day races that misses very little
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road.cc test report
Make and model: The Monuments - The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races by Peter Cossins
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The Monuments 2nd edition: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Paperback)
An awe-inspiring history of the five most legendary "classic" races in world cycling.
The Tour de France may provide the most obvious fame and glory, but it is cycling's one-day tests that the professional riders really prize. Toughest, longest and dirtiest of all are the so-called 'Monuments', the five legendary races that are the sport's equivalent of golf's majors or the grand slams in tennis.
Milan-Sanremo, the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tour of Lombardy date back more than a century, and each of them is an anomaly in modern-day sport, the cycling equivalent of the Monaco Grand Prix. Time has changed them to a degree, but they remain as brutally testing as they ever have been.
They provide the sport's outstanding one-day performers with a chance to measure themselves against each other and their predecessors in the most challenging tests in world cycling. From the bone-shattering bowler-hat cobbles of the Paris-Roubaix to the insanely steep hellingen in the Tour of Flanders, each race is as unique as the riders who push themselves through extreme exhaustion to win them and enter their epic history. O
ver the course of a century, only Rik Van Looy, Eddy Merckx and Roger De Vlaeminck have won all five races. Yet victory in a single edition of a Monument guarantees a rider lasting fame. For some, that one victory has even more cachet than success in a grand tour.
Each of the Monuments has a fascinating history, featuring tales of the finest and largest characters in the sport. In this updated edition of The Monuments Peter Cossins tells the tumultuous history of these extraordinary races and the riders they have immortalised.
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Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Author: Peter Cossins
Number of pages: 448
Dimensions: 234 x 153 mm
Tidy paperback edition.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Absolutely
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An eloquent and flowing history of cycling's most famous one-day races, that perhaps could do more to consider the ever-changing face of bike technology.
About the tester
I usually ride: Pearson Hammerandtongs My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, Ultra endurance