the uci's globalisation of the sport of cycling is, at best, somewhat misguided. with the advent of the pro-tour and subsequently the world tour series, distinctly non-traditional cycling nations have been brought into the fold. this in itself is hardly an iniquitous situation, for who are we in the western world to deny the rest of the globe, participation in what many of us regard as 'the beautiful sport'? however, many of the more recent innovations in this respect, such as the tour of china, the tour of qatar and the like, have been imposed upon the international racing calendar as part of a series in which pro-tour teams are required to participate even though their sponsors may have no commercial interests in those countries.
the downside of this imposition from on high is the loss or downgrading of many classic european races which have lost the commercial sponsorship necessary to continue. these losses most often have occurred at the hands of a governing body which has often seemed to care a tad more for its coffers than for the good of the sport. if several of these long-standing one day races and multi-day tours have been effectively de-listed, there is no compulsion for the world tour teams to take part. with an already overfull calendar of often conflicting race dates, this means that if the world's top riders are no longer entered for such events, potential race sponsors no longer see the likelihood of a return on their investment.
hence the loss of so many.
as peter cossins demonstrates in this superb and substantial book (almost a monument of its own), more than one of what are now regarded as the monuments of cycling's one-day classics, took several years to become firmly established, unaided by a governing body that could make participation compulsory in even a brand new event. the saying 'water always finds its own level' is particularly pertinent in most of these cases. nowadays water is being pumped to whatever level the offices of aigle dictate.
so well researched are these historical narratives of liege-bastogne-liege, paris-roubaix, the tour of lombardy, milan-sanremo and the tour of flanders, that i'm sure mr cossins knows the ins and outs of modern cycling politics far better than i. which is why it was something of a surprise to read in his epilogue to the monuments that "The thinking behind this season-long series, which used Formula 1 as a template, was sound". i'd be inclined to counter that the preceding 365 pages were proof of quite the opposite. he does then go on to say "Yet the Monuments have lost some of their status by being lumped in with lesser events from a points-winning perspective".
that is, of course, another argument for another day and has little true bearing on such a formidable book, but i feel that mr cossins has let the side down just a smidgeon by rounding out the book in this manner, even if he does hold this as his considered opinion.
'la doyenne', the longest surviving one-day classic, and undoubtedly my favoured second behind paris-roubaix, commenced its long career in 1892. its entry into the cycling firmament was not, as the author is keen to point out, a straightforward affair. "Thanks in part to the desire of French bike manufacturers to establish new markets beyond their borders, the first edition of the Tour of Flanders took place in 1913, by which point Liege had also re-emerged, though rather shakily."
by this, cossins is referring to an amalgamation of the 'peasant club liegeois with the liege cyclists' union in 1908 to relaunch the race as an amateur event. paris-roubaix though undoubtedly also suffering the ravages of time and occasionally the tarmacing of many of its cobbled sections, came into being in 1896, predominantly as a means of raising the profile of roubaix and its new velodrome built and owned by textile magnates, the perez brothers. they even attempted to position it as a preceding training event for the longer and arguably more demanding bordeaux-paris.
the reasons for starting what we now refer to as the monuments are varied, though frequently involved newspaper sales and rivalry somewhere along the line, commercial interests that inevitably shaped each event in different yet similar fashion, but ensuring a depth of feeling that contrived to ensure their success in the face of often trying circumstances. in those days, there was no overall loading of the dice (so to speak).
"That plush enclave in the tiny principality of Monaco had been connected to the railway in 1868. Ten years later, it boasted one of the grandest casinos in the world. In 1905, Sanremo hit back with the opening of its own Casino Municipio, a magnificent Liberty-style building that still dominates the western end of the town. Yet tourists, and particularly those from Britain, still favoured the French end of the Riviera." thus, one year later, several with commercial interests in the town met to discuss the possibility of a single event that would give sanremo the profile they and their money felt it deserved.
it would be counter-productive, i believe to list the birth marks of each of the monuments that form the contents of this marvellous book. peter cossins is a far better narrator than i, having turned what must be years of research into a treasure trove for the committed cycling fan. each race has its territory marked out during the introductions, followed by a historical account of its life to date. not unexpectedly, this involves many of the great riders and rides of this and last century. that cossins has refrained from making this a series of critical essays on the fortunes of each monument plays well to his favour. subjectivity is left at the start-line allowing us to wallow in the magnificent part each has played in cycling lore.
the races read in order of their inception, but in a self-contained manner, they can be read in whichever order the reader so desires. it is, in truth a most amicable format, one that is by turn intriguing, informative and a pleasure to devour. and though i have often been led to disparage one or other aspect of the recent crop of cycling book covers, the monuments makes up for pretty much all of them, depicting as it does a style reminiscent of british rail posters from the 1920s.
with a comprehensive index at the back of the book accompanied by a list of each and every winner of each and every monument, this is a book that truly ought to be a compulsory purchase for anyone with a drop-bar bicycle in the shed. with the uci seemingly hellbent on spreading the word in ever wider and thinner fashion, it is heartening to read of the european backbone of the sport, even if read with rose-tinted oakleys when races survived and prospered by their own merit and tenacity.
did i just say that out loud?
thursday 13 march 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................