The Spring Classics, Phillippe Bouvet et al (2010)

A collection of pictures and essays celebrating cycling’s great one-day races

VeloPress 9781934030608 26cmx32.5cm 224pp lavishly illustrated $39.95

The Classics are the second great joy of cycle racing as a spectator sport. The Tour, of course, is the route into cycle fandom for most of us. But as your thirst for watching stick thin men thrashing their legs on carbon-fibre confections grows, the year-long programme of one-day races starts to shape your season.

This book is a glorious celebration of those races, rather than dissection of their importance. For the most part it is a picture book, full of large reproductions of shots from the earliest days of the classics to the present day. Most, of course, have not appeared in an English publication before.

They are fascinating at several levels. Among the highlights are shots of Eddy Merckx, dead-at-the handlebars, as he completed the 35km solo break that brought him victory in Roubaix in 1970; a throng of bike-carrying riders on the Koppenberg; and Bernard Hinault ploughing through a blizzard to win in Liège in 1979.

But these pictures contain much more besides. Because road cycling occurs on ordinary roads, through the centre of towns and watched at very close quarters by its fans, these shots also provide an evocative social history of the past century. The cars, the clothes and even the buildings that surround the racers show a continent that has changed profoundly since these spectacles were first run – mainly in the late years of the nineteenth century.

The accompanying essays provide an entertaining spin through the high points of each races histories written by L’Équipe’s journalists. These are nicely rendered into English – retaining a hint of descriptive power of French, without the absurdity of literal translation. They did leave me wanting more, however. It is interesting to note, for example, that Bordeaux-Paris was last run in 1985 – but why was this the last time that this race was run?

This book also promotes the slightly Anglo-centric view that the Classics are a year-long series. It has long been the ambition of the UCI and others to make this so, but the reality is rather different. For Flanderanians, for example, the races across their soil are of dramatically greater importance that those run elsewhere.

Minor quibbles aside, this is the perfect fireside book to keep you going until the peleton next assembles in the shadow of Milan’s Duomo at the start of next season.

PS Oct 10

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