What is a classic cycling race?
The basic description is a one day professional road race, generally held in Europe throughout spring, summer and autumn.
Most of the European versions have been running for decades with the oldest races starting in the 19th century. The five most revered of the classics are known as the ‘Monuments’. The Classics season starts with the first of the monuments, Milan-San Remo, which is run on the Sunday closest to the first day of spring. The Giro di Lombardia is the last of the monuments each season and is currently held in September.
Milan – San Remo – the first of the classics is often known as the ‘sprinters’ classic. At 298km, this is the longest classic race on the UCI Pro Tour. Eddy Merkx holds the record for the most wins (7).
Tour of Flanders – Flanders is held one week before Paris – Roubaix every year and is the most important race in Belgium. Characterised by multiple, short, sharp climbs, the race route changes regularly. Six cyclists share the record for the most victories (3), Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara being the most recent.
Paris – Roubaix – known as the Queen of the Classics and The Hell of the North, Paris-Roubaix is infamous for its multiple cobbled (pave) sections. Seen as one of the toughest professional road races, teams often ride special bikes and require significant mechanical support. The winner’s trophy features one of the infamous cobblestones which give this race its awesome reputation. Two Belgian cyclists hold the record for the most wins (4) – Roger De Vlaeminck and Tom Boonen.
Liege – Bastogne – Liege is known as La Doyenne having started in 1892. Following different routes to and from Bastogne and with multiple climbs this race often rewards the most aggressive riders. Eddy Merkx holds the record for the most Liege – Bastogne Liege wins with 5.
Giro di Lombardia is one of the last UCI events every year. Known as a ‘climbers’ classic, the route changes regularly, although Lake Como and the Ghisallo climb are signature features. Fausto Coppi holds the record for the most wins with 5.
Three riders have won all 5 monuments – Rik Van Looy (1950s – 60s), Eddy Merkx (1960s – 70s) and Roger De Vlaeminck (1970s). Eddy Merkx is the only rider to have won 3 monuments in the same year and he did it 4 times, just to be sure.
Australian cyclists have achieved only four wins in the European Monuments – Stuart O’Grady won Paris Roubaix in 2007, Michael Goss and Simon Gerrans have both won Milan-San Remo in 2011 and 2012, and Simon Gerrans also won Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2014.