The Inaugural SweetSpot Cycling Book of the Year Award for 2013 proved a big success and already a number of outstanding candidates for the 2014 award have reached the bookshelves.

Brendan Gallagher will be reviewing as many as possible throughout the year as we cast the net as wide as possible before drawing up our 12 strong shortlist early in December.

Here he looks at Peter Cossins’ The Monuments – a homage to the five great one day races that go under that umbrella.

The Monuments, by Peter Cossins
(Published Bloomsbury Price £12.99)
Review by Brendan Gallagher

THE Classics season is upon us and with perfect timing Peter Cossins and Bloomsbury have presented The Monuments for our enjoyment and delectation, a meaty 410-page homage to the five greatest one-day races in the world which have added so much to the legend and lore of the sport. A beautiful looking paperback – the front page should be reproduced and sold a as a poster – Monuments certainly fills a big hole in both my quickly growing cycling library and indeed my knowledge of the sport.

Like many seduced by cycling in the past decade or so all my attention, professionally and privately, was directed towards the omnipresent Tour de France and Great Britain’s remarkable and very newsworthy domination of the track-cycling world. Factor in the ever present doping stories and frankly that was more than enough to get my head around but always I was aware of the great reverence afforded to the ‘Monuments’. To win one such race automatically saw a rider become part of cycling’s rich history but to boast a palmares groaning with podium finishes in the monuments guaranteed not only your place in the Pantheon but a kudos every bit as great as a Tour de France winner.

To these eyes the monuments are the aficionados races’ and that they can probably only be fully appreciated once you have gained a decent grounding in the sport. Well that’s my excuse for my late arrival at the party anyway and I suspect that scores of thousands of newish British cycling fans are also just reaching that point now and a full blown mania for the monuments will soon be upon us. If Ian Stannard, Geraint Thomas, Mark Cavendish or indeed Sir Bradley Wiggins could nick a win in one of the Big Five this season – Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Milan-San Remo, Tour of -Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Lombardy – that process would be further accelerated.

Although there is such a thing as a Classic rider – Roger De Vlaeminck, Sean Kelly, Rick van Looy, Fabian Cancellara – the great appeal to me seems that none of the races are specifically designed for the climbing and sprinting specialists although the courses can be tickled from time to time. Nor to they rely overly on team tactics and dominance although clearly they can occasionally play a part. The monuments over the centuries have a habit of identifying the very best and bravest rider on the day and sometimes that can be a lone wolf enjoying the ride of his life or a massive slice of luck.

At one stage Cossins sums up the appeal of the monuments very succinctly: “Unlike the Tour’s 22 day soap opera, where might always tends to be right, the monuments are cycling’s unpredictable thrillers where almost any member of the peloton can prevail given the right combination of great form, tactical nous and simple good luck. Every rider start them thinking ‘This just might be my day'”

It’s an attractive combination and a marketing man looking at professional cycling with a fresh pair of eyes would probably round up the five races under one umbrella and collectively make them the ‘World Series’ with the top rider overall being declared the World Champion. Indeed they did try that in the early ‘60s in a half hearted sort of way and the experiment petered out.

Cossins has been entirely even with his favours and devotes four chapters per monument in which he charts the race origins and then hones in on all the great battles and rivals. The birth of all the races was fascinating with the section on the early Paris Roubaix races, a particularly colourful romp. Little remembered former Welsh coal miner Arthur Linton looked poised to win the first ever race when sent tumbling in a painful accident with a stray dog but perhaps Linton was not all he seemed to be. A few months later he was declared joint winner of Paris Bordeaux but finished in a bedraggled and distressed state and died a few weeks later, the victim of strychnine administered by his coach Choppy Warburton. Cycling had its first doping casualty; the press had their first real controversy.

As a historical document of record it’s all there and I fancy this is a book that is best enjoyed by keeping it close to hand and dipping into when a name or a particular battle comes up in conversation or commentary. It has an excellent record section and index at the rear which makes this process very simple.

To save you time Tom Simpson’s victories at Lombardy, Tour of Flanders and Milan-San Remo are there on pages 193-5, 334-35 and 268-69 respectively and Cavendish’s last ditch win at the 100th Milan San-Remo is chronicled on 291-2! Just four British wins in over 500 races. Truly Monumental efforts all four.

You can purchase the book online here or in all good book shops.