Book Review: The Spring Classics: Cycling’s Greatest One-Day Races
- by David Halfpenny
- Published: 23 April 2012
There comes a time in every cyclist’s life when the outdoors look worse than the indoors and the trainer in the garage is simply too far away. You kick back on the lounge and pick up a book while you’re flicking through the TV channels looking for some sign of intelligence. You glance down and are surprised to see Tom Boonen staring back at you from behind a mask of mud. He’s looking at you; no, he’s looking through you. He’s looking at the finish line of the Paris-Roubaix, it’s 2002 and he just got third.
He’s looking into his future, maybe at his first win, maybe at his fourth this year. Maybe he’s looking at his fifth win, the win where he will beat all of history. What you can see in this photo, in his eyes, is the look of a man who knows he could have been first, but wasn’t. Now you’re sitting there wondering where you left your helmet because you never want to see that look in the mirror, and it really isn’t that bad outside.
The Spring Classics: Cycling’s Greatest One-Day Races is a visually spectacular large format hard cover, a “coffee-table book”, that will appeal to all cyclists, but particularly to those who love the classics. Actually, the book covers more than just the classics, it really covers “the monuments” of cycling and it doesn’t restrict itself to spring classics either.
The book looks in depth at well known races such as Paris-Roubaix, Milan-San Remo and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, as well as some less well known races and races that are no longer run, such as Bordeaux-Paris (which famously had a motor paced section) and Paris-Brest-Paris (which was once won by our own Sir Hubert Opperman). It’s written by several writers from L’Equipe, every cyclist’s favourite French sporting newspaper and contains hundreds of photos, in colour and black and white, covering more than a century of cycling.
The Spring Classics is not really a book to be read, it’s one to look at. It contains many quotes from cyclists, directeurs sportifs, and other relevant commentators and this adds immensely to the enjoyment of the book but, in general, the other writing is a bit of a let down. I don’t know if it’s because the writers are journalists or whether the French just wasn’t translated with the same spirit in which it was written, but the text doesn’t do it for me. It’s not that it’s badly written, it just doesn’t hit you with the impact as the photos.
The photos are what will bring you back to this book for years to come. Unlike the more widely known multi-week tours, the one day races covered in this book are all make or break races and that’s what makes them special. There are no gentle stages and there is no riding just to make sure you don’t lose time in the overall standings. When the race begins you know there is going to be a victory that day. The photos capture all of it – the pain, the effort, the joy, the luck…the everything of the races. It’s hard to describe in words (maybe that’s why the text fails), but the photos do an ample job. The text is merely something to occupy your eyes while your brain digests the images.
The Spring Classics is a relatively expensive book, but it’s one that you’ll look through for many years to come. I suppose it’s going to get more expensive when you realise that this book has a companion volume focussing on the Paris-Roubaix and that this is the start of a series of similar eye popping encyclopaedias of European cycling. At least now you’ll know what to say when someone asks what they can buy you for your birthday.
You can buy The Spring Classics: Cycling’s Greatest One-Day Races by Philippe Bouvet, Phillipe Brunel, Pierre Callewaert, Jean-Luc Gatellier, Serge Laget from Woodslane books for $69.95. Woodslane specialise in the types of books you’ll like, covering most areas of cycling as well as many other outdoor activities.