What are the five monuments of cycling?
"To get on the list of great champions, you have to win one," Fausto Coppi is reported to have once said. Okay, apparently he said it about Paris-Roubaix in particular, but we can certainly extend it to what are now known as the five monuments of cycling. The most prestigious one-day races on the calendar, with the exception of the World Championship.
The five monuments are among the most beautiful events that exist, and they always leave us with the best moments of the season. If you want to know them, here is our guide so you don't miss anything from March.
What are the monuments of cycling?
It is hard to define them. It is often said that they are the oldest, longest and hardest classics on the planet, but none of that is particularly true. Or not at all. They're all over a century old, more than 250 km long and demanding. But Milan-Turin, the Giro del Piemonte or Paris-Tours all started before the Tour of Flanders. Ghent-Wevelgem counted in 2021 with 250 km and that's not why it's considered a monument. And about the hardness... it's relative. What we can say is that they are the most prestigious one-day races in the world. Only the Grand Tours and the World Championship overshadow them. And be careful, because there are classicists who would give up a Tour for a Roubaix.
What are the 5 cycling monuments?
The Cipressa, the 'forêt d'Arenberg', the 'top of the Italians', the Grammont Wall, the Madonna del Ghisallo.... Names that make us cycling fans dream. Do you know which one corresponds to each one? Join us in this review of the five cycling monuments, with their affectionate nicknames (each one has its own), their dates, the key points of their route and their great champions.
The 'Classicissima' is traditionally the first of the five grand monuments and, with almost 300 km, the longest (the others are between 250 and 265). Its more or less flat course has made it, over the last decades, fertile territory for sprinters, such as Erik Zabel, Mario Cipollini, Mark Cavendish or Óscar Freire, who won it three times.
However, the last 5 years have shown that the Cipressa and the Poggio, the two historic climbs just before the finish line, have a lot to say. A devastating attack from an Alaphilippe (winner in 2019), Van Aert (winner in 2020) or Van der Poel (if he recovers from his physical problems) can turn things upside down. And, if not, Caleb Ewan will be there to finish things off. Here dominates (of course) the enormous Eddy Merckx, with 7 victories.
Tour of Flanders
With 'the best of Flanders' (Vlaanderens Mooiste in Flemish) we get right into the heart of the monuments: the cobblestones, the walls and the specialists. People like the Belgians Achiel Buysse, Eric Leman, Johan Museeuw and Tom Boonen, or the foreign guests to this party, the Italian Fiorenzo Magni and the Swiss Fabian Cancellara (several of them ended up nicknamed 'the lion of Flanders'), who share the record of 3 victories. Flandriens', they are called. Great riders with power to overcome the steeps and good sprinting.
Today Greg Van Avermaet, Gilbert, Tiesj Benoot, Peter Sagan, Alberto Bettiol or the Nordic Alexander Kristoff and Kasper Asgreen stand out, in addition to the omnipresent Van Aert, MVdP and Tadej Pogacar. Although the route is not known, we will probably miss again the mythical Muur-Kapelmuur, but there will be places like the Oude Kwaremont or the Paterberg, to make the difference.
Surely the most loved, hated, revered, terrible and spectacular of all. The 'Hell of the North' (or 'la Pascale', held on Easter Sunday) is a joy when it rains, with the Dantesque scenes of skating on the mud, and also when it's sunny, with those clouds of dust that engulf the cyclists. It is said that its sections, such as the very hard Arenberg, Mons-en-Pévèle and Carrefour de l'Arbre, must be known by heart to succeed here, that you have to dream about them day and night.
Last year Dylan Van Baarle won, who this time will be defending his title against Van der Poel, Van Aert or Yves Lampaert who are hungry for victory. Another one to keep an eye on is Italian giant Filippo Ganna, who in 2016 won the Roubaix Under-23 and reminds many of Fabian Cancellara and Francesco Moser, two of the greats in history here. But the absolute best were Roger De Vlaeminck and Tom Boonen, with 4 wins each.
Ardennes. Valverde territory. In his last dance, 'el Bala' tried to make history and equal Eddy Merckx's record of 5 victories. His 4 in two different decades (the last, in 2017), already put him on the second step, alongside Moreno Argentin.
Other favorites include Primoz Roglic and Tadej Pogacar, plus Julian Alaphilippe, Tom Pidcock, Marc Hirschi, Jakob Fuglsang, Michael Woods and the last winner here, Remco Evenepoel. Because this is the classic of the men of the general classification, of the top riders. Of course, without the finish with the Saint-Nicolas climb (known as the Italian summit) and the wall of Ans, it will be decided on the climbs of La Redoute and La Roche-aux-Faucons.
With that poetic vein that Italians also like so much, it has been baptized 'the classic of the dead leaves' because it is held in autumn, putting an end to the cycling season. Depending on how things went, the great climbers of the world scene will be there, because this race is for them: the last route had 4,700 meters of positive vertical drop. Again the Pogacar, Roglic, Woods, Fuglsang, plus Aleksander Vlasov Thibaut Pinot or Bauke Mollema will go for it.
In the incomparable scenery of the lakes of Como and Lecco, the former Giro de Lombardia (now they have left it in an article) will pass through mythical places such as the sanctuary of the Madonna del Ghisallo, where there is a cycling museum, the Civiglio or the Sormano Wall. Fausto Coppi is the one who has won the most times here, with 5, but Purito Rodriguez, Philippe Gilbert or Vincenzo Nibali are the best of the last years.
Who has won the 5 monuments
The feat of achieving all the monuments is within the reach of very few. In fact, only 3 men in all history have done this achievement, and we can justly consider them the best classics riders who have ever existed. Of course, Eddy Merckx is one of them, and the one who has the most in total, with 19 (yes, 19), but we almost didn't even need to tell you this. He won them all more than once. The others are the also Belgians Roger De Vlaeminck, who had 11 victories, and Rik Van Looy, who had 'only' 8.
A fourth 'monster' who came close was the Irishman Sean Kelly, in the 80s and 90s. With 9 wins in total (3 Lombardies and doubles in Sanremo, Roubaix and Liège), he came second 3 times in Flanders, so we could say that he missed a hard one. With the same number are Fausto Coppi and Costante Girardengo, although they concentrated on the Italian ones (Coppi won a Roubaix).
In recent times, the two greatest riders have been Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara, with 7 each. Also, Philippe Gilbert, who also has all but one in his trophy collection: 2 Lombardies, 1 Tour of Flanders, 1 Roubaix and 1 Liège. And, in this list dominated by Belgians and Italians, plus some French and Dutch, a Spaniard stands out. Alejandro Valverde, with 4 Lieges, and who has also been second 3 times in Lombardia, and has been in the top 10 in Sanremo and Flanders.
And then... Will Van Aert, Alaphilippe, Van der Poel, Evenepoel or Pidcock be able to come close to these stratospheric numbers?