Anyone who knows me or who follows my blog knows how deeply immersed I am in the world of cycling. It entails more than just riding a bicycle. There was my employment at Mathieu's Cycle for four years; my continued reading of countless books, especially those dealing with the celebrated history of the sport; and my expanded collection of autographs, taking great pride in obtaining rare ones — such as those of Tom Simpson and Fausto Coppi.
However, my admitted obsession doesn't stop there. I also love following the fast-paced drama of professional cycling. All three Grand Tours — Giro d'Italia, Tour de France, and Vuelta a Espana — are on my radar, getting my full attention when the daily highlights flash across my computer screen. But, for me, there are other events involving two-wheeled machines that get me more excited than these three-week stage contests. And that would be the one-day classic cycling races. And, in particular, the Monuments.
Simply put, the Monuments are regarded as the oldest, hardest, longest, and most prestigious events in men's road cycling. There are five of them. Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and Tour of Lombardy. Only three riders — all Belgians — have won all five Monuments. They are Rik van Looy, Roger De Vlaeminck, and Eddy Merckx. I might add that I possess autographs of the latter two gentlemen.
Here's a brief background on each of the Monuments:
— Milan-San Remo
Held in northwest Italy, the race usually takes place on the third Saturday of March. At just over 185 miles, it is the longest professional one-day race. The first edition occurred in 1907. By the way, Eddy Merckx won it seven times.
— Tour of Flanders
Also known as De Ronde (The Tour), it is held in Belgium in late March, early April. It is one of the two major cobbled classics. The first race happened in 1913.
On the calendar one week after the Tour of Flanders, it is the other great cobbled classic. It is often referred to as "The Hell of the North" and occurs in France. The first one took place in 1896. Roger De Vlaeminck captured the top prize a total of four times.
It generally happens at the end of April, in the French-speaking southern region of Belgium. The race was created in 1892. Merckx has the most victories with five.
— Tour of Lombardy
Considered a climbers' classic, it occurs in Italy in early October — finishing up the Monument schedule. The first one took place in 1905. Italian great Fausto Coppi won it five times, the most by any cyclist.
In my last two blog postings I'd mentioned a big surprise was coming, offering a bit of a clue with two key words — cobbles and Belgium. Well, because of my love for riding a bicycle and my keen interest in the Monuments, I'm actually traveling to Belgium in a few months for a five-day cycling vacation and to also attend the Tour of Flanders professional men's bike race.
It goes without saying, I'm really stoked for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In the coming weeks, I'll share with you details about the trip and attempt to convey my enthusiasm for what is going to happen very shortly. In the meantime, stay safe!