I thought I was knowledgeable about the WorldTour calendar, but some live coverage included a buzzword that left me puzzled. That word? A Monument. What the heck is a monument? And why do only a handful of races get this label? What makes a monument a monument? My thirst for cycling knowledge put me on a quest to answer those very questions and more. Are you ready to join me? Let’s jump in.
What is a Monument?
The three Grand Tours, the Giro, Tour de France and La Vuelta dominate the pro racing calendar, making them the best known to the public, and for good reason. Each one lasts three weeks and provides a massive amount of tv coverage and prestige to single stage winners and the overall victor. But there are other equally prominent one-day races, five of them to be exact, called Monuments.
They are the five most prestigious one-day races in pro racing. Calling them a Monument is a metaphorical expression to emphasise the race’s historical, cultural and sporting significance on the racing calendar. But with a bit more digging, I discovered there is more to it.
More to the Monument moniker
Why the word monument specifically? The races have “monumental” importance to any cycling professional. Winning a Monument can make an entire cycling career. Some pros have one as their only target for the year. Did you know it’s nearly impossible to sweep them all? It remains one of, if not the hardest feat in professional racing today. Monuments are great for WorldTour ranking as they offer the most one-day race UCI points.
Only three riders have won them all: Rik Van Looy, Eddy Merckx, and Roger de Vlaeminck. But what special quality do these five races have to set them apart from the rest of the one-day Classics? The answer lies in history. Not only cycling history, but global events. Each member of this elite group ran their first edition prior to World War I.
And if you’ve ever been to Europe, the World Wars left their trace everywhere. The routes for this exclusive handful of races take place on roads lined with memorials to commemorate the brave souls that died in the wars. That is why they are called Monuments.
Cycling’s five Monuments
Now that we know how they got their name, let’s look at cycling’s five Monuments. One important characteristic they share is that each one has a minimum of 250 km of parcours. Some are made for climbers, others for sprinters, if they can make it to the last 200m of the finishing straight.
Otherwise known as “La Classicissima”, Milan-Sanremo is the first Monument of the year. Late March is its customary date, the start of spring in most places, so it’s also known as “La Primavera”. It was first held in 1907 and is traditionally won by a sprinter. The longest of the Monuments, its parcours is usually a hair under 300 km. Would you be surprised to know that Eddy Merckx has seven Milan-Sanremo victories to his name?
Tour of Flanders
You may have heard the Tour of Flanders referred to as the “Ronde van Vlaanderen” in Dutch. First held in 1913, it is the youngest and first cobbled Monument that takes place on the first Sunday in April. It’s known for its narrow and steep, short climbs called “bergs” that break the legs of the strongest riders after 275 km of racing. Positioning at the front of this race is a must for any chance of victory.
Paris-Roubaix, the last of the cobbled classics, is usually one week after the Tour of Flanders. It has two nicknames, the “Hell of the North” and the “Queen of the Classics”. The first Paris-Roubaix was held in 1896, making it the second oldest event on the racing calendar. Rainy weather can make this race a true sufferfest as the rough and ancient cobbles become slippery as ice when wet, unless a flat puts you out of contention first. The winner needs a healthy dose of luck to go with their skill to finish first in the iconic Roubaix Velodrome.
Liège-Baston-Liège is the oldest of the Monuments, making its nickname “La Doyenne” (“the oldest” in French) more than suitable. It debuted in 1892 as an amateur race, but two years later, a professional version followed and it never looked back. LBL is usually the last of the Spring Classics, and its course is suited for potential Grand Tour winners. Racing icon Eddy Merckx also left his stamp on this race, winning it five times.
The end of summer brings the final Monument on the schedule, Il Lombardia. Its late September or early October date earns it the name of the “Autumn Classic” or the “Race of the Falling Leaves”. It first ran in 1905 under the name “Milano-Milano”, then “Giro de Lombardia” in 1907, and settled on Il Lombardia in 2012. The parcours in and around the hills of Lake Como make it particularly beautiful to watch if indeed the falling leaves have turned for the occasion. The terrain is suited to climbers who keep something in the tank in the event of a sprint finish. Coppi remains the king of Il Lombardia with five victories among his palmares.
Unfortunately, there is no official “Monument” status for the winner of the women’s version of the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and Liège-Baston-Liège; just the prestige. Milan-Sanremo and Il Lombardia are yet to launch a women’s version. Hopefully, that will change in the future as women’s cycling continues to blossom.
And learning the origin of the Monument name made me stop and think. The next time I watch any of these five mythical one-day races, I’ll be looking for those memorials on the side of the road. It’s the perfect time to catch all the action and remember the fallen who hold their special place in history and pay them the tribute they deserve.