Britain's love affair with competitive cycling started in earnest at the 2004 Olympics, then moved on to the road with World Championships and Tour de France triumphs, but for most living this side of the Channel the Continent's fabled one-day races, the five "Monuments", remain a largely unknown quantity. Yet for professional riders, victory in these brutally hard, long slogs is regarded as one of the supreme prizes.
They have a long history – Liège-Bastogne-Liège, known as "La Doyenne" ("The Old Lady") was first raced in 1892, and the 261km test through the Belgian Ardennes has some illustrious names on its roll of honour: Eddy Merckx, won it five times, while Ireland's Sean Kelly (twice) and, last year, Daniel Martin have also topped the podium. Belgium also contributes The Tour of Flanders, described by the double winner Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland as: "A mixture of everything. You have left, you have right, you have down, you have up, you have climbs with cobbles, you have climbs without cobbles."
The best-known is Paris-Roubaix, "The Hell of the North", infamous for sections of cobblestones as big as bowler hats. Wales might have had a winner in the inaugural race in 1896, but Arthur Linton had his bike damaged beyond repair while leading when a dog ran under his wheels.
Italy completes the set with Milan-Sanremo, won by half a wheel's-length after 298km by Mark Cavendish in 2009, and the autumn Tour of Lombardy, poetically known as "The Race of the Falling Leaves".
Peter Cossins has skilfully combined history, analysis and anecdote to bring these classic contests vividly to life. While they will never rival the Tour de France in the public's imagination, they occupy an important place in cycling lore, and Cossins has done them full justice.
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