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The VV View: Our Top 12 British Classics Rides


In the Thursday March 19th edition of ‘Cycling Weekly’ they printed a list of their ‘10 best Classic Races of all time.’ It’s not the usual time of year for ‘retro’ pieces, the Classics should be in full swing but Senor. Covid-19 has blown apart a lot of well laid plans this spring. We have no complaints with Hinault’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege win in the snow in 1980; Merckx’s 1969 Flanders epic; Kelly’s deranged descent of the Poggio to win on the Via Roma in 1992; Tchmil in the mud of Paris-Roubaix in 1994; il Campionissimo winning the Primavera by 14 minutes in 1946… However, they also have a list of the, ‘Best British Classics Rides’ with which we do have ‘issues’, to use one of the words of the moment.

We’re not sure if the way the run them through the feature reflects what they think is the order of merit; but how they appear is:

  • Mark Cavendish, winner Milan-Sanremo, 2009 
  • Nicole Cooke, winner Amstel Gold Race, 2003
  • Lizzie Armitstead, winner Tour of Flanders, 2016
  • Roger Hammond, third, Paris-Roubaix, 2004
  • Tom Simpson, winner Tour of Lombardy, 1965

We make no comment save to say here’s our top dozen British Classics rides, in what we see as order of merit:

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1 Tom Simpson, Tour of Flanders, 1961: no Englishman had won a Classic since 1896 when Simpson out-witted fast man Nino Defillipis to become the first ‘Anglo’ to win a Monument – the man he beat was twice Italian Champion, a Tour of Lombardy winner and took 18 Grand Tour stage wins during his career.

Simpson would win three Monuments during his career, the Primavera, Tour of Lombardy and Tour of Flanders – despite Britain’s huge recent Grand Tour success, no other rider has been close to Simpson’s achievements.

As well as his wins he was an animator, if not podium finisher, in just about every single day race which mattered – including Paris-Roubaix, Gent-Wevelgem, Paris-Tours, Paris-Brussels, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Fleche Wallone.   

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British Classics Rides
Tom Simpson. Photo©Pressesports

2 Tom Simpson, Tour of Lombardy, 1965: with the rainbow jersey of World Champion on his back, Simpson dropped one of the ‘Greats’ of Italian Cycling, Giro and Tour of Lombardy winner, Gianni Motta to take this most beautiful of all the Monuments, set among the lakes and hills of Northern Italy.

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British Classics Rides
Mark Cavendish at the start of Milan-Sanremo in 2009, oozing focus and confidence. Photo©Martin Williamson

3 Mark Cavendish, Milan-Sanremo, 2009: for me the best race in the world; to win it is to become legend, our editor, Martin and I were privileged to be there that day.

Like him or loathe him, ‘Cav’ was brilliant, for all the world the race looked to be Heinrich Hausler’s until the Manxman catapulted out of the lead group to steal the win from the Aussie. 

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British Classics Rides
Tom Simpson. Photo©unknown

4 Tom Simpson, Milan-Sanremo, 1964: again, Simpson beat one of the best riders on the planet to win this wonderful race, the late Raymond Poulidor was his victim – and bear in mind that this was a race the Frenchman knew inside out, having won it in 1961.

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British Classics Rides
Barry Hoban. Photo©unknown

5 Barry Hoban, Gent-Wevelgem, 1974: take a look at the placings behind ‘Baz’ – 2nd Eddy Merckx, 3rd Roger De Vlaeminck, no further questions, m’Lord. 

That result came after 244 kilometres (151 miles) covered in 5 hours 30 minutes:

  1. Barry Hoban (Gan-Mercier-Hutchinson) in 5:30:00
  2. Eddy Merckx (Molteni)
  3. Roger De Vlaeminck (Brooklyn)
  4. Alain Santy (Gan-Mercier-Hutchinson)
  5. Eric Leman (M.I.C.-Ludo-De Gribaldy)
  6. Freddy Maertens (Carpenter-Confortluxe-Flandria)
  7. Walter Planckaert (Watney-Maes Pils)
  8. Walter Godefroot (Carpenter-Confortluxe-Flandria)
  9. Frans Verbeeck (Watney-Maes Pils)
  10. Roger Swerts (Ijsboerke-Colner)
  11. Willy De Geest (Rokado)
  12. Jacques Esclassan (Peugeot-BP-Michelin)
  13. Raymond Poulidor (Gan-Mercier-Hutchinson)
  14. Charly Rouxel (Peugeot-BP-Michelin)
  15. Herman Van Springel (M.I.C.-Ludo-De Gribaldy)

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British Classics Rides
Tom Simpson. Photo©unknown

6 Tom Simpson, Bordeaux-Paris, 1963: now late lamented but a huge race back in the day, in terms of distance – 557 kilometres, that’s 346 miles – prestige and spectator appeal.

Derny-paced after the first 100 miles this race defined ‘epic,’ take a look at a map, observe where Bordeaux is then let your eyes travel up to Paris.

Simpson won by five minutes.

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7 Brian Robinson, third Milan-Sanremo, 1957: the first ever appearance on the podium of a modern day Classic by an Anglo rider.

Robinson, a Yorkshireman, one of the true pioneer British riders to travel to the continent, and not prone to making grand pronouncements told us he thinks he could have won that day if he’d ignored ‘team orders’ and ridden for himself.

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Barry Hoban. Photo©unknown

8 Barry Hoban, third Paris-Roubaix, 1972: Flandrian, Roger De Vlaeminck was unbeatable that day – you may be interested in the ‘Hell of the North stats for ‘Monsieur Paris-Roubaix,’ from 1969 to 1982 “Le Gitane’s” read like this: 5, 2, 7, 1, 7, 1, 1, 3, 1, 2, 2, 0, 2, 6. 

Second place went to Belgian hard man, Andre Dierickx, who won Nokere Koerse, Fleche Wallone and the Zürich Metzgete Classic in his time.

Barry was third on a horrible day when the great Merckx could do no better than seventh place.

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Roger Hammond. Photo©Sirotti

9 Roger Hammond, third Paris-Roubaix, 2004: big Swede, Magnus Backstedt took the biggest win of his career with Dutch ‘Classics Man’ Tristan Hoffman second and Hammond a fine third.

Cancellara was in fourth spot, Museeuw sixth and Van Petegem seventh to put Hammond’s ride in context.

And we’re not forgetting Roger’s second place in the 2007 Gent-Wevelgem. 

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