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Let’s rank the monuments

We rank cycling's monuments according to our personal favorites, and then argue our choices for the sake of... fun!

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Two weeks ago, the cycling world was embroiled in the annual silly debate about whether or not Strade Bianche should be counted among cycling’s monuments (in case you missed the memo — it should not). This week, with Milano-Sanremo set to kick off the 2021 monument season, the hot online discourse is how you, the cycling fan, rank the monuments, from favorite to least favorite.

All across the cycling world, ranking arguments have sprung up. Is Paris-Roubaix the best, or is the Tour of Flanders better? Is Liège-Bastgone-Liège duller than dishwater, or are the first 900 kilometers of Milano-Sanremo the best stretch of monument racing to nap to?

There’s no right answer, of course, just plenty of opinions. And below, we share our opinions with you, and then justify our rankings.

Let’s rank the monuments

Fred Dreier: 1. Tour of Flanders; 2. Paris-Roubaix; 3. Il Lombardia; 4. Liège-Bastogne-Liège; 5. Milano-Sanremo.

Jim Cotton: 1. Paris-Roubaix; 2. Tour of Flanders; 3. Milano-Sanremo; 4.Il Lombardia; 5. Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Andrew Hood: 1. Hell of the North; 2. Der Ronde; 3. La Primavera; 4. La Doyenne; 5. Lombardia

How do you rank the monuments? Let us know by emailing us at mailbag@velonews.com

OK, explain your ranking

Fred: Conventional wisdom is to put Paris-Roubaix first, but I went with the Tour of Flanders because it’s the only race where I can re-watch old editions and ALWAYS see something new. Roubaix is often a test of might and strength and luck, whereas Flanders is all of that as well as a tactical battle of wit vs. brawn. We’ve seen the smartest racer (Peter Sagan) outwit the strongest rider (Fabian Cancellara) in certain editions (2016); we’ve seen teamwork constantly thwart brawn (every Quick-Step win); and we’ve also seen epic duels of the strongest riders (2020).

The Tour of Flanders always delivers, and I cannot think of one edition that didn’t leave me with twisted fingernails and a sweaty brow. While I think Paris-Roubaix has a higher variance — the exciting editions are extra exciting, the boring editions are pretty good — I feel like every Tour of Flanders is consistently interesting and compelling. Plus, I love attending that race and will always tell aspiring European cycling fans to check out Flanders long before you check out the Tour de France. Further down my list I have Il Lombardia third because I feel bad for its due to its late place in the schedule. It’s overlooked yet always a good watch. Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Milano-Sanremo are hard ones to parse. I put MSR last because it’s so incredibly long, and because I always feel like I wasted my morning whenever it ends in a bunch sprint. I realize this is an unfair reaction to have, but hey, we’re in the trust tree with this RANK THE MONUMENTS concept, so shoot me.

Jim: Call me conservative, but Paris-Roubaix gets number one. No matter what’s happening in the race, just watching these burly classics guys pummeling across the stones is breathtaking. Every sector of pavé is a battle of body and bike against these ridiculous rocks from another age. There’s nothing like it. And the finale in the velodrome is so unique – where else does a bike race reset the stakes after six hours of racing in the tactical game of a track sprint? Just check out Mat Hayman’s incredible win if you don’t believe me. Flanders? Meh, that flat final 15km drag into Oudenaarde at the end tarnishes all the drama that came before it. Liège comes last because it just feels endless – it all looks the same, the selection is made out of the back of the bunch rather than at the front, and the racing never seems to crack into life (except that wacky sprint last year). Ranking Lombardia and Sanremo was tricky. Lombardia is a great race at a time of the season that doesn’t do it justice, and contrastingly, Sanremo is a bit of a snoozer that gets added hype by virtue of being first monument of the season.

Andrew: Until just a few years ago, Flanders was just a big race in Belgium. It’s Paris-Roubaix and its “Hell of the North” moniker that have reached mythic status. The only race beyond the Tour de France that most fans have even heard of is Paris-Roubaix? Because there’s no other race like it. Some even deride it as gimmicky in its perverse way, but Roubaix bar none is the hardest race in cycling. Behind that, Flanders has certainly seen its prestige grow more internationally over the past decade or so. The cool kids always knew that Flanders was a great race, and is now toe-to-toe with Roubaix in terms of its ranking. Flanders is more tactical, Roubaix is pure brawn. Packed together, it’s the best week of racing on the calendar. Behind that, I’ll slot Milano-Sanremo because it’s cycling’s most unpredictable race. Its final 20 minutes are the most effervescent on the calendar.

It’s a shame that both Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia have lost some of their luster, and a big part of that is that for too long the GC riders have largely steered clear of them. Today’s highly calibrated racing calendar and training camp schedule means there isn’t room for everything. Seeing big names like Primož Roglič, Julian Alaphilippe, and Tadej Pogačar put Liège at the center of their calendars could spruce up La Doyenne to her rightful place. Il Lombardia? Sadly forgotten at the end of the season, and who can blame the riders for not hanging around until October. RCS Sport is doing a good job at building up its Fall Classics schedule, and a few big names are keeping it on their radar. Classica delle foglie morte is still a monument. Even being last on a list like this means it’s still way ahead of almost every other one-day on the calendar.

Great, now let’s argue!

Fred: You two are so basic, ranking things Roubax, Flanders, and then (snorrrr) Milano-Sanremo. I already expressed my Roubaix take, so I’ll take umbrage with ranking MSR third. Look, I’ll admit that San Remo’s early spot in the calendar builds plenty of hype around the race, but I just cannot rank it ahead of Liège or Lombardia. The long distance and punishing routes of these monuments means that sprint finishes should be few and far between, and that’s just not the case at San Remo. Plus, you can win San Remo by holding onto your team car! Again, I feel like San Remo perhaps has higher variance than the other two, but the other two deliver consistent exciting and tactical battles, where guys have to roll the dice at various points in the race if they want to win.

Jim: Fred, I take serious issue with you putting Milano-Sanremo last. You’d rather watch Liège-Bastogne-Liège than MSR? Baaaahh! Liège is like watching two drunk guys throwing cross-eyed swings at each other in a dive bar at 4 a.m., fighting until one of them falls asleep. The front group slowly gets smaller as exhausted riders fall out the back rather than attacks going off the front. The altered finish brought in two years ago is some improvement though, I’ll give L-B-L that much at least. My take is that if you came over to good ol’ Blighty and watch Sanremo in our timezone your opinion on the race would change. Fire up the live feed at 10 a.m. and watch the riders still trying to digest six bowls of breakfast rice as they roll-out, go out for a bike ride for a few hours, come home and eat your lunch and watch them soft-tapping along the coast for half-hour or so, then crack open the weekend beer at around 3 p.m. when the action hots up. Perfect.

Andrew: There’s not much to argue about. Is Flanders or Roubaix better than the other? That’s like saying you prefer a BMW to a Mercedes; they’re both the damn good cars. Liège and Lombardia are derided more for their lack of star power and depth of the start lists than the difficulty or heritage of the races. If the peloton takes these races more seriously, their interest level will track up accordingly. It’s the explosive and raw power required to win Flanders or Roubaix that is diametrically opposed to the high-tempo, threshold-style of racing required to win Liège or Lombardia. Watching the northern classics is always going to be more engaging than a race of attrition over some gnarled hills in Belgium’s coal country. I do hope we see more brawlers like Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel tiptoe into the Ardennes. The lone race that seems to spark true debate is San Remo. Some love it, some hate it, and in today’s polarized world, I know there’s nothing I can say that will change anyone’s mind. So on Saturday, I will sip my Aperol spritz, eat my plate of cured meats and cheese, and enjoy the race for what it is. Peace out!