Ed’s ‘TOP 12 Best Brits’ Classic Performances

Best Brit Classic Rides: We should be in the middle of the most exciting part of the cycling season, but Covid-19 has put an end to that. British riders have excelled in the Tour de France in recent years, but there has also been performances of note in the Classics – Ed Hood has a look back at the ‘Top 12’ with video.

Simpson puts the pressure on Poulidor in Milano-Sanremo 1964

Back in a March edition of the British ‘Cycling Weekly’ magazine 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 Mr. Corona 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…

In the 1946 Milano-Sanremo, Fausto Coppi had time for a espresso in the Pasticceria Piccardo coffee bar near Imperia, Liguria and still won by 14 minutes

However, they also have a list of the, ‘Best British Classic Rides’ with which we do have ‘issues’ to use one of the words of the moment. We’re not sure if they 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

Lizzie Armitstead wins 2016 Tour of Flanders

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

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 Flèche Wallonne.

Simpson – Flanders 1961

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.

Lombardy win in the rainbow jersey

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

The best sprint ever?

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.

Simpson in Sanremo’64

5. Barry Hoban, Gent-Wevelgem, 1974: take a look at the placings behind ‘Baz’ – 2nd Eddy Merckx, 3rd Roger De Vlaeminck, no further questions, my lord. That result came after 244 kilometres (151 miles) covered in 5 hours 30 minutes.

Big win for Hoban in Wevelgem

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.

Simpson wins behind the derny

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.

Brian Robinson, third in Sanremo’57

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, Flèche Wallonne and the Zurich Metzgete Classic in his time. Barry was third on a horrible day when the great Merckx could do no better than seventh place.

1972 – Hoban takes third

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.

Hammond third in Roubaix

10. Ian Stannard, third, Paris-Roubaix, 2016: the greatest day of big Aussie Matt Hayman’s career and surely one of Tom Boonen’s most disappointing days, second to the Aussie’s remarkable finish? Stannard was right there on this epic day – and let’s not forget the big guy’s two wins in Het Nieuwsblad.

The win for Hayman, but Stannard was close

11. Barry Hoban, third Liege-Bastogne-Liege, 1969: Merckx was in a class of his own with Belgian team mate Vic Van Schil, he carved out a winning margin of eight minutes in this race which was so suited to his talents – he’s the race’s ‘recordman’ on five wins.
But Hoban was best of the rest beating triple Tour of Flanders winner, Eric Leman for the final podium spot. The race had a velodrome finish back then, not that savage drag to the retail park which featured for so many years in recent times.


12. Malcolm Elliott, third Amstel Gold Race, 1987: the ANC man was one fast finisher, could he have won it? Against three Dutchman it would have been really difficult – with Joop Zoetemelk becoming a Classic winner as a veteran, ahead of 1983 Liege-Bastogne-Liege and 1986 Amstel Gold winner, Steven Rooks.

Elliott had no chance against the Dutch mafia

And if we’ve missed what you think is a deserving ride then by all means let us know.

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