Book Review: The Spring Classics

Pornography gets a bad rap. Pictures meant to excite and titillate really aren’t such bad things, unless you happen to behave badly afterward.

The Spring Classics, published in English by VeloPress, is one such book that may cause readers to behave badly after a thorough reading. You could call it racing porn. It is essentially a pictorial history of one-day races. Yes, the title is a bit misleading, as it includes all of the Monuments, including the Tour of Lombardy, as well as Paris-Tours and other non-Spring races such as the Classica San Sebastian.

The inaccurate title is truly the book’s only fault, and as faults go, the inclusion of more races than the title promises is to be celebrated. Where else in our lives does anyone over-deliver?

The Spring Classics was written by Philippe Bouvet, Philippe Brunel, Pierre Callewaert, Jean-Luc Gatellier and Serge Laget, the same team behind the recent Paris-Roubaix book. Translated expertly by Sam Abt, the book’s great achievement is to bring a lifetime of photographic work to an audience that doesn’t routinely read l’Equipe and other European papers, which is to say the book isn’t yet another retrospective of Graham Watson’s archives.

The Spring Classics is more than 200 pages of images you’ve never seen. Were the writing and translation terrible, I could still recommend this book without reservation—the photos are that good. The histories detailed are truly fascinating, but the images … the images gave me chills.

By presenting the work of so many different photographers in a single volume the reader is rewarded with perspectives and compositions that aren’t the carbon copies one inevitably sees when one photographer stands next to another at the finish line. The scenics are breathtaking and the portraits of riders like Eddy Merckx (clad in the black and white of Peugeot) and Rik Van Looy (with the sinew of a lean, young rider still in his ascendancy) are better than a time machine.

After reading it, you’ll be inspired to ride from your heart, ignoring the pleas from your legs and friends alike. Just remember, though: Bad behavior is defined by those closest to you.

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  1. toddk

    I’m really having a hard time with the name too…. glad to know that despite that pretty glaring fault, the book as a whole is a good read. I love pouring over old classics photos.

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