My love of bicycle racing began when I first watched the Tour De France in the early 80’s with my dad. The exotic team names, the vast panoramas of the Alps and Pyrenees, the grace and chaos of a professional bike race. Over time, the races began to herald the seasons of the year for me: Paris-Roubaix in early Spring, Le Tour in high summer, Lombardy’s ‘Race of the Falling Leaves’ brought in the autumn chill. Much like a fan of any sport, I await the legendary events each year: the rich history remembered, the anticipation of a new chapter about to be written.

{ Worthy of Note: There’s an extra element to these monuments of the cycling calendar that not many other sports can offer the avid fan. You can actually go and ride them. }There’s an extra element to these monuments of the cycling calendar that not many other sports can offer the avid fan. You can actually go and ride them. Not with the professionals (unless your childhood dream really comes true!) but over the same legend steeped roads of Europe. A game of football at Wembley or the chance to drive the circuit at Monaco may be the preserve of a lucky few. Centre Court at the Wimbledon Club? Likewise. But the 21 hairpins of the mythical Alpe D’Huez, the treacherous cobbles of the Trouée d’Arenberg or the vicious slopes of the Muro Di Sormano are there to be ridden every day of the year by cyclists of any ability. Fans of athletics may dream of running a warm up lap or two alongside Bolt. The cyclist who travels to Oudenaarde on the days preceding the Tour of Flanders will have to pinch themselves to make sure they aren’t dreaming as the professionals power past them, testing their legs ahead of the greatest Flemish race of the year on the fearsome Koppenberg.

My own favourite legendary ride? It has to be the climb of the Ghisallo that forms the centre-piece of the historic Giro Di Lombardia amidst autumn’s falling leaves. Rising from a quiet lakeside road on the shores of Lake Como in Lombardy, it is neither the longest nor steepest of climbs, but every metre of its winding, sinewy 10km in the breathtaking foothills of the Alps oozes history and romance as only Italian cycle racing can. The final few hundred metres of hairpin bends stiffen in gradient, the final straight steeper still—then, all of a sudden you find yourself riding along in every iconic photo you’ve ever seen of the chapel at the crest of the climb.

I dedicate this article to the memory of my friend, Ian Hoggarth, who died aged 34 from an undiagnosed heart condition, just days after completing a 50-mile bike ride in 2012.