What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ Bookshelf: Mountain High

What cyclist is not fascinated by mountains? For those of us who don’t climb well due to (lack of) training, body type, lack of technical skill or, well, laziness, the ability to climb is one of the greatest gifts imaginable. There is joy in meeting the challenge, of savouring the view, of living through rocket-like descents. And at this time of year when many of us are plotting the great trips we will take in the coming months, more than a few are putting together that “once in a lifetime” experience riding Europe’s most famous climbs.

It does not matter how slow you go, as long as you don’t stop. – Confucius

“Mountain High” by British cycling journalist Daniel Friebe (with fabulous photos by Pete Goding) is the book you want to plan that trip with. No fewer than 50 climbs in France, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Andorra are catalogued here, organized by maximum altitude. Most experienced cyclists would probably agree with the selection while many of us have their own additions but the climbs are chosen not only for their beauty or topography but also for the historic role they have played in professional racing. The Tour de France is most heavily represented, of course, followed by the Giro d’Italia and leavened with a few Vuelta monsters.

But the book opens with the 77 m high Koppenberg in Belgium as it keeps to its stated goal that “this book and its photography are as much about the emotions those roads and mountains have bestirred as the physical climbs themselves…..our goal is to piece together the features, the stories, the quirks and unique attractions of 50 of Europe’s most famous and compelling cycling ascents…”

The Koppenberg.

The layout of each section is very clear, with most climbs earning four pages. In addition to several fine photos (there are more than 250 in the book), the reader can enjoy a capsule history of the importance of the climb. Sometimes, like the Croce d’Aune where Tullio Campagnolo was unable to change a wheel in 1927, the climb is not that important anymore in pro racing but at one point it marked some kind of remarkable event in cycling. Of course, cycling respects its own history so the Croce d’Aune came back for the Giro’s centennial edition in 2009. Daniel Friebe’s text is economical yet elegant and the armchair cyclist will be content.

Col Agnello.

But wait: there’s more! Each climb gets its own sidebar “Fact File.” This gives the reader everything he or she might need to know about the climb, including a location map and a detailed profile with colour-coded gradient indicators. There is even information on where to find refreshments on the climb and alternative routes. The graphic designers have done superb work in this book and in its 220 pages there is enough to plan a whole lot of European climbing holidays.

St. Gotthard.

The Usual Suspects are all there: the Stelvio, the Tourmalet, the Galibier, the Sella Ronda passes, Col de la Madeleine, Hautacam and so forth. There are some unusual additions: the Basque Country’s short, evil Puerto de Urkiola; the Montйe Laurent Jalabert, which is all of 3.3 kms; the Cirque de Gavarnie; and the weird Pico de Veleta, the only climb over 3,000 m.

Pico de Veleta.

Having ridden many of these climbs (including, to my surprise, ten of the 2,000 m+ climbs!), I know that everyone has favourites to once again savour, or climbs that should have been in the book. I would have liked to see some more of the Swiss passes included, such as the Albula or Klausenpass, for their sheer beauty but the author has made good choices and even those familiar with the stories of many of these climbs will get a lot of enjoyment out of this book.

Colle delle Finestre.

The author identifies one of the great joys of cycling in the mountains:

“…simply put, although most of us will never play football at Wembley or cricket at Lords, we can ride the Galibier or the Ventoux tomorrow – but we know that it will hurt.”

“To deprive oneself of that challenge, though, would be to bridle at the drawbridge to a magical kingdom, a private wonderland where you won’t find witches or dragons– but the wheels of a bicycle point the high and winding way to pure elation.”

Towards Gourette.

With the rapid growth in the market for active vacations, there have been numerous books on the great climbs of Europe. “Mountain High” must be considered among the best and once this list of 50 is checked off, we all look forward to the next book of 50 Almost-As-Great Climbs from Messrs. Friebe and Goding.

Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame! -William Butler Yeats

“Mountain High” by Daniel Friebe, with photos by Pete Goding
Quercus Publishing, London, 2011
223 pp., ill., hardback
ISBN 978 085738 624 3

Extracts may be viewed HERE!

Suggested retail price: Ј20 (in the UK); available on-line as well as through bookstores

When not cursing like Tullio, Leslie Reissner may be found overcoming gravity at www.TinDonkey.com

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