What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ Bookshelf: Ultimate Étapes

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It was cold this morning on the way to work. A beautiful, sunny day to be sure but not a day that would tempt one to ride the commuter bike, the roads had the suggestion of ice – the winter is on its way. To say nothing of heedless drivers, squinting into the sun and not expecting someone on two wheels. But it is the kind of cold day that when you return home, make a hot cup of tea and put up your feet you can think about summer and the great rides ahead. It is then that you need to escape into a copy of “Ultimate Étapes” by Peter Cossins.

We have had the good fortune here to review books about do-it-yourself tours, cycling history, great races and impressive mountains but it seldom that all of this can be packaged into such an attractive offering. “Ultimate Étapes” is subtitled “Ride Europe’s Greatest Cycling Stages” and it delivers much on this promise.

There are 25 chapters covering riding opportunities from west in Spain to east in Germany, south in Italy and north in England. The conceit is that the 25 “stages” are slightly more than a Grand Tour and covering more ground but aim to offer as wide a variety of terrain as any Grand Tour can offer. “The intention is to replicate the different types of challenges that professional racers face when participating in cycling’s most exhilarating and exacting events, and to enable riders inspired by the beauty, thrills and demands of these races to challenge themselves on exactly the same terrain.”

Peter Cossins has made a very personal selection for his own Tour d’Europe (written over, yes, a dismal winter) but the choices are excellent and nicely set out. For example, the first chapter takes the reader on the Yorkshire Rollercoaster, a 201 km route that matches Stage 2 of the 2014 Tour de France. The photographs are wonderful to look at and the text is well-written and interesting but it also reflects considerable research. We are given a nice map and a profile of the stage, including categorized climbs, accompanied by statistics on each of the nine climbs featured. But in addition to being encouraged to relive one of the Tour’s most exciting and best-attended stages in recent memory, the reader is provided with suggestions for sportive rides (with URLs) and suggestions for additional riding in Yorkshire. There are often comments about the route by professionals to consider too.

So it goes for the remaining chapters. Leaving England we ride along the North Sea in the Netherlands with the 2015 Tour de France, then onto the Amstel Gold course before entering Belgium for some cobbled and hilly fun—more Tour de France stages but also the Ronde, Paris-Roubaix and La Doyenne. How about “The Race at the End of the World” for something different? This is the Tro Bro Léon, a race I was vaguely aware of in Brittany but which looks amazing: a flattish course of 204 kms over dirt roads, with the wind blowing in off of the Atlantic coast. Still in France we can enjoy the Tour de France’s first climb, the Ballon d’Alsace, the second stage in 1905 and the Stage 9 in 2005.

Moving east, we relive Stage 7 of the 2005 Deutschland Tour, a fine race that saw some exciting racing when German cycling was invigorated by Jan Ullrich’s winning of the Tour de France but faded away in 2008. Happily, it will return in 2018 under ASO auspices. The stage in book takes us deep into the gorgeous Black Forest. After a flat interlude near Hamburg (2015 Vattenfall Classics), we move into the mountains, with chunks of the 2007 Deutschland Tour, the 1999 Tour of Switzerland, the 2013 Tour of Romandie, the 1977 Tour de France and then over the Stelvio with Marco Pantani in the 1994 Giro d’Italia.

The book takes us south into Italy now and who would not enjoy the dusty gravel roads of Tuscany’s Strade Bianche or the dramatic landscapes of the Cinque Terre? We will need to take the ferry next since Chapter 19 sees us in dry Corsica for what will probably be the only Tour de France stage held on the island, which took place in 2013.

Returning to the continent, we join Paris-Nice in 2007 as we head westwards in France through the Pyrenees. The masochists can “enjoy” the 1910 Tour de France’s crazy 326 km stage over four massive passes, including the Tourmalet, before riding into Bayonne where “Octave Lapize had to sprint to beat Italy’s Pierino Albini after 14 hours of racing a stage that would change the face of road racing.”

And so into Spain. We can relive the pain of Bradley Wiggins on the Angliru on Stage 15 of the 2011 Vuelta and the book then ends in Contador Country and the famous Bola del Mundo with its spectacular views of Madrid.

Cycling offers us the chance to participate like the professionals unmatched in any other sport. Even if they could get onto a track, most people could not handle (or even afford) a Formula One car. You can’t play baseball by yourself in Wrigley Field. It is possible to run around some Olympic Stadiums if you want but “Ultimate Étapes” reminds us that cycling lets us ride the same roads, enjoy the same scenery and challenge ourselves like the pros in some of the most stunning landscapes imaginable.

The author concludes that writing the book has rekindled his enthusiasm for riding his bike. “It has also reminded me what a spectacular sport road cycling is, reaffirming its unique attribute as a sport where the terrain has as much star value as any of the racers battling over it. Those battlegrounds are, of course, open to everyone.”

Before we know it the snows of winter will be gone and we will have the chance once again to test ourselves on monumental climbs and fly downhill through forested roads. Reading the beautifully-produced “Ultimate Étapes” will make you wish for that day to come even sooner.

“Ultimate Étapes” by Peter Cossins
223 pp., illus., hardbound
Aurum Press, London, 2016
ISBN: 978 1 78131 590 3

Suggested Retail Price: UK £20/US$ 29.99/C$38.99


All photos: Ultimate Etapes by Peter Cossins. Published by Aurum Press.

When not suffering on his turbo trainer in the basement like Wiggo on the Angliru, Leslie Reissner may be found considering his next cycling adventure outdoors at www.tindonkey.com

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