In the depths of winter, your love for the bike can wane. Summer, with its shorts and short-sleeves, its trips to the mountains, and its spike in form, seems a long way off. Dips in strength and grim rides through mucky local roads into headwinds, on cold and uncooperating legs, can make you question why you bother.
Sometimes though, something arrives that makes you remember why you love the bike, and why you keep the legs moving through the cold and sunless months.
One of these things arrived from Santa this Christmas. This thing was Michael Blann’s book Mountains: Epic Cycling Climbs.
As you’ve guessed, for me, the ultimate way to spend time on the bike is to ride up a bloody massive mountain. The slow burn and reflection of the climb, the mental and physical management of your resources, and the immense sense of achievement as you reach the summit to look back at the point where you started, thousands of meters below and seemingly a world away. The exhileration, skill and concentration of the descent, reflecting on what has just been, the ridiculous speed you can achieve on two very slim tyres.
So, why do you need this book in your life?
Firstly, and predominantly, the images. Blann explains in his introduction that he has always favoured arial photography, and so the book is filled with images encapsulating the magnificence of the mountains from above. The roads are picked out in their glorious brutality, the jagged peaks are shown towering in their seeming unreachable defiance, the riders are insignificant dots in their isolation.
You want to sit and stare at each one for hours.
The gallery is like a who’s who of European cols, featuring greats from the French, Italian and Swiss Alps, the Dolomites, Pyrenees, the Asturias, and a nod to training camp favourites in the Canary and Balearic Islands. Even those relatively new to pro cycling will recognise the names; Croix de Fer, Madeleine, Peresourde, Gardena, Furka; to name a few.
Blann explores the mountains in all their forms, in splendid solitude, with sole riders bravely battling gravity and the unforgiving elements, or with the riders, caravans and fans of the Tour de France turning the Col into the ampitheatres of drama that define a grand tour.
The imagery is so unbelievably evocative it almost brings a tear to my eye.
The physical pain of a climb is fleeting, but the memories of glory or suffering are lasting. Photographs of the Izoard, Galibier, Port de bales and Aubisque transport me directly back to the highs and lows, the exhaustion and exhileration, of some of my 2016 season defining rides during the Haute Route and Marmotte.
And it’s not all pretty pictures. The vignettes and tales that accompany them are just as beautifully composed and considered. With contributions from riders both present and past such as LeMond, Roche, Bardet and Geogeghan Hart, each piece is a perfect length, at around ten minutes of reading. They accompany the images but don’t dominate them.
I’ve yet to read them all, but the ten or so I have read are incredible. From a journey into Robert Millar’s mind as he goes mano-a-mano with Pedro Delgadoto on the Bonnette, to Bernie Eisel’s recollections of nursing Cavendish up the Tourmalet in the grupetto, each is so compelling and takes you directly to a moment in time and place.
I love this book.
I love the moutains.
I fucking love riding my bike up mountains.
And I can’t wait to get back to them. Getting this book has reminded me why i ride, and re-vitalised my love for the bike and the satisfaction and suffering of training.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough: whether you’ve experienced the challenge of riding a Col or not, this needs a place on your coffee table. And if you don’t have a coffee table, you need to buy one especially so that this book can sit proudly on top of it (and to give you somewhere to put your coffee).
Rating: HORS CATEGORIE
Get it here: https://www.michaelblann.com/product/book/