Ride A Stage Of The Tour De France, Kristian Bauer (2011)

A practical guide to Tour climbs that is suffused with personal experience

A&C Black, 9781408133330 204pp £9.50

The lure of pitting oneself against mountains is a curious one. In one form or another, humans have being doing it recreationally for at least 500 years, and yet the question remains – why work up such a sweat simply to reach the top of a hill?

There is much to enjoy on the ascent, of course – unique views and the blood-pumping joy of exertion. Then there are the giddily terrifying, close-to-flight descents and, on those cols and passes that feature in Tour de France, the chance to wrap oneself in recent mythology.

At heart, though, I suspect that the real motivation for cyclists in the Alps as much as for Munro baggers in Scotland, is that mountains are dependably beatable. In the valley floor, we are all Samson to the rocky outcrop’s Goliath, but with persistence we will all eventually bestride the beast we have bested. We may never be acclaimed as the Eagle of anywhere, but the experience of pitting oneself against such a behemoth and ending up on top is addictive.

It is a dependency that has Kristian Bauer deep in its thrall. His book provides how-to details for climbing 40 of the Grand Boucle’s best known climbs – noting where to park, what provision there is to obtain food and drink on the way up, steepness and ascent and road-surface quality.

Critically, he also notes what times of year the roads are actually open – the snow gates on most of them clang shut in the early Autumn.
He also weaves the Tour’s narrative into most sections – noting recent points of race drama on many of his routes. For anyone whose will to climb has been ignited by Tour, this will do much to locate the potentially bewildering range of mountains that feature in the great spectacle.

But although intended as a practical guide, Bauer leaves one in no doubt that his advice is based on practical experience. Nearly all the pictures are either by the author, or feature him demonstrating his own climbing prowess. His obvious enthusiasm lends the book a friend-to-friend charm that might easily have been absent.

This book was, however, written originally in German for the German market. This is clearly reflected in the riders Bauer quotes and some of the pull-out boxes. More troubling is the quality of the language. It is a good piece of translation but appears not to have been done by a native English speaker. Only occasionally are words mis-used and a generous reader might treat this as one would a German friend, whose English was exceptional, but occasionally needed nuances explained. It is a shame, nonetheless, that the publisher appears to have been unwilling to fund a final read-through.

Nevertheless, for anyone planning a mountain-bagging tour, Bauer’s is an invaluable starting point – just remember, some habits are easier to pick up than they are to kick.

PS Aug 11

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