Tour Climbs, Chris Sidwells (2008)

A useful catalogue of the Tours Cols that falters before the summit

Collins 9780007315215 Quarto 256pp £18.99

Sir Hugh Munro almost certainly had no idea what he was unleashing on the world when he started to compile his list of Scottish peaks over 3,000 feet. Nonetheless, by doing so, he kick-started a train-spotterish cult of ticking off lists of peaks.

Those road passes that have featured in the Tour are an obvious sub-set of mountain passages. And leafing through this lavishly-illustrated volume, it is almost impossible not to start fashioning a plan to set about them yourself.

Here are the Tourmalet, the Col d’Aspin, Alpe d’Huez and Ventoux – names that have been burnished over the decades by Phil Liggett’s annual intonations. Each of the big climbs is accorded a spread, which includes a description of the climb itself, historical notes on notable stages that have taken that route, some tips for anyone planning to ride it themselves, a good selection of photographs and a serpentine representation of the twists and turns taken by the road.

The lesser climbs are represented by shorter entries, although all include the length of the climb, maximum altitude and the gain on the road, as well as details of the gradients.

Appealing as the book is, however, it does have significant shortcomings. The most notable is the complete absences of maps. The book’s chapters divide the climbs into seven discreet areas – eastern Pyrenees, western Pyrenees, and so on. You might expect a diagrammatic representation of France showing just where there areas are – particularly, as Sidwells acknowledges, his division of the Alps is a arbitrary one. Even more useful would have been a map at the start of each chapter, giving some indication of the mountains position in relation to each other. And each entry could have done with something rather more useful than the squiggle that it uses to represent the course of the road.

Were this book the product of a small publisher, such omissions might be excusable. The owners of cartographic copyright are well known for extracting substantial fees for the reproduction of their works. Collins, however, and a massive company, with their own cartographic division and are a subsidiary of News Corporation – the second biggest media company on earth.

Occasionally the details throw up concerns, too. The roads over Ventoux spend much of the year closed by snow, often well past Easter. There is no mention of this in Sidwell’s entry on the Giant of Provence. His readers would not thank him to discover the snow gates closed as they sweated their way towards the summit.

The book still has a lot going for it – but it could have been a great deal better.

PS Jan 10

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