Sunday, April 24, 2016

"Classic Cycling Race Routes" by Chris Sidwells

Although this book is largely intended for a British audience with 24 of the 52 rides it profiles in the UK and Ireland, and the rest in Europe, I felt compelled to read it.  I wasn't so much searching for roads to ride, but to have my knowledge expanded on those legendary routes that I have ridden of the Classics and  in the Alps and Pyrenees. Chris Sidwells is a cycling authority.  He's written a handful of books on racing, including a biography of his uncle, Tom Simpson. I felt assured he'd sprinkle in insights and stories that would make this a worthwhile read.

There was less of that than I hoped for and all too much simplistic advice, as the book caters more to the neophyte than the experienced rider, even giving advice on how to buy a bike and how to repair a puncture.  But my patience with his lapses into the tone of a children's book was rewarded by his chapter on Mont Ventoux.  It bore testimony to how cyclists are drawn to challenges and can push them to the point of absurdity.

For some it's not enough to simply ride to the summit of this beast of a mountain that claimed the life of his uncle. Better yet is to ride up all three paved routes in one day and claim a certificate to hang on one's wall for accomplishing the feat. One must acquire a control card from the Club des Cinglès du Mont-Ventoux and have it stamped at the tourist office in the three towns where climbs commence and then at the souvenir shop at the top.  Then one earns the designation of a Cinglè, French for crazy.  

Since 1988 when the challenge was established, more than 5,000 people have accomplished the feat.  One can join the even more elite group of Bicinglettes by doing all three routes twice in one day.  One can also become a "Galèrien" (Galley Slave) by biking up a dirt road along with the three paved roads in one day.  But even that's not enough for some.  Jean-Pascal Roux, a supreme crazy, made eleven ascents in 24-hours in 2006 putting him in a class of his own.

The roads up Ventoux are littered with discarded wrappings of energy gels and bars.  When I made my first of several ascents, though never more than one in a day, I stopped to pick up the litter, partially as a good deed, but also as a chance for a brief respite and also to make a study of what potion was most popular and which nationality was the worst litterer.  There were packs in French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch and languages I wasn't sure of.  The higher I climbed the thicker the packets became, too thick to continue picking up.  I was running out of space for all of them and time to reach the summit, I was stopping so often. Sidwells advises that one should always wear a helmet, but he says nothing about littering.  Even The Tour de France now has specific zones for riders to discard their litter. 

The editors of the book don't even abide by Sidwells' helmet edict, including a photo of a rider without a helmet six pages after Sidwells calls helmets an "essential."  He also advises lights and reflectors for tunnels, even when they are lit.  He's against fruit juices, "as they can cause gastric stress," and thinks it's a good idea to set one's watch to beep every twenty minutes as a reminder to drink.  He adds that it's also okay to drink between these twenty-minute intervals.  If one has spare water, it's a good idea to pour it over one's head and on to one's legs as the cooling effect will reduce sweat and the amount of blood one's body uses to shift heat to one's skin, allowing it to get on with its primary task of transporting oxygen and fuel to one's  muscles.

When replicating the Paris-Tours Classic he thinks one will need a support vehicle to supply food and drink, even though there are ample stores along the route.  One continually wonders at his logic and how inept and ill-informed he thinks his readers are.  It's almost as if a team of lawyers demanded he add all sorts of extra advice in case the publishers were sued by cyclists who attempted these routes and suffered some adversity.

The book may be padded with unnecessary and almost insulting advice, but there is less prose than photos and maps.  Most rides are illustrated with multiple, often full-page, photos.  The maps and altitude charts usually fill a page as well.  The book lacks though an overview map showing where the routes are in relation to one another.  Nor does the Ventoux map show the dirt road up the mountain.

I wouldn't want to discourage anyone from purchasing such a good-looking book with some useful information, but I wouldn't say it is a necessity.  It is one of those books that had me thinking I ought to be out riding and it needn't be any place special as this book might make one think is a priority.  It was almost a surprise there wasn't a box at the end of each chapter for one to check after one had ridden the route.  This could have carried the title of  "The Cyclist's Bucket List."  He twice uses the term to describe addendums to the fifty-two rides listed.

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