classic cycling race routes. the toughest 52 european challenges. chris sidwells. automobile association publishing hardcover. 224pp illus. £25

classic cycling race routes

if it has been said once, it has been said many more times than that; as cycling aficionados we've never had it so good. there is more than 50% truth in that statement, though if you managed to acquire a copy of l'album d'eddy, you may just have perceived a significant distinction between the unhindered access that allowed the snapping of so many close-ups of merckx, and the teamsky deathstars that shelter sir brad and his cronies from public gaze.

classic cycling race routes

that, however, was then and this is now. what hasn't altered much, if at all, in those intervening years is the opportunity for cycling fans to prostrate themselves on the pathways crossed by their heroes. though i am thankfully not at all enthralled by either football, rugby or cricket, i am well aware that even those living in close glaswegian proximity are unable to nip down to hampden park with their mates for a quick kick-about. that sort of opportunity arrives only at the professional level.

yet even that woman on tv of a wednesday eve, the one who quells the tantrums of misbehaving children in three days, before riding into the sunset on her pashley style bicycle has the opportunity to make her way across the cobbles of paris-roubaix. at least, on the 364 days that the pros aren't using them. similarly, if only a sturmey archer three-speed were up to the challenge, she could climb the angliru in spain, negotiate the 21 hairpins of alpe d'huez or even take a taster session at the sir chris hoy velodrome.

cycling is like that.

and, of course, it isn't just popular nannies who are afforded such opporchancities; you and i, with our highly polished carbon and state of the art sportwool can entertain ourselves likewise. it is one of the great joys of being a cycling fan that we can ride the very roads over which our idols have been victorious or sorely disappointed. that is, assuming we have appropriately prepared ourselves and have the faintest idea of where we're going in foreign lands.

some of the more famous of the great monuments of cycling are alleged to have signposts advertising the route, signposts which are not dependent on it being race day. others, however, look substantially different when not edged by clamouring throngs and populated by camera motorbikes and commissaires' red skodas. in which case, more than a smidgeon of research is required by the more intrepid amongst us.

classic cycling race routes

the amount of research required, however, has been substantially reduced by the publication of chris sidwells' classic cycling race routes, a 200 plus page volume offering a brief but comprehensive guide to 52 routes to purgatory. i might interject at this point that i can understand why garmin are involved in the book's production, but i am totally mystified as to why the automobile association are the publishers of a bicycle book. surely if followed to its logical conclusion, such altruism could lead to reduced membership?

though we have been advised throughout our lifetimes not to judge a book by its cover, in this case i would extend that to the opening chapters. i would be most surprised if any rider who has not only heard of liege-bastogne-liege but intends to ride its 255km has need of being told what size of bicycle to purchase, why cycling jerseys have three rear pockets or that 'Long-sleeved tops range from thin, simple ones for autumn days to thicker, quite technical tops for wearing in really cold weather.' mr sidwells ought perhaps to be a tad more aware of his intended audience.

if you think i judge too harshly, take note of several of the routes contained within: the tour of flanders, gran fondo eddy merckx, milan-san remo, l'eroica, amstel gold and the aforementioned liege-bastogne-liege. granted, there are a slew of sportives that could hardly be classified as classic race routes such as the etape caledonia, the fred whitton challenge, the tour of wessex and the etape pennines, but their inclusion serves only to undermine the veracity of the book's title. perhaps there are indeed cycling wannabes who enter lengthy and hilly sportives on a whim, yet cannot distinguish between one cycle jersey and another.

i truly hope i'm wrong.

as a concession to book sponsors garmin, there is a section entitled 'using a gps device', but it is in effect, simply a brief advertisement. thoughtfully, however, all the routes are available for download to a garmin gps device.

classic cycling race routes

the chapters of faff at the beginning should not, however, dissuade you from purchasing the book, as once into his stride, chris sidwells offers excellent and pertinent advice and information for anyone intending to ride the included routes. maps, profiles, distances, climbing information and a brief history of the event all make for ideal preparation by the inquisitive and intrepid. parcel all this with some excellent illustrations, and 'tis but a simple matter to acquaint oneself with the self-imposed task of emulating the professionals, albeit at considerably reduced pace.

there is. however, a faint hint of the coffee table book about it all, for though the photos are of equitable quality, their size and number mitigate against this being accepted in the premise on which it is offered. however, for armchair pelotonese such as myself, there is an atmosphere to be inhaled throughout its luxurious pages that might just see me get off my lazy backside and go ride at least one of the chapters. and as i have possession of a garmin gps, a good chunk of my pre-pedalling work has been done for me.

if i were you, i'd peruse the list on the back cover first; if anything takes your fancy, even tentatively or for a few years hence, this is the book for you. in the meantime, ignore the opening chapters, savour its pages and images, and remain smug that out of all the world's professional sports, we undoubtedly got the best deal.

friday 4th october 2013