If you've ever fancied challenging yourself to tackle a pro stage in a Grand Tour, or batter yourself over the course of a Spring Classic, Peter Cossins' new book, Ultimate Étapes, could provide the motivation you need.
Peter is the former editor of Procycling magazine, so is well qualified to act as your guide to some of the greatest, and hardest, days in the saddle faced by today's peloton. Whether you would want to tackle them yourself is another matter (especially over roads that won't be closed for your visit), but even if you don't there's plenty of inspiration in the fantastic photographs and informative text to keep you in cycling holidays for the next 20 years or more.
Ask 25 cyclists what they believe to be the greatest one-day races or tour stages in Europe and you'll get nearly as many answers. Right from the start, Peter defends his selection, saying: 'My aim has been to present a mix of renowned and less-well-known destinations across as broad a range of countries as possible.'
Writing for a British audience may also have some influence on his selection – there is room for Stage 7 of the Tour of Britain 2014, through the South Downs, but not for a stage finishing on Mont Ventoux. Two of the 25 stages are in England, eight in France (though others stray in). Spain features in three, Italy in four and Germany is well represented with three.
Belgian and Dutch Classics and Monuments feature strongly: The Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold Race, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and two stages of the Tour de France, one also doing duty as part of Paris-Roubaix. I'm already thinking about how I can get to do some riding in the Ardennes, because this book is really selling it to me.
Each Étape is a stage from a particular year. Nearly all are rooted in the 21st century, perhaps to appeal to a new generation of cyclists, though as a confirmed fuddyduddy I would have liked a few more historical instalments. Peter does delve into the history books for three stages: the 1994 Giro d'Italia, celebrating Marco Pantani's crushing performance on Stage 15 over the Stelvio and Mortirolo; 1977's route to the Alpe d'Huez finish; and 1910's first excursion into the Pyrenees, an almost unbelievable epic over 326km and five Cat 1 or HC passes. Meanwhile, Peter laces his route descriptions with tales from cycling legend as he goes along, adding a great deal to the interest of the text.
As well as a route description, each stage includes a 'Fact File' with a route profile, thumbnail map and locator, with details of the big climbs where appropriate. There are also tips about other riding in the same area, and particularly mouthwatering are the suggestions for sportive events connected to the featured races. Even if the prospect of a full 253km of the Liège-Bastogne-Liège doesn't appeal, you might feel confident at tackling one of the shorter routes on the sportive of the same name.
I did notice one or two small errors that should have been picked up at the proof-reading stage (the Ötztal Alps are in the west of Austria, not the east, for example), but no doubt these will be ironed out before the paperback edition.
As I have already hinted, the photographs are the star features, as you might expect in a glossy, coffee-table volume. Mainly from the files of Gruber Images and Corbis, they are superb, both as records of the beauty of the sport we enjoy and the outstanding locations in which it is carried out. Gaze upon the full-page picture of the rider on the Grosse Scheidegg Pass on page 120 and tell me you don't want to be there. Look at the image of Spartacus riding on the cobbles on the Ronde van Vlaanderen, and ask yourself, 'Do I look that good on a bike?'
A word, too, for the captions, which are sometimes neglected but here add valuable information to what you see.
The overall shape of the book is to create a European super-tour, starting in York and finishing up in Madrid. Tackling the whole lot would be a major undertaking, not least in time, travel and expense. No doubt somebody will complete it, but sadly it won't be me.
Filled with beautiful photos and useful information, this book could tempt you to tackle something really big
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Ultimate Etapes by Peter Cossins
Size tested: Hardback, 224 Pages
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
From the publisher's promotional material: "Ultimate Étapes is a book for cyclists of all abilities - from experienced club racers to enthusiastic amateurs who might just want to take on one great cycle. Each stage includes a detailed route description, (with map and profile) and suggestions on other riding within each region, including details of the most significant sportives in the area. Peter Cossins beautifully written text explains why each stage merits inclusion with superb descriptions of the majestic scenery, the heroic deeds of cycling's legendary riders or the sheer endeavour and exhilaration of completing a stage."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Aurum Press Ltd 2016
Product Dimensions: 25.7 x 2.5 x 29.8 cm
Attractively printed on high-quality glossy paper and neatly bound.
A good work-out for any coffee table. It may weigh more than your wheelset.
For the price, it's a lustrous production with plenty of reading. Worth the money for the photographs in my opinion – and available for less online.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
If the aim is to whet the appetite for some outstanding riding in scenic settings, it certainly succeeds.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Superb photographs, plenty of useful ride information and inspiring.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The route descriptions become rather repetitive after a while.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
First, it's a great idea. Expect to see the first complete log of all the rides on Strava soon. The book is beautifully presented with superb photographs. There's plenty of useful information about riding in the areas described. However, I have my doubts about the suitability of full pro-race stages for amateur days out on open roads. More of an aspiration than a challenge, perhaps.
About the tester
I usually ride: Cannondale CAAD10 My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: A few times a week I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: touring, sportives, general fitness riding, mountain biking