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Great Cycling Climbs – The French Alps



Most of the information from the definitive Rapha guides to the Alps in a more condensed, economical format

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Great Cycling Climbs gives cyclists the important information that they might need about the well-known Alpine climbs, as well as making them aware of the other worthwhile challenges in the same area. The information is extracted from the two Rapha guides to the Alps, but repackaged in a more manageable and affordable book that retains most of what made the originals desirable – but not everything.

  • Pros: The most comprehensive source of information for Alpine cyclists just became more accessible
  • Cons: No updates or new climbs

One of the reasons why I liked the Rapha series of books was they were so comprehensive: in fact, there was far more information than most people would ever need. They really are the antithesis of Simon Warren's series of compact punchy books.

I was surprised to see this book by Thames & Hudson, as it featured Graeme Fife as the author, with photographs from Peter Drinkell: the same two that gave us the Rapha books. Surely they hadn't revisited all the Alpine climbs in pursuit of new material? No: it turns out that the important bits of the two existing Rapha books about the Alps have been condensed into one. If you already have the Rapha books you won't gain much new, but if you thought they were a bit intimidating then Great Cycling Climbs might be more suitable for you.

Let's take a look at what has been left out and what remains...

With 81 climbs covered in detail (and several others in passing), that is under half of what the two volumes together covered. Coverage remains comprehensive for the 'core' Alpine regions, so you still have more climbs covered in any given area than most people have ever heard of, let alone climbed. However, most of the (geographically) fringe regions have been removed in their entirety – which means nothing about Mont Ventoux, Col de l'Iseran or Col de la Lombarde, for example.

Great Cycling Climbs - Herd of goats on the road near Albertville copyright 2019 Peter Drinkell.jpg

© 2019 Peter Drinkell

Since the title indicates that this is about the French Alps, I suppose it should be no surprise that if any climb is also a pass into a neighbouring county, then you only hear about the French side – for example, Col d'Agnel.

The descriptions of each climb have been carried over from the Rapha books, and have generally been shortened by reducing coverage of the military or religious history, while still keeping any from cycling's past – which, as you might expect, is often related to the Tour de France. Fife's prose is largely untouched, and remains as florid and bountiful as ever, and it will not be to everyone's taste.

The image count has been roughly halved, mainly at the expense of double page spreads, giving the book slightly less 'coffee table presence' than its predecessors. There are a few new images, which are very much in the same style as the original selection and were almost certainly taken at the same time. Curiously, many of the captions of the retained pictures seem to have been reworked.

Great Cycling Climbs - Rock-cut tunnel at Vercors copyright 2019 Peter Drinkell.jpg

© 2019 Peter Drinkell

Mapping is rarely a strong point of such guides, and even though the maps have been redrawn they are still only basic plans and only really show the relative positions of climbs and major towns; you would definitely need additional mapping information if you ever wanted to find or ride any climb.

Finally, the profiles of the climbs have been removed. They were never a strong point in the Rapha books anyway. Fife sticks to the basics of length, height gain, and maximum gradient – sensibly choosing to steer clear of misleading average gradient information.

The end result is a book that covers more Alpine climbs than any other – except for the two from Rapha; unless you buy it 'on offer', it is also more expensive than any other book about Alpine climbs – except for Rapha's two, at £40 each; it has more pictures than any other similar book – except for Rapha's, and also Mountain High and Mountain Higher, if they happen to cover the climb in question; finally, it has more extensive descriptions than any other book, with the exceptions again being Rapha's – and again Mountain High/Higher, where the number of Alpine climbs included may be limited, but the treatment is comparably wide-ranging.

Great Cycling Climbs - Lac du Bourget joins the Canal de Saviere copyright 2019 Peter Drinkell.jpg

© 2019 Peter Drinkell

Given that this book is an edited version of existing material, there are no new climbs – yet in the meantime le Tour has thrust a few new names into the limelight. I suspect that were it to be compiled with today's information Fife would want to include the Lacets du Montvernier from 2015, and even Val Thorens from this year – and who knows what the race will unearth in years to come?

> Essential reading: 33 of the best books about cycling

Great Cycling Climbs distils the essential information from the two original Rapha books into a more manageable and economical format. Some of the sacrifices made to fit the new format will matter little to most people, such as picture count and historical information; others might be of more concern, such as the omission of some areas – especially if that includes a climb of interest to you.


Most of the information from the definitive Rapha guides to the Alps in a more condensed, economical format

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Make and model: Great Cycling Climbs The French Alps

Size tested: 352pp

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 Thames & Hudson:

The Alps are a place of legend for cyclists, road-racers and enthusiasts alike. Home to one of the most challenging sections of the Tour de France, the mountains offer some of Europe's most gruelling yet glorious cycling climbs through Geneva, Chamonix, Annecy, Chambéry, Grenoble, Le Bourg-d'Oisans and Barcelonnette.

In this comprehensive guide, teacher, passionate cycling enthusiast and author of one of the most renowned books on the Tour de France and L'Alpe d'Huez, Graeme Fife presents the greatest mountain routes of the Alps. Fife's lively writing style, full of anecdotes and humorous asides, captures the beauty and intrigue of the mountains, as well as key moments in cycle-racing history. A selection of photography of the routes and stunning scenery follows each chapter and hand-drawn maps document some of the most famous – and most challenging – climbs, both well- and lesser-known, including Chablais Massif, Grand Saint-Bernard, Col de la Colombière, Mont du Chat and Col du Mont Noir.

Whether planning a weekend micro-adventure or an epic cycling escape, this beautifully illustrated guide is essential reading for cyclists of all stripes.

Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?

Title: Great Cycling Climbs – the French Alps

Author: Graeme Fife

Publisher: Thames & Hudson

Date: 4/7/19

Format: Hardback

Pages: 352

ISBN: 9780500022719

Price: £29.95

Rate the product for value:

Even at full price it offers good value compared to any similar book; at the current price available online (£21) it offers excellent value.

Tell us what you particularly liked about the product

It brings lesser-known climbs to your attention, and inspires you to seek them out.

Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product

The lack of any updates.

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 overall score

More comprehensive than any other books about cycling climbs in the French Alps, but more manageable than the Rapha books on which it is based, Great Cycling Climbs strikes a good balance and makes a worthwhile contribution to the genre.

Overall rating: 8/10

About the tester

Age: 59  Height:   Weight:

I usually ride:   My best bike is:

I've been riding for: Over 20 years  I ride: Most days  I would class myself as: Expert

I regularly do the following types of riding: touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding

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