in this modern day of the interweb, any attempt to learn stuff can be relatively easily satisfied by searching online. in the case of my percussive proclivities, youtube can both salve my inabilities while at the same time, underlining them. currently, i favour the style of an american drummer by the name of jay bellerose; while i have the technical skills to play in a similar manner, where on earth he finds his ideas, phrasing and touch, i will probably never find out to my own satisfaction.
given his status as a session drummer favoured by producers larry klein, joe henry and t-bone burnett, he probably spends more time in studios than on stage, but it is possible to find one or two live performances from which to learn. the most recent to surface is by way of a lengthy trio concert in san francisco college of music featuring the aforesaid mr bellerose, guitarist adam levy and keyboard player larry goldings. the concert was essentially to showcase the talents of mr levy who last year released an album entitled town and country.
in his introduction, levy made mention of the album and eventually explained the premise behind the title, lending a thematic thread to the concert, a similar and ultimately highly satisfying ploy utilised by author peter cossins in his book about alpe d'huez.
though i'm none too sure whether the following ought to be the subject of a spoiler alert, i confess i had read several chapters before i realised the cleverness that was taking place before my very eyes. though i thought it a smidgeon on the odd side that each chapter commenced in italicised text, ending within one or two pages before continuing on what seemed an often unrelated topic. it also pains me to admit that i thought it odd that there was continual repeated reference to specific belgian and dutch cyclists. sometimes i shouldn't be let out on my own.
cossins has brilliantly, in my opinion, commenced each chapter with a blow by blow account of the alpe d'huez stage in 1976, only the second time the mountain had featured in the tour since fausto coppi won the first edition in 1952. the '76 edition showcased an epic battle between joop zoetemelk and lucien van impe, a battle made all the more dramatic by cossins' pacing over the narrative's 285 pages. in retrospect, i should have witnessed the clues; at the end of the introductory, scene setting chapter Queen of the Mountains:
"It highlights the difficulty of the ascent, the splendour of an arena that has no rival in terms of its drawing power, its vital importance to any Tour that tackles it, the reasons why every professional wants to win there, why every amateur wants to climb it, and why it has become cycling's greatest climb."
that last statement is, of course, open to discussion. there are many who may not totally agree with mr cossins, at least not necessarily from the outset, and perhaps not even at the finale of the first chapter. however, the story (if you'll pardon the pun) might well be different on reaching that last chapter.
as to it being the climb that every professional wants to win, it may be pertinent to temper that with a quote from the inimitable robert millar. "This is the only hill I hated. I never got up (t)here in a decent state, not once." these are perhaps unusual words from a true climber, the likes of which the opening few hairpin bends could have been seen to favour more than most. as Stephen Roche puts it "What has always worked against me... is the severity of the early slopes. There is no way you can maintain a rhythm on those slopes... For a pure climber these things come naturally and such gradients provide an opportunity to distance rivals."
this perhaps explains, other than the twenty-five hairpins en-route to the ski station at the top, and despite being described as "a climb that is too often dismissed as an unremarkable road leading to a distinctly unattractive resort", why the mountain is held in such high esteem by the thousands of fans who glue themselves to the roadside every time the tour makes its way to the top. these include the substantial number of dutchmen, attracted by the victories of zoetemelk, kuiper (who claims his victory in 1977 began the dutch occupation), winnen, van der velde, rooks and theunisse. the fact that there has not been a dutch winner at huez for many a long year seems not to have diluted the attraction of orange clad fans.
peter cossins has planned and authored this book almost to perfection. rather than simply list chronological victories since 1976, he has provided a biography of the mountain, how its positioning in the fabric of the tour de france has contributed to its surviving importance, a factor that remains true even to this year, when it features on the penultimate day of the race. and i return to his intellect in prefacing each subsequent strand of that biography with the 1976 stage to what andy hampsten describes as "a very good road to get to a ski resort."
though there is no list of chapter headings and contents at the front, there is a comprehensive index and bibliography at the back. however, cossin's alpe d'huez is hardly aimed at the scholarly market, far more at the emotional cycling fan such as you and me. his prose, pacing and research are admirable to say the least; it is no mean feat to write an entire book in praise of a lump of rock with a ski station at the top. and yes, he may be right, alpe d'huez could very well be cycling's greatest climb.
"Half an hour after Zoetemelk has won the day, Thierry Bolle...rolls in 120th and last. [...] He won't even get the perverse bonus of publicity given to the race's lanterne rouge. That honour goes to the appropriately named Frenchman Henri Fin. [...] (He) won't ride the tour again, this day has seen the renaissance of what will soon become cycling's greatest stage."
alpe d'huez by peter cossins is published on thursday 28 may by aurum press.
tuesday 26 may 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................