every year on the tour de france, poor david and sean receive the same question; 'how do the climbs in britain compare with those we're watching in the alps and pyrenees?'. yes, you can laugh, but every year there are cycling newbies, perhaps watching the tour de france for the first time, and you can sort of see why they'd want to know. i have previously recounted my own stupidity after watching millar et al climbing those very same mountains on channel four's tour coverage in the early eighties. let's face it, anyone who does something well makes it look all too easy, and that's what those grimpeurs managed on the small screen. thus i pulled my ten-speed racer from the garage and sped up the hill separating troon from dundonald. half-way up, i'd to stop at the side of the road and throw up.
years later i managed a similar feat climbing on a loaded touring bike to the foot of goat fell on arran. surely someone from the same neck of the woods as robert millar, and with hair approaching a similar length should be able to climb with the same ease?
the current explosion in the number of sportives throughout the uk seems hell bent on either creating a super-race of climbers, or putting off as many as possible from ever entering a uk sportive again. organisers all across the country vie with each other to see who can include the most accumulated metres of climbing, not always to the happiness and joy of those intent on participating. but suppose climbing hills defines just who you are on a bicycle, and aside from carefully selecting which sportives may fit the bill, where does an aspiring grimpeur turn for inspiration and the climber's equivalent of the knowledge?
if you'd asked me this last month i would have had to develop the pixel simile for shrugged shoulders. bowmore main street is quite steep, and port askaig brae at 14% is hardly the most welcoming sight a touring cyclist has been met with on arriving at islay. but there has to be more, even for those who get out a bit more than i do. simon warren is that very man.
in similar manner to the obsessive trainspotter, mr warren is an obsessive hillclimber and, on this evidence, collector and documentor of same. gathered in this perfectly formed, compact and bijou volume are 100 of the finest climbs the uk has to offer, all mapped, illustrated and rated. the latter aspect is obviously totally objective, though when it comes to the bealach na ba, i doubt many will quibble with mr warren's eleven out of ten rating. as the opening paragraph states; 'this is it: the holy grail, the toughest and wildest climb in britain. anything you have read or been told about this amazing road is likely to be true.
there are a variety of ways this book can be accepted into your lives; a simple read through can turn you into an armchair expert, able to discuss the relative hills without necessarily giving away the fact that you have never even so much as glanced at much of the vertical tarmac on display. or perhaps more interactively, employ it in i-spy book fashion. those books of yesteryear encouraged completion and sending off to big chief i-spy (no, i'm not making this up) for a feather and certificate. since the book's size allows it easily to be fitted in one of those three rear pockets, it should be a simple, if time-consuming and expensive matter, to tick off each climb as it is conquered. i am not sure, however, that big chief simon warren would be too keen on receiving ticked copies of his book arriving through the letterbox.
the one climb included in the book that i have long harboured an inclination (did you see what i did there?) to ride up, is the rest and be thankful near cairndow in argyll. the modern road is traversed on any bus or car journey to and from islay, while the rather unkempt original road as documented on page 119, is visible in hell's glen a substantial distance below. this road was at one time used for motor car hill climbs, and though flattish along its initial meanderings, it rears up rather alarmingly over the last third distance. the only downside to such aspiration is the appearance of a farm gate on its steepest part, a gate that seems to be interminably shut. if i had to stop to open the gate, it would diminish all expectations and it seems unlikely that i'd ever get going again.
100 greatest cycling climbs is one of those books that you always thought existed, but didn't. the panoply of uk cycling ephemera is greatly enhanced with its release, and while not so lavish a production as the recent road climbs of the pyrenees from rapha, it is just as necessary an addition to the bookcase. mr warren is to be applauded for his obsessive work, and the publishers congratulated for their faith.
posted friday 25 june 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................