“Mountain High – Europes Greatest Cycle Climbs” by Daniel Friebe and Pete Goding is a book that I would have loved to have written. It’s currently on sale at amazon.co.uk for just £10 – a steal.
There are guidebooks to alpine climbs, there are “coffee table” cycling books, and there are books about pro cycling.
Mountain High attempts to be all three – and broadly succeeds. Edit: And I absolutely adore the sequel “Mountain Higher.”
The Selection of 50 Climbs
The book profiles 50 Climbs. Any list of the best 50 climbs in Europe will have some controversial choices. But I think Friebe chooses a compelling list.
At the bottom of the page is an interactive Google Map of all 50 climbs coloured by country. If you click on the pins I have added links to trip reports for roughly half fo the climbs.
The book discusses the climbs sequentially by altitude. The first few climbs are tiny – and to an alps snob like me – a little uninteresting. But they are hugely famous. He selects them from several of the most famous one day races. For example: Koppenberg & Muur (Tour of Flanders), La Redoute (Liège-Bastogne-Liège), Cipressa, (Milan-San Remo), Mur de Huy (Flèche Wallone), Il Ghisallo (Tour of Lombardy). It’s tough to argue with such a legendary list.
Update: The authors have published a seuqel: “Mountain Higher. It deals with less famous, more “undiscovered” climbs. Frankly, it is fabulous.
As the list progresses the list gets more and more interesting. 7 Countries are includes: Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, and Andorra. Many of the climbs will be familiar to Col hunters: Galibier, Gavia, Tourmalet, Alpe d’Huez, Stelvio, Finestre, Madeleine, Iseran, Mortirolo, Glandon, GrossGlockner, Zoncolan, Angliru, etc.
But the list is sure to contain several pleasant surprises for almost everyone. Number one on my list: Cirque de Gavarnie in the Pyrenées is new to me and sounds fantastic.
What’s missing? First, his only Jura mountains selection (my backyard) was hugely disappointing: Col de la Faucille. I can think of a dozen better climbs nearby. Not least of all the Jura giants Col du Grand Colombier or Mont du Chat. The author told me he selected Faucille for it’s views of Mont Blanc (which are good).
Also, Switzerland is hugely under-represented with only the fantastic St. Gothhard Pass (and one side of Grand St. Bernard). The author told me this was due to the lack of race history here – but I think this is a hole in an otherwise pretty good list. As I’ve written a few times before, some of the big climbs in Switzerland are as good or better than anything in France.
The Photos – A Coffee Table Book
The photos by Peter Goding are very good. And there are lots for every climb. Lots of people will love the book for the photography alone. But honestly, a little part of me was slightly disappointed. I wanted more 2-page, huge, epic photos. Or better lighting – on average the photos seemed dark. This is certainly not the best cycling “coffee table” book in my collection – but again it’s very good. FWIW, probably my favourite is the French “Cols Mythique” by L”Equipe.
As a Book to Read
In the intro the author writes: “Riding a bike uphill is hard, so there is no need to reaffirm that here, many times over. Instead, our goal is to piece together the features, the stories, the quirks and attractions ….”
I think Friebe does an admirable job of accomplishing this goal. He knows his climbs – but doesn’t waste time describing each kilometre. Most of the climbs, of course, include a discussion of their pro-cycling history. Lots of good stories. But the author also tries hard to give a feel for the geography and history of each location, as well as any other interesting stories of the climb even if tangential to cycling.
Reading each chapter is a fun 15 minute journey.
As a Cycle Touring Book
Here I think this book shines. The authors have chosen a simple but effective layout. Each climb has a section with climb details (see photo above): A simple map with info like start towns. An elevation profile for each climb. And some additional info like simple directions to the start, climb data (average, max grade), etc.
And for me, best of all. They cover EVERY important side for each climb. This puts them ahead of many other books. My goodnesss, Monte Grappe profiles 5 sides. As a cyclo-tourist this is fairly awesome. Too many people, for example, climb the “famous” side of Stelvio without realizing that the back side is also one of the very best climbs anywhere – in its own right.
Overall, I love this book. And I am sure it will have some influence on my 2012 cycling schedule.
Map of all 50 Climbs
Blue = France
Green = Italy
Red = Switzerland
Purple = Belgium
Pale Blue = Spain/Andorra
Yellow = Austria
The rounded pins are some of the climbs from the sequel.
Click pins, roughly half the climbs have links to trip reports.
View Mountain High in a larger map
There are guidebooks to alpine climbs, there are "coffee table" cycling books, and there are books about pro cycling.
Mountain High attempts to be all three - and broadly succeeds.