Classic Cycling Race Routes
The Toughest 52 European Challenges
by Chris Sidwells
Reviewed by Nick Dey
Published: 15th October 2013
AA Publishing in association with Garmin
An inspiring book to read and then to ride… if you dare!
This inspiring hardback book presents a selection of the most challenging and rewarding routes for road and racing cyclists. From the South Downs Epic and Tour of the Peak in the UK, to Paris-Roubaix in France and Tour of Flanders in Belgium, from Gruyere Cycling Tour in Switzerland and Tour of Lombardy in Italy to the San Sebastian Classic in Spain, this book is the ultimate motivation for cyclists who want to push themselves to the next level.
The fifty-two classic European cycling routes – one ride for each week of the year – selected to appear in this weighty A4 hard backed tome of well over two-hundred pages cater for the aspiring and experienced cyclist as well as those more romantically inclined, inspired as they are by the epic routes raced by the legends of the sport.
Experience an example… The Retro Ronde.The routes have derived their inspiration from the many professional races as well as the ever growing mass-participation events, the cyclosportives. Indeed the twenty-four routes that cover the UK and Ireland are exclusively ‘sportive in scope. I’m ashamed to report that I have ridden only one … but can vouch for the books accuracy; I was indeed Flat Out in the Fens! Several of the European events feature in the World Cycling Tour: an age group series in which participants have the chance to qualify for and compete in an age-group final. You, yes you, could become a World Champion!
Route 34, pp148-150, covers the outstanding Retro Ronde*
I rode this in 2013 and am happy to state without hyperbole that it is my absolute favourite cycling experience, second to none – full review coming soon to Cycling Shorts (Ed. I promise!)
Here I am… climbing ‘The Wall’ Retro Ronde 2013
In the book the route distance is correctly stated as 100 km (I managed 112 km but did get myself lost taking in a few extra Heligen!) but the total climbing was very different to my experience. The book states 525 m however I managed 1200 m. To be fair to the author the organisers fine tune their route each year – and I did do the extra cobbled climbs! All the other information is accurate and succeeds in conveying the flavour of the experience. For experience the Retro Ronde certainly is! I shall be back every year – or as long as the old bike, and even older legs will allow. If you do plan on riding try to make a long weekend of it. The ‘Crit’, ahem, racing on the Saturday is wholly authentic yet rather tongue in cheek, and well worth the entry fee of €5!
Posing for the official photo at the start… the atmosphere was the best I have experienced.
So how does this fine book present the information?
The book in a nutshell …
- 52 European cyclosportive and Grand Tour routes
- Full-colour route maps with directions and elevation profiles
- Advice on ride strategies and techniques
- Tips on training, appropriate clothing, nutrition and fitness
- All routes are available to download for your GPS cycling computer
- Routes cover the UK & Ireland, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Spain.
The author suggests the reader takes two possible approaches, both of which allow them to make full use of the route information. The first, and Sidwells strongly suggests this as the most preferable avenue, is to take part in the official event for each route (if there is one) as, and I can only concur with him in this respect, …
“…the atmosphere and camaraderie of these events, where thousands of like-minded souls take part, all enjoying doing something they love, is incredible.”
Additionally, there is also more than enough information within the book to allow you to ride each route, or your own variation of it, independently of the official event and at any time of year. Words to the wise… check before you leave that roads are open!
Each route is clearly described and supported with often fascinating background information along with tantalising titbits of history; and who amongst us hasn’t unleashed the inner child and ridden a classic imagining the spectres of the greats; Coppi, Bobbet, Garin, et al, riding alongside?
There are maps and directions for each route, including profiles that clearly indicate where each hill is located along with rather useful yet often unsettling detail on how long and steep they are! The ever useful height gain is also presented.
In the words of the author, Chris Sidwells, “Enjoy the book, use it for planning and setting objectives, but above all get out and ride these routes. They represent some of the finest cycling experiences you could ever have.”
Classic Cycling Routes in a little more detail …
The introduction is extensive and covers three very important pre-ride requisites: Basic equipment – your bike, creating a training plan, and challenge-ride nutrition. There is a lot of very useful information here ranging from how to best use a GPS device (by Garmin) to the basics of creating a training plan.
The two-hundred pages devoted to the fifty two Race Routes traverse Europe through seven countries but with the majority set in the UK and Ireland.
The UK & Ireland section contains twenty-four routes, as listed below:
The Fred Whitton Challenge
The Ryedale Rumble
Etape du Dales
The Cheshire Cat
Tour of the Peak
The Shropshire Mynd
Flat Out in the Fens
Hell of the North Cotswolds
The Ups and Downs
The New Forest Epic
The South Downs Epic
The Tour of Wessex
The Exmoor Beast
The Dartmore Classic
The Dragon Ride
The Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive
Tour of Sligo
Malin to Mizen
Megève Mont Blanc
Cinglés du Ventoux
Etape du Tour 2010
Tour of Flanders
Grand Fondo Eddy Merckx
The Amstell Gold Race
Gruyére Cycling Tour
Alpenbrevet Platinum Tour
Tour of Lombardy
A Stage of the Tour of Italy
La Leggendaria Charly Gaul
Maratona dles Dolomites
La Pinarello Cycling Marathon
San Sebastian Classic
Val d’Aran Cycling Tour
A Stage of the Vuelta
La Pico del Veleta
Don’t forget… all routes in this book can be downloaded to your Garmin (the Edge 800 in my case) from the AA website.
As the book itself says, ‘the classic race routes selected here are not for the faint-hearted. Based on the best cyclosportive events in Europe and on stages of Grand Tours, they are much more than just pretty rides in the country. The fifty-two routes are serious mental and physical challenges (in the case of the Retro Ronde… the liver is called upon to do its bit too!) that require training and preparation. Yet each is accessible and achieved by many thousands of amateur cyclists each year.
Classic Cycling Race Routes allows you to cycle these rides at any time, either as preparation for the race events, or for the sheer joy and exhilaration of the challenge. For those rides that don’t have a dedicated cyclosportive route, the author has designed a ride a ride to reflect the demands and history of the race.
Each route contains a map with directions and an elevations and an elevation profile, and Chris Sidwells provides an overview combining ride strategy and techniques with the history of the race.
Practical and aspirational, Classic Cycling Race Routes will inspire a new generation of cyclists to push themselves to the extreme. You never know, the next Chris Froome, Mark Cavendish or Sir Bradley Wiggins may well be among them!
One for the rider as well as the reader + GPS routes = 100% Awarded our Star Buy Rating!
Reviewed by: Nichiless ‘Nicky’ Dey.
About the author
Chris Sidwells is an internationally-respected British cycling journalist and author, with nine books on cycling, ranging from biography through fitness and training to bike repair. His Complete Bike Book has been translated into twenty-four languages, and his Bike Repair Manual is about to reach its fifth edition. Tour Climbs and Race for Madmen were best sellers in their genre. His ‘The Official Tour de France Records’ has the backing of Le Tour Itself. Most recently he has published The Long Race for Glory: How the British Came to Rule the Cycling World… the next book to be reviewed on Cycling Shorts. Chris’s words and photographs have graced the pages of Britain’s best-selling cycling magazine Cycling Weekly (indeed he seems to appear in every issue,) and in all issues of Cycle Sport and Cycling Active, along with Cycling Fitness. He has also been published in Men’s Fitness, Cycling Plus, GQ, Running Fitness and the Sunday Times. Phew!
– How Rider and Machine Work Together
by Max Glaskin
Reviewed by Nick Dey
(Neunkirchen-Seelscheid, Deutschland (and Wigan, Lancashire)
Investigate the scientific wonders that keep cyclists in their saddles!
An ageing statistician once stated that there are 1.2 billion cyclists in the world (where’s the uncertainty?). We can all, I would guess, recall the first time we mastered the art of riding a bike – without stabilisers, I should add. My own experience involved a sadistic Yorkshire uncle, the legendarily bad children’s Raleigh Mayflower, a steep drop – those from Wigan will recognise the profile, from Haigh Hall plantation gates down to the trickling metallic orange of the river Douglas and the bridge of doom with its iron railings. The ear filling rush of wind, an attempted brake and steer, a crashing cacophony renting the still air, tears, torn clothes, bloody and bruised body parts, and a grin as wide as Lancashire – inspired by the immense satisfaction of taking control of the purple steed. The rest, as the great philosopher once said, is – much like the 2013 FA cup – history!
Anyone reading this will already agree that riding a bike is one of the most rewarding of human activities, whether from the euphoric wobbles described above, the utilitarian daily commute or the adrenalin rush of competition.
The introduction argues that…
“Cycling occupies a unique niche in the world. It satisfies concerns about the environment, sustainability, health and fitness, competition – while giving millions the freedom to travel independently. Their horizons forever expanded. These benefits would be mere anecdotes if it wasn’t for the fact that thousands of scientists have studied almost every aspect of is seemingly simple activity.”
In ‘Cycling Science: How Rider and Machine Work Together,’ Max Glaskin presents his ideas in a straightforward, user-friendly, and consistently informative and entertaining way. The focus is the science of cycling which and this made accessible by the subdividing the whole into themed chapters. With each focused on interrelated topics with the principles and thinking well-presented and supported through the use of info-graphics and supporting text pitched at an appropriate level for the non-specialist. The presentation of some traditionally tricky physics is dealt with intelligently and thoughtfully. All of which allows the reader to access a deeper comprehension and, with diligence, understanding of what goes on when designing, building, riding and racing a bicycle. Experts, fear not! The book contains, as all books of this type should, a very detailed reference and further-reading list with web links if available. I certainly appreciate the huge amount of research Max Glaskin undertook.
Reading this book, be it from cover-to-cover or dipping into it as the mood takes you, can only enhance the experience of cycling, in whatever form you may take it.
An unexpected bonus … One for you teachers and students of physics out there.
Several of my A-level and Advanced Higher Level International Baccalaureate students asked to have a look at the book (I was flicking through whilst they modelled the ‘head’ decay constant of several local beers). They were still engrossed in the book over an hour later having read through their lunch break – so much for the uninformed opinions concerning student concentration spans these days! As one enthused teen, with no previous interest in cycling, pointed out…
“This would have been perfect for the A-Level mechanics and materials unit. Where can I get a copy?”
Another, this time an IB student, politely requested to use the science within as a foundation for an investigation. It didn’t take long for me to agree and I can’t wait to see what research proposal he comes up with.
Both ordered that night and the former has since, after a hiatus lasting since his primary years, started riding a bike to and from school; Heady and immediate success indeed. Others are following in this pairs pioneering tyre tracks! Me? Well, I am one happy teacher of physics! Imagine the experiments and contextualisation of theory we will be doing now that I have a physics lab full self-motivated and cycling obsessed young scientists. Oh, and a ready supply of bicycles and willing ‘volunteers’ too!
So, why all this fuss and hyperbole?
This book delves far deeper than the usual training manuals and guides we are all used to. The science covered is always pertinently focused but also ranges far and wide, often revealing, and revelling in, the unexpected. Fundamental physics, engineering principles, materials science, human anatomy and physiology, statistics, sociology are, along with other fields, the spring boards used to leap into the story of the bicycle and its riders.
So what will you learn by reading this book?
As ever I’m loath to give too much of the detail away – I certainly had several ’aha! so that’s what’s going on’, and ’ooh, I’ve never thought of it that way before’ moments. I have decided to give you, good reader of all things pedal powered, a taste of the questions posed, and answered. An amuse-bouche-bicyclette if you like!
Fundamentals: chapter one introduces and asks several fundamental questions. “What are the forces acting upon a bicycle?” What is a bike – its components? “How efficient is a bike or why is it easier to ride than walk?” “Which bike should I choose (what is the most efficient design?)” “Why are men’s and women’s bikes different?” “What are the environmental impacts of cycling?” “Can cycling help me live longer?” “How risky is travelling by bike?” How much power can a cyclist generate?” “How can I compute the power output?” “Does a tandem have scientific advantages?” Along the way some beautiful physics and wider science is woven seamlessly into the context of bike and rider. Force & inertia, energy efficiency, power, the conservation of energy and the laws of thermodynamics and gender specific anatomy and physiology, are all introduced and developed a little deep than expected for such a friendly tome. Many myths are laid to rest along the way as the chapter ’…lays down a broad, smooth track for the journey ahead.’
Strength & Stability: the second chapter describes the physics that makes the bike – your bike – work so well (and not collapse beneath you – as happened to me in Shanghai!) We’ve all asked ourselves how much load our bike can take and this is where the chapter begins. You’ll even be able to estimate the stress acting on the various parts of your bike as you change position. There is then a fine treatment of material science – a very useful introduction to the field it proves to be. Stress (what you do to the material), strain (how that material behaves when you do things to it), the elastic limit (that sickening moment when the bars and tubes no longer return to their original dimensions… as recently experienced!), the Young’s modulus (the relationship between stress and strain) and, finally ultimate tensile strength… Or how close are you to actually breaking your frame (another recent, ahem, incident on a local track makes me wish I’d done my sums before pretending to be a rubbish version of Sir Chris Hoy!) all provide a solid foundation for the remainder of this long chapter. Our focus alights on frame geometry and bike fit – a very useful size chart is included, along with component specific energy and power efficiency (frame twist and crank deflection, etc) and then moves into suspension and the ever controversial self-stabilising dynamic models of the moving bicycle. This latter is worth a book in itself. The chapter concludes with a detailed, and fun, treatment of cornering, counter steering and the equilibrium of forces required in keeping you off the tarmac. The author doesn’t limit himself to two-wheels.
Materials: here we have succinct, ahem, material evidence for the ingenuity of the plethora of engineers behind the bicycle. The opening takes a novel approach, staring as it does with the fundamental states of matter and then plunging into the atomic structure and bonding of commonly used materials. Tubing follows; their diameters and, for me a very interesting knowledge gap filler, how they are held together. I couldn’t spot any reference to the precision of milling of the miter joint – the quality of which, an old time builder told me, adds a great deal to the strength of the frame? Polymers and carbon construction continue the journey which then flows into fluids, in all their guises; manufacturing, gas pressures (and how they affect riding), et al, then return us to the starting concept with the introduction of another state of matter, plasma – and why it may well play an important role in the future of bike materials. This is very novel contextual application of this ’fourth state’ and is well explained and supported by some vividly imagined and sketched diagrams: never an easy thing to do when trying to visualise such complexity in two-dimensions.
Chapter four is one for you speed merchants out there… Power! Where it is generated and where it is lost. The author starts by asking the obvious question, ‘how does a bike turn effort into speed?’ The pages dealing with foot-pedal interface and gearing efficiency caused me to rethink the paucity of my own shifts! The oft-ignored but ever vital chain is given the clean-up it deserves, and is brought bang up to date with the support of some very contemporary research. Again, much food for thought for the elite riders and coaches (but I’m sure Chris Boardman is fully up to speed). Wheel weight & mass distribution, spoke tension, tyres, braking, bearings – and as I desperately need a new wheel-set this is very pertinent – are well presented and contextualised, supported ably by some basic physics ranging from the typical simplified Newton’s 2nd Law (F=ma & Ƭ=lα), mechanical advantage and moment of inertia to harmonics and fundamental frequencies. Sigh, physics and cycling… bliss!
Chapter five is the main issue for the racer out there: aerodynamics – how to push the air out of the way as easily and quickly as possible. I think I heard Chris Boardman, that man again, state recently that up to 80-85% of energy transferred by a racing cyclist is used to overcome that most insidious of opponents: air resistance… What a drag! We have all read about the pro’s and the many hours they spend undergoing wind tunnel testing – just look at the transformation in form of Vincenzo Nibali (2013 Giro d’Italia, stage 8.) Well, if you’ve ever wondered what dark arts they apply then this is the chapter for you. Not a single aspect of aerodynamics is overlooked and all concepts are, as usual, made accessible.
This excellent book closes by covering the one thing only hinted at so far… The human factor. I’ll be honest and admit that I read this first in a desperate attempt to find some secret, long hidden, key that would allow my 90 kg+ to get up hills faster than a sophomoric sloth! I really should know better! The chapter opens by introducing, clearly and simply, all the body systems involved. Anatomy, physiology, neurology and psychology, etc., are all interlinked. Many of the more recent issues in cycling are well treated. Especially interesting was the direct comparison the books format allowed me to make between altitude training and the cheats alternative, ’blood boosting.’ The short, medium and indeed long terms benefits to heart, lungs, body and mind, of riding a bike, especially with regards to regular high intensity training (rather topical this) is persuasively presented.
“Cycling protects against the long term risks of coronary heart disease, no matter how long you cycle each day – but cycling faster is better!”
Max Glaskin is an award-winning science and technology journalist with a special interest in cycling. He has contributed to a vast range of publications. He co-founded the Mountain Bike Club (of GB) and ran it for five years to help launch the sport. He has cycled over the Greater Himalaya and danced for the Queen as a member of the Bicycle Ballet!
CyclingShorts Rating: Star Buy! – 100%: Read it: think, apply – ride smoothly, efficiently and swiftly!
Cycling Science – How rider and machine work together
Hardback Price: RRP £20.00