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!
The 2009 Milan San-Remo. A warm sunny day awaited the 200 riders of the 100th edition of La Primavera. Amongst those on the startlist, including Andy Schleck, Bradley Wiggins and eventual winner Mark Cavendish, was the quasi Australian Heinrich Haussler. What happened in the preceding 7 hours has been retraced many times since. The coming of age of Cavendish at the tender age of 23 was obviously headline news. Haussler’s second place on the day, inches away from a first classic, rightly remained the subplot.
One day wins can define a career. Fred Guesdon is known for his triumph in Paris-Roubaix of 1997 and arguably the same fate may yet befall Johan Van Summeren who also triumphed in the hell of north in 2011. So, on the via Roma of San-Remo, in the dull sun of an April Sunday, had Heinrich Haussler’s missed the chance to define a his cycling life. Born to a German father and an Australian Mother, Haussler remained in New South Wales, Australia until 1988, when he moved to Germany to pursue a career as a pro cyclist.
His breakthrough year in the pro ranks occurred in 2005 as he won a stage of the Vuelta. Beating Pablo Lastras and Linus Gerdemann and others from a small breakaway on a rolling stage 19 he showed tactical nouse by allowing Martin Elmiger to lead him out to catch Juan Manual Fuentes just before the line. The following years, 2006, 2007 and 2008 remained barren years with sparks of success such as top ten’s at the Tour and Gent Wevelgem.
Yet it was 2009 when the stars aligned for Haussler as he didn’t finish outside the top 10 in all stages of the Tour of Qatar and won two stages of the Tour of the Algarve in the early season. Stages at Paris Nice and the Tour de France followed, yet it was in the Spring Classics that he really hit a purple patch. 4th at Dwars Door Vlaanderen, 2nd at Flanders and 7th at Paris Roubaix and at Milan San Remo, Haussler caught Cavendish by surprise, sprinting from over 500 metres to go, coming within a whisper of the greatest win of his career.
Mark Cavendish pips Heinrich Haussler by a bike throw at the 2009 Milan San-Remo
The jubilant Cavendish hugging Erik Zabel whilst the Australian collapsed to the ground, meters after the finish line could not have been more of a juxtaposition. So what made the difference that year? His growing experience as a fifth year pro, the switch in outfits from Gerolsteiner to Cervelo and an experienced team behind him or a winter of perfect preparation. Whatever the reason, it was clear that Haussler was making a jump to the upper echelons of the sport.
Yet a number of factors kept and continue to keep Haussler at bay. The difficult marriage of Cervelo and Garmin after the former removed their sponsorship at the end of 2010 meant he was now competing for leadership with Thor Hushovd amongst others. This combined with a series of illnesses and injury saw his season peter out after a successful early romp at the Tour of Qatar and Paris Nice. It seemed that he had perhaps transformed from a classics contender to a second string sprinter as the majority of results in the next two years came in stage races and not one day classics. Whilst an astonishing four second places in a row in the Tour of California of 2012 all behind Peter Sagan, can hardly be considered a poor result, his failure to get his arms in the air must have be discouraging.
This brings us to the creation of IAM cycling and Haussler’s switch from Garmin at the end of 2012. The team’s roster built through that year, whilst centred around major Swiss talent, contains a number of journeymen like Thomas Lofkvist, Johann Tschopp, Sebastian Hinault and Haussler’s breakaway companion from that Vuelta stage in 2005, Martin Elimiger. As Haussler himself acknowledges he looks back on his time with Cervelo with rose tinted glasses and he draws some similarities with his new employers. The roster is similar in the sense that the majority of riders are up and coming (like Kristof Goddaert and Matthias Brandle) or have had a barren few years like Lofkvist or himself. In his position as one of the more senior riders he will undoubtedly receive the support of others during the season.
Coming full circle to the 2013 Milan San Remo and IAM’s successful application to La Primavera, could Haussler be in the frame again? As he enters the Tour of Qatar off the back of what he has identified as his best series of winter training in a number of years you certainly wouldn’t bet against him. At 28 years old he may even be entering the prime years of his career and perhaps in the near future he will have that chance to rewrite his script that was so cruelly altered by a barrelling Manx Missile on the 29th of March 2009
Lucy Martin Reaching Summit of Shayley Brow Training for 2012 Lotto-Decca Tour – © Paul Francis Cooper
On the first Sunday of the London Olympic Games, years of anticipation, hope and preparation came to fruition for Lucy Martin. As a member of Great Britain’s Women’s Olympic Road Race team, with Emma Pooley and Nicole Cooke, she gave her all on a treacherous, rain soaked, Box Hill Circuit, delivering a well orchestrated plan to help the team’s fourth member, Lizzie Armitstead, to take silver on the Mall and Great Britain’s first medal of the Games.
In so doing, she became the second cycling Olympian from her hometown of Widnes, Cheshire, since John Geddes secured bronze on the Melbourne track as part of a GB team pursuit team, which included Mike Gambrill, Don Burgess and nineteen-year old Tom Simpson in the 1956 Olympics.
Representing her country in the home Olympics marks the highest point so far in Martin’s cycling career, which started when she was fifteen years old, her potential spotted by British Cycling’s talent identification team on a visit to her secondary school. Although she had competed as a club swimmer and school runner, she had never before been involved in cycling, and, doubting that she could meet British Cycling requirements, almost missed the vital assessment session because of a timetable clash with another subject.
Recruited into the junior talent development team, she joined the Olympic Development Programme after winning the National Junior Road Race Championship in 2008.
Now an established professional women’s road racer based in Girona, Spain, with what she describes as the dream-like experience of taking part in the home Olympics behind her, she is very aware that the time is right to focus on new athletic and career targets.
Image © Paul Francis Cooper
I joined her on Lancashire’s lanes whilst she was out on a training ride in preparation for last weekend’s Belgian three-day stage race, the Lotto-Decca Tour. And she told me. “My three-weeks in the Olympic village were amazing – I had to pinch myself as I rubbed shoulders with the world’s greatest, like Usain Bolt. The crowds and excitement of the road race, and Lizzie winning the medal will stay with me forever. But coming home to my family in Widnes has been a really welcome chance to calm down and plan for the future.”
The third stage of the Lotto-Decca Tour involves two ascents of the Kapelmur Cobble, infamous as a regular feature in the Tour of Flanders. And Lucy’s training session took in an impressively fast ascent of Billinge’s Shayley Brow, which, with its 14% maximum gradient, is also a regular lung-tester for St Helens pro-rider Jonny McEvoy (Endura Racing) and Liverpool’s Mark McNally (An Post Sean-Kelly), regular winter training partners of Lucy when the three friends are home from racing and training abroad.
And her work on Shayley Brow went to good use in the tough final stage of the Lotto-Decca on Monday. Chasing an early break, she pulled hard at the front of the bunch for much of the stage, providing strong support for her team’s sprinter, Holland’s Kirsten Wild, who narrowly missed a podium placing with a bravely contested, but frustrating, fourth general classification position.
In career terms, Lucy’s next major target is to negotiate a new professional contract, having learned recently that her current team, AA Drinks-Leontein.nl, (which also includes Lizzie Armitstead, Emma Pooley and GB National Road Race winner, Sharon Laws on its team-list) will lose its sponsor at the end of the season.
Eyeing a number of options for 2013, she is hoping for greater interest in women’s cycling and the personal opportunity to switch from her current, mainly support, position to a team role in which she will be able to chase her own podium places more regularly.