Book Review: 'Alpe d'Huez' by Peter Cossins

There aren't that many mountains you could write a book about. At least, not one that would capture the interest of many. For cyclists though, the legendary Alpe d'Huez climb, is a mountain that can certainly create interesting reading. The dead-end road, in the Oisans region of France, has been the amphitheatre of so many great cycling battles that it certainly deserves written documentation.

Peter Cossins, an English cyclist and journalist, took it upon himself to capture the dramatic history of 'The Alpe'. Alpe d’Huez is the product of his extensive research, studies and visits to the ski-resort mountain road. Within its pages, you discover the captivating history that this stretch of tarmac holds, and indeed a thorough explanation as to why it deserves its status as a "legend".

Alpe d'Huez first entered into the Tour de France route in 1952. Its 21 hairpins create the most dramatic of mountain top finishes. Cossins begins his narrative by considering why the climb is such a challenge to riders: he considers its initial ramps, more relaxed middle gradients, slight downhill dip, and its final uphill sprint to the finish; outlining how its contours provide a recipe for a whole new level of mountain challenge. It is the nature of Alpe d'Huez's grades which make it interesting, and ultimately explain why it holds a reputation for over-cooking riders, finishing lone-breaks well before their time, and creating finales like no other. Cossins has many dramatic examples!

The following chapters consider the history of the Alpe at Le Tour. Cossins includes every notable breakaway, every attack and every defeat that its hairpins have hosted. It is by no means a repetitive account though, and each recollection provides a unique and dramatic explanation of riders' experiences, fortitude and failures.

"Coppi stood on his pedals and accelerated away from the bunch. Just beyond La Garde en Oisans, he got across to the Frenchman. Rarely rising from the saddle as his long, sculpted legs eased the pedals around with no evident difficulty despite the gradient, the Italian took the lead..."

I read Alpe d'Huez whilst in Italy at the Giro Delle Dolomiti. I found its tales of valour, lone breakaways and game-changing gradients an inspiration for pushing further and faster on each Dolomiti pass. Peter Cossins manages the fine balancing act, of writing a book that is detailed in its historic account, yet captivating in its story telling.

You might have ridden the Alpe yourself, and want to reflect on its 21 challenging bends. Or, you might be plotting a pilgrimage next year, and you want some armchair inspiration for the off-season. Either way, this is a great book for the imminent dark evenings, and makes for a great read.

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