BELGIUM'S GREATEST CYCLING CLIMBS
And Cycling Climbs in South-West England: An update on Simon Warren's Magnum Opus
Author: Simon Warren
Publisher: Frances Lincoln
Reviewed by Richard Peploe
I have previously reported on the ever increasing number of guides to ‘Cycling Climbs’ by Simon Warren, and since my last update the regional guide to the South West of England has been published. There's also a second edition, so here's the latest ....
The new arrival in the series, South West England, covers Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire have now been checked out for any remaining worthwhile climbs, in an area notorious for short sharp hills.
Simon Warren, as I have mentioned before, took time off from cataloguing British Climbs to produce the ‘100 Greatest Cycling Climbs of the Tour de France’ in 2014. This was not his first foray overseas, as the previous year he had produced ‘Hellingen’ (meaning hills), subtitled “a road cyclist’s guide to Belgium’s greatest cycling climbs."
It is obvious with the benefit of hindsight that the ‘Cycling Climbs’ series was a self-explanatory name that could and should be applied to an expanding family of books; it is also clear that the ‘Hellingen’ name was out of line with that thinking - so it was reprinted last year with the new title ‘Belgium’s Greatest Cycling Climbs’, now subtitled “a road cyclist’s guide to Belgium’s famous ‘Hellingen’”.
The contents are identical, with the same 50 climbs featured in that now familiar format: picture, description, map, key statistics, and the ‘rating out of 10’.
Now that the Classics season of races is upon us, many of those 50 climbs are going to feature in one of those races, and will often decide the outcome of the race. History shows that race organisers do occasionally tinker with their routes, so the selection of climbs can change – but only slightly.
As described in an earlier review, some of those ‘Classics’ are elevated to the status of ‘Monuments’, with the two in Belgium coming up soon: the Tour of Flanders on April 2nd, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège on April 23rd.
Since the ‘Spring Classics’ book was written, the two Belgium races have gained extra relevance thanks to the popularity of a Sportive event the day before, and a women’s race preceding the men’s event – so not only are spectator numbers likely to be increasing, but also rider numbers.
If you do happen to be a spectator, either version of the book will leave you better informed about the likely scene of the key moments in the races.
For those who perhaps plan to ride on the same roads as the world’s best road cyclists, it helps that the Belgium climbs are more accessible and achievable than those featured in the Grand Tours: for most, it will be a shorter journey from the UK, but crucially the climbs are shorter than those found in the multi-day stage races, with many measuring under one kilometre.
That reduced distance comes at a cost, however: the hills can be steep, although that is an experience that many of us are already familiar with, especially in the South West of England. Furthermore, most of the climbs have the added challenge of a cobbled surface, which is not something that we experience so often on our shores.
As Warren explains, what we call cobbles should really be referred to as ‘setts’. At one time they may have had the benefit of providing some grip to horses on steep hills, but they have the opposite effect with bike tyres. Warren gives some helpful advice on how best to tackle the setts, which can be summarised into remaining relaxed and in the saddle.
The climbs in some other European countries may be better known, but Warren is doing his bit to raise the awareness of these challenging hills – and (as always) encourage us to ride a few of them. It is on my list of things to do, but for the forthcoming races I will settle for watching the TV coverage with the book in one hand and a Belgian beer in the other.
Belgium’s Greatest Cycling Climbs. Published by Frances Lincoln, an imprint of The Quarto Group (£9.99).
REVIEW PUBLISHED MARCH 2017