Author: Michael Blann
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
Reviewed by Richard Peploe
‘Mountains’ offers some excellent pictures and prose about places that mean a lot to cyclists, showcasing some of the best-known climbs in Europe: often made famous by the exploits of competitors in the biggest races, these roads hold a strange fascination for many of us. Although the large glossy images will be the main attraction for many people, the accompanying essays are of equal quality – and together they make for a formidable combination.
The original edition first appeared in 2016, and the publishers have now decided to produce a “revised and expanded” version, rather than just a straight reprint. If you have the first edition, it is unlikely
that you will be tempted to get this one as well; otherwise, the new edition makes an even stronger case for ownership than before.
With the addition of 15 new climbs (and their associated images), the picture count has risen from 173 to “over 200”, taking up another 32 pages. Fans of Port de la Bonaigua and Tre Cime di Laveredo will be disappointed to know that both climbs have been dropped from this edition, to make room for some new ones: I found this slightly surprising, because I found the latter to be one of the most photogenic climbs I have experienced – as so many mountains are in and around the Dolomites.
When planning my own trips to the European mainland over the last few years, I would often refer to the original edition for inspiration; it would also reassure me that making the effort to climb a mountain would be rewarded with worthwhile views – and hopefully some good pictures.
Obviously, there are many reasons why Blann’s pictures are better than those that you or I might take, but two other things strike you: one is that Blann’s shots are often taken from an unusual position, perhaps involving a long trek off the road, or airborne assistance. The other is that many of his photos have no people in view, not even cyclists: this would require visiting at less popular times of the day.
I noticed that some mountains now had a slightly different selection of pictures to those in the original book: Blann had obviously revisited some places, as you can see from the different seasons and/or weather conditions he sometimes experienced. That’s another difference between a professional seeking the perfect shot, and us mere mortals who rarely have the chance to return.
The result emphasises the mountains’ dominance and permanence; any man-made constructions, such as the associated roads, are often dwarfed – and any cyclists just a fleeting presence, especially those associated with a race.
Unlike more typical guides to mountain climbs, ‘Mountains’ doesn’t spend any time giving practical advice on reaching the summit yourself, as you can find that elsewhere – although you will find the briefest of maps and profiles for most of the climbs at the back of the book. Just be aware that the maximum heights claimed by different sources won’t necessarily agree; even some of the statistics in ‘Mountains’ have changed since the first edition.
Here, rather than describing the actual climbs, assorted worthies from the sport share anecdotes involving mountains: often tangentially, always compellingly. Given that most of the contributors have some racing pedigree, often at the highest level, it is no surprise to know that relating a given mountain to some aspect of their racing career is a common theme.
The number of essays has increased, to 33, with Simon Gerrans, Pedro Horrillo, and Bernard Thévenet now joining the rest of the stellar cast to produce the calibre of writing that I would be pleased to find in any premium publication. Helpfully, you can get a flavour of what is on offer from Michael Blann’s website . If the photography is not sufficient to tempt you on its own, then the writing might just tip the balance.
Alternatively, you can view some complete spreads here if you want to see some full layouts.
As a fan of first edition, I am delighted to see ‘more of the same’; however, I would have been even happier to see an all-new volume 2. I am sure that Blann could find enough material of sufficient quality for another one - although we should not expect him to be as prolific as Simon Warren with his cycling hill climb guides.