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Alpe D’Huez: Cycling’s Greatest Climb By Peter Cossins

Release date: 14th June, 2015
Publisher: Aurum

List Price: £17.99
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Having experienced race day ‘live’ as a fan of pro cycling, enormous breakfast barbeques, loud music and hundreds of people dressed in ridiculous costumes, it’s easier to appreciate Peter Cossins’ description of what Alpe D’Huez means to the thousands of Dutch folk (and other nationalities) who make their pilgrimage to this brutal climb whenever it forms part of the Tour de France.

For the Dutch, the mountain is “an arena to compare with Feynoord’s De Kuip or Ajax’s Amsterdam Arena,” writes Cossins. The notorious hairpin bend number seven is known as Le virage des Hollandais, Dutch Corner, a sea of orange flags, noise and bare-chested, usually sober citizens of the Low Countries, many of whom have spent the previous three days getting drunk. Cyclists crawl through this – and most other – of the climb’s 21 hairpin bends, spread over 13.8 kilometres, slowed by a combination of the massive crowds and the steep, variable gradients.

Last week, Chris Froome knew he needed to conquer Alpe D’Huez to ensure he won his second Tour, but it was mighty tough going as he battled through crowds twenty deep in parts. Cossins tells us that this is nothing new; in 2004, for instance, an estimated one million fans watched the peloton as they tackled what the author calls “cycling’s greatest climb”.

Alpe d’Huez was introduced to the Tour in 1952, though it would be another 24 years before it was seen again, gradually establishing itself as one of the race’s iconic climbs.

People arrive for the stage sometimes four or five days in advance and on race days a mass of humanity emerges from top-of the range camper vans or tiny bell-tents to create an atmosphere like no other beneath the mountain’s daunting summit. The professional cyclist requires a combination of physical fortitude and mental strength to contend with everything on the Alpe and Cossins successfully captures the climb’s colour while explaining its history and that of the stage winners.

Mixed with the Alpe’s tale are a series of entertaining vignettes providing the back stories of t its various conquers and what they did following retirement. The author skilfully weaves these anecdotes around his account of a stretch of road less than ten miles in length, leaving this reader keen to make a return visit.


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