Ventoux, Galibier, Tourmalet – names to strike fear into the peloton’s heart. From the very earliest days of the Tour de France, it’s the mountains that have been the combatants’ battlefields: the Pyrenees, the Alps and Provence, where huge time differences are gained and lost – and, in the case of some riders, bodies battered, lives occasionally lost. Roger Rivière never recovered from an accident in 1960, while Tommy Simpson’s death is etched in the memories of cycling fans everywhere.
Octave Lapize in 1910: because of an overgeared bike he
had to walk the Tourmalet – but still
won the stage after 14 hours in the saddle!
Richard Yates’ book is a fascinating look at the climbs themselves, and the grimpeurs who fought for supremacy on them, from Christophe, Lapize and Péllissier through Coppi, Bobet and Bartali to the incomparable Merckx. And if you think modern riders have it tough, spare a thought for Octave Lapize in 1910: because of an overgeared bike he had to walk the Tourmalet – but still won the stage after 14 hours in the saddle!
The book is divided into six sections, from the aptly named “heroic stage” to television taking over, starting in the Sixties. And while the Kings of the Mountain jersey wearers are listed right up to 2005, Ascent’s main narrative ends a few years earlier. But what really makes this elegant book come to life – apart from the epic tales – are the 150 sepia-toned photographs. Even riders from the colour era are pictured in glorious duotone.