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Uphill Battle: Cycling's Great Climbers Hardcover – May 19, 2003
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The book is arranged in chronological fashion as a series of brief biographies of climbing cyclists. The stories really begin in 1905 when mountains were introduced into the Tour de France for the first time. It is a never-ending amazement to me how incredibly difficult the early Tours were, with terrible roads, fixed gear bicycles and gargantuan stages. For example, the 1926 Tour, Mulholland informs us, was almost twice as long as the current version!
It is true that many of the stories have been repeated for decades-what fan of the Tour does not know of Eugene Christophe and the broken fork, or poor Rene Vietto turning around for his team leader, or Merckx's virtuosity in seemingly everything? But there are a lot of other good stories here about riders who had their moments of glory in the mountains and then, over time, slid out of sight. Some riders were not known for their climbing at all, including Rik van Looy, but still managed to go for the prize when it beckoned.
The chapter on Lance Armstrong is the longest single one in the book and is a good recapitulation of Big Tex's career to his fifth Tour de France victory in 2002. While Mulholland does not fawn over Armstrong, it is clear that Lance Armstrong is a rarity in pro cycling as a rider who is not only superb at time trialling but one of the very best at climbing as well.
The book could have used better editing in avoiding the occasional repetitions. As well, the Modern Era is represented by allrounders, such as Fignon, LeMond, Indurain and Roche instead of the pure climbers one would expect to see. That said, the chapters on the Columbian star Luis Herrera and the Basque Roberto Laiseka are illuminating, and the chapter on Marco Pantani captures the very ambivalent record of this Giro and Tour winner.
The book could have been improved with more on other races with difficult climbs but as it stands it is an entertaining and enjoyable account and worth recommending. There are some very good pictures, including a great one of Anquetil and Poulidor elbowing each other like sprinters as they climb the Puy-de-Dome in 1964. Bikes of steel, men of iron.
The addition of hard climbing transformed the Tour. The men who have the ability to bound up the mountains (the Italians have a special word for these riders: Scattista) have fascinated cycle race fans since that race in 1905. Sometimes they are specialists who can only climb, but do not have the complete set of cycling skills to win the Tour (Rene Vietto, Jose Manuel Fuente and Andy Hampsten are in this category). Others have so much power, are such magnificent athletes that they can climb with the specialists and also time-trial and ride cobbles with equal ease. This group would include Lance Armstrong, Greg LeMond, Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali.
Owen Mulholland takes them all on (including episodes from both the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France) and tells their stories well. What makes this book a pleasure is that Owen writes as if he were talking to you. His enthusiasm comes across every page. He is a man mad about bikes and bike racing and I love everything he has ever written about the sport.
There are 39 chapters, each about a particular climber and each is a gem
-Bill McGann, author of "The Story of the Tour de France: How a Newspaper Promotion Became the Greatest Sporting Event in the World".
Mulholland has some grammatical quirks - mostly his pronouns get out of whack - making me read many sentences several times to sort out who he's talking about. He is fixated on Franco and torture in Spain; this gets somewhat boring.
Other quirks that really made me want to put the book down even though I wanted to know the stories were his repeated parenthetical explanations of things like the fact that 'Giro d'Italia' is the Tour of Italy. If he thinks his readership don't already know this, he could explain it once and then leave it alone. Lavishes praise on Armstrong, bags out Pantani, and ignores Virenque.
Some good stories, but I found the grammatical and stylistic problems greatly distracting.