Join the‘A-list’ book club as Southern Spin takes a look at Felix Lowe’s new ‘Climbs and Punishment’ as Blazin’ Saddles takes to the bike to trace the route of Hannibal...
It’s time for another Southern Spin ‘A-list’ and this time we’ve logged off YouTube and are kicking it old school by engaging in the lost art of reading.
Who said print is dead?
Southern Spin is going to take a look at seven books that make for some excellent intellectual stimulation whether you’re escaping winter curled up by the fire, or celebrating summer sunbathing on the beach. Let’s face it, reading is the new black – especially if you go retro like Southern Spin and ditch the tablet and opt for an actual book.
That being said, Southern Spin h as purposely omitted titles from authors named Hamilton, O'Grady, Hincapie and, of course, Armstrong. While most offer compelling reading, Southern Spin chose to take a different route.
So let’s get this book club party started by providing full disclosure on the featured title Climbs and Punishment: Riding to Rome in the Footsteps of Hannibal written by Felix Lowe, known by legions cycling fans around the world as Blazin’ Saddles.
For starters, Lowe is a Eurosport colleague. In fact, the Spin is the shorter, balder and rounder southern hemisphere counterpart to Saddles – think Seinfeld’s George Costanza and Cosmo Kramer. Like Spin, Lowe is also a contributor to Cyclist magazine. Oh, and Loweis also a friend (on Facebook). But before anyone thinks that the Spin would stoop so low as to grant Saddles a positive review based on the factors listed above, please allow the Spin to slow your roll right there. In fact, if anything, nothing would please the Spin more than giving Saddles a friendly – and very public – kick in the gut should Climbs and Punishment turn out to be a real stinker.
With that being said, let’s proceed with the review shall we?
There are few people on the planet that make Southern Spin laugh out loud as much as Lowe. His sharp-witted turn of phrase has made his satirical weekly column a can’t miss as he shares his unique take on the pro peloton and all things that make the sport of cycling go round.
Climbs and Punishment is no different.
From the opening page, Lowe’s self-deprecating humour is in full swing as he recounts a humbling experience all cyclists endure at some point or other. No spoilers here, but let’s just say avoid beginning the book over lunch.
That being said, this is a superbly crafted, well-written 368-page account of Lowe’s 2,800-kilomtre epic adventure. Climbs and Punishment is binge reading at it’s very best. In fact,Southern Spin highly recommends cracking the book on a ‘rest day’ as you will find yourself settling into an effortless tempo cranking page after page until find yourself sprinting toward the finish to find out if Lowe does indeed reach Rome, and if so in what condition?
What is so remarkable about the author is that for the past decade that Lowe has covered pro cycling, it was not until a year before embarking on this month-long odyssey where he truly began his own personal relationship with the bicycle.
Lowe had never even shaved his legs, let alone logged any serious kilometres on a proper road bike. But with a little encouragement from Australian-based compatriot Dylan Reynolds, tour director at Ride and Seek Bicycle Adventures, Lowe was on his way tracing the route of the ruthless Carthaginian general Hannibal, a military genius who nearly brought the Roman Empire to its knees.
After an arduous start – which may or may not have included razor burn and a stolen bike – Lowe sets out on a journey through history and his own personal self-discovery. With historical insights that would humble the savviest History Channel aficionado, Lowe uncovers a plethora of historical nuggets scattered across Europe, as well as offer an insider’s glimpse into pro cycling’s sordid past, palatable present and promising future.
But don’t just take my word for it, see what three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond had to say:
“Holy s***! That’s longer than a Grand Tour. And is that Hannibal as in Hannibal Lecter? It’s gonna be a bloody massacre…”
In summation, Southern Spin gives Climbs and Punishment the polka dot jersey for being ‘King of the Mountain’ and offering readers a fascinating ride through three countries, three mountain ranges and the historic moments that have shaped the sport of cycling – and the world.
Six other books worth a read:
Slaying the Badger: Greg Lemond, Bernard Hinault and the Greatest Tour de France (Author: Richard Moore; Publisher: Velopress, 2012) – Before film director John Dower unveiled his hit documentary reviewed in the inaugural ‘A-list’, award-winning author Richard Moore records a first-hand account of the friendship-turned-rivalry between La Vie Claire teammates Bernard Hinault, a five-time Tour de France winner at the time, and Greg LeMond in 1986 just prior to the first his three Tour victories.
The Tour: Behind the Scenes of Cadel Evans’ Tour de France (Author: Rupert Guinness; Publisher: Hardie Grant, 2012) – After 101 editions of the Tour de France, only one American has ‘truly’ won pro cycling’s most prestigious bike race. Like the US, only one Australian has finished the race draped in the maillot jaune. The Sydney Morning Herald’s Rupert Guinness chronicled that historic moment in 2012 after Cadel Evans became the first, and still only, Aussie to take the win. Chapter 13’s account of Evans’ epic pursuit of race leader Andy Schleck atop Galibier is as riveting reading it now as it was watching it then.
The Tour de France: The Good, the Bad and the Just Plain Weird – Revised Edition (Author: Paul Hansford; Publisher: Hardie Grant, 2014) – Southern Spin was first introduced to The Tour de France: The Good, the Bad and the Just Plain Weird back in 2013 while serving as the Asia-Pacific editor of Cyclist magazine. Southern Spin enjoyed the first edition then, and enjoys the second – revised – edition even more. Author Paul Hansford adds an easy-to-understand Tour de France guide to a book that is full of some oddest, most interesting stories collected from 101 editions of the Tour.
Aussie Aussie Aussie Oui, Oui, Oui! (Author: Rupert Guinness; Publisher: Random House Australia, 2003) – Another Rupert Guinness book makes the ‘A-list’ with as the Australian sportswriter chronicles the lineage of Australian cycling at that Tour de France. From Don Kirkam and Snowy Munro in 1914, to Phil Anderson becoming the first non-European to wear the yellow jersey, to Robbie McEwen’s becoming the first – and only – to win the fabled green jersey. The book was published in 2003, almost a decade before Cadel Evans’ historic win, and makes the perfect prequel to Guinness’ other book, The Tour, which chronicles Evans 2011 Tour victory.
One Way Road: The Autobiography of Robbie McEwen (Authors: Robbie McEwen & Edward Charles Pickering; Publisher: Random House Australia, 2011) – Three-time Tour de France points classification winner Robbie McEwen is not just one of the greatest Australian cyclists of all time. With 12 stage wins at both the Tour and the Giro d’Italia, the two-time Aussie national champion was one of the world’s best riders and he has the bravado – and three green jerseys – to prove it. One Way Road is a look through the eyes of one of pro cycling’s greatest sprinters and into the mindset of what it takes to be a winner on the sport’s grandest stage.
The Death of Marco Pantani (Author: Matt Rendell; Publisher: Phoenix, 2007) – The biography that inspired the film Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist, provides a poignant tale of the life and unfortunate death of one of cycling’s most talented, successful, charismatic and tragic characters. Author Matt Rendell paints a vivid verbal portrait of the unfortunate events that led to the rapid fall from grace of the 1998 Giro d’Italia-Tour de France winner to the 34-year-old Italian’s lonely death on February 14, 2004.
NEXT A-LIST: Taiwan KOM Challenge – and six sportives every cyclist should ride
Aaron S. Lee | Follow on Twitter