Published by Lyn on 16 May 2013
Steven Herrick's Baguettes and Bicycles proves that it is possible for a mere mortal to climb Tour de France mountains, says Julia Stagg.
This is my third France-based cycling book in a couple of months. Not surprisingly, I was expecting to feel a bit fatigued. A bit saddle weary, perhaps, especially as Steven Herrick’s Baguettes and Bicycles covers a lot of the ground in Adam Ruck’s recent book. Luckily for me, Herrick writes well. Even luckier for me, he decided to tackle some of the most revered climbs of the Tour de France. Fatigued? Not a bit.
Separated into two sections, Baguettes and Bicycles starts in Saint Nazaire and follows Eurovelo 6 (the one that goes all the way to the Black Sea) as far as Basel. Chapters fly past in witty descriptions of the landscape and the people that populate it, as well as reverent accounts of Herrick’s well-earned evening meals. They conclude with a useful summation of cycling facts and accommodation details, and even include Herrick’s own rating system – although I would have loved to know his rating for the restaurant that refused to serve him!
For me, however, it was the second part of the book that really enthralled. Having successfully reached Basel with himself and his bike still intact and no weight gained despite his patisserie habit, Herrick decides to ride some of the Tour de France cols. Alpe d’Huez. Mont Ventoux. Col du Glandon. Col du Galibier. Col de la Croix de Fer. They roll off the tongue of any cycling aficionado. But having lived and cycled in the Pyrenees, I have to confess I have never ridden any of these Alpine giants. Herrick’s account of his climbs means that is going to change.
He doesn’t make it sound easy. He gives an honest assessment of each assent. And the stats at the back don’t hide anything. But what he does show is that with a sensible approach, determination, a good bike and, of course, cake, it can be done. I devoured the last 11 chapters in one sitting, racing through the pages, eager to get to the end of each one so I could assess my own chances. With Herrick providing average gradients for every climb, I could compare them to the cols I scaled regularly in the Pyrenees. I could see that the difference was more length than altitude. Endurance than climbing ability. In other words, Herrick makes it seem possible. And his sheer joy when he scales Mont Ventoux is infectious.
Enthusiastic. Encouraging. Entertaining. Baguettes and Bicycles is well worth a read. And if Herrick does make his proposed ride across Germany to Budapest, I hope he writes about it. I also hope he persuades his wife to accompany him. Even if it’s just for the cakes.
Baguettes and Bicycles (UK, US, FR) by Steven Herrick is available in hard copy and e-book formats. You can read about his efforts climbing Col de la Croix de Fer here. His bike blog is an excellent insight into cycling in Australia (though it covers lots of other stuff too).
Julia Stagg writes fiction set in the Ariège region of the French Pyrenees, an area she discovered through her passion for cycling. Her latest novel, The French Postmistress (UK, US, Fr), is the third in the Fogas Chronicles. It is published by Hodder and Stoughton – it even has a bike on the cover!