Ultimate Étapes by Peter Cossins – book review

With 25 iconic rides across Europe, Ultimate Étapes is a valuable resource for the road cyclist with ambition, and a beautiful coffee table book for anyone else

Ultimate Étapes is a book that celebrates cycle sport’s greatest gift: the ability of the amateur to experience the same roads as the professional.

Peter Cossins has chosen 25 routes, or étapes, each from one of professional cycling’s sternest races, to create a ‘Tour d’Europe’.

Many are taken from the more recent editions of the three Grand Tours and so will be recognisable to recent converts to cycling, but Cossins has also sought inspiration from the past.

Ultimate Étapes includes 25 iconic rides across Europe
  • Specification

  • Price: £20
  • Length: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Aurum Press

The tortuous 326km route through the Pyrenees from Luchon to Bayonne, for example, would test even the modern peloton; one can only imagine its demands on the riders of the 1910 Tour de France, who would have faced it on vastly inferior equipment. Cossins recommends tackling its monstrous demands – five climbs, including the 2115m Col du Tourmalet – over two days.

Ultimate Étapes is not entirely focussed on soaring climbs, however. The Spring Classics receive due prominence, offering something to the rouleur and, more generally, a mix of terrain that includes the white gravel roads of Tuscany (étape 17 is inspired by the 2015 Strade Bianche) and the cobbles and muurs of Flanders (the classic Ronde route on étape six).

Interestingly, Cossins chooses stage three of the 2010 Tour de France and a 213km route from Wanze to Arenberg to honour the infamous pavé of northern France, rather than the full parcours of Paris-Roubaix. This expedient reduces the ‘transfer’ for any rider following his Tour d’Europe, who would have ended the previous day in Valkenburg. The chosen route also offers a taste of the Paris-Roubaix pavé, without subjecting novices to, in Cossins’ words, ‘the full-on and perhaps rather frightening commitment to the complete experience.’

Cossins deserves kudos too for including Tro Bro Léon, a wonderful race in Brittany enjoyed by a wider international audience only on blurry internet feeds. Billed as “the Breton Paris-Roubaix”, its principle feature is the ribinoù, or unsurfaced roads that serve as farm tracks.

Etape 24 follows stage 15 of the 2011 Vuelta a Espana and includes the fearsome Alto de L’Angliru

Ultimate Étapes is impressive in scope, with routes in Yorkshire, Corsica, the Netherlands and Madrid. Any rider who followed its route would find little to complain of in the title of this book. To ride it in 25 days would likely reduce even the most seasoned professional to exhaustion.

But this is surely not the point. Any one of Cossins’ étapes might provide the focal point of a riding trip abroad, and valuable motivation to keep pedaling through the off-season. Ultimate Étapes is therefore a valuable resource to the road cyclist with ambition, and a beautiful coffee table book for anyone else.

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