Felix Lowe "takes to the saddle and sets out to conquer the road from Barcelona to Rome ... tracing the footsteps of the celebrated Carthaginian general Hannibal". That is the basic idea, but this is not just another cycle-based travelogue. So many of the ingredients required for a successful tale of adventure are here, and the book delivers on that promise.
Having someone with a bit of celebrity status involved always broadens the public's interest in a story. In addition, given the current interest in all things cycling, performing the adventure on a bike will resonate with many potential readers.
Basing the story around a well known episode from history helps to provide a theme to the whole trip, and frequent references to relevant moments from professional cycle races bring another dimension to the story.
Perhaps the best source of anecdotes is the mixed bag of fellow travellers that the author rides with, "a revolving door of incredible people", along with the other characters that are encountered along the way.
Felix Lowe will already be known to many readers because (in his own words) his "incredibly popular Eurosport blog has become the go-to place for an irreverent and authoritative take on the world of cycling". The book continues with that writing style, and it makes for a very entertaining read - often laugh out loud funny. Phrases like "I ordered last night's ... steak actually banking on it containing traces of the kind of steroids that seem all the rage nowadays in the pro peloton" give you a flavour of what to expect. Suitably irreverent, but also referencing a serious point.
I had not appreciated that Felix only started cycling just before this trip started, in 2012 – despite having already been involved in writing about the sport for many years. However, he has certainly made up for lost time since then. Preparation for the trip included the London to Brighton ride, the Haute Route Alpine sportive, and even a training camp in Grand Canaria.
His enthusiasm for cycling comes across clearly, and he certainly seems to have fast-tracked himself to a decent level of cycling competence. In fact he felt sufficiently more able than most of his travelling companions to add on numerous detours from Hannibal's route, just so that he could take in several of the significant climbs that professional cyclists race or train over. Mount Ventoux is a well known example of one of those unnecessary but rewarding extra efforts.
It was the offer to write a column for Cyclist magazine that finally spurred him on to start cycling. Following that, his appearance in the magazine prompted reader Dylan Reynolds to invite Felix to join him on the 'Hannibal Expedition' that he was planning.
The result is a highly entertaining book that will appeal to the cyclist and non-cyclist alike, and will even bring back memories of school history lessons. As a bonus, you get plenty of pages for your money, and a good selection of colour pictures.
Enjoyable story about an epic cycle trip; entertaining, informative, and a great example of the genre
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Bantam Press Climbs and Punishment by Felix Lowe
Size tested: n/a
About the tester
Age: 55 Height: Weight:
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding,