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The Great Road Climbs of the Dolomites and Italian Alps is a worthy successor to Graeme Fife's previous three books for cyclists about road climbs. In it he brings together invaluable information about the best known climbs, but also makes you aware of many other equally challenging ascents.
As one whose holidays tend to be based in areas offering challenging roads for cycling, a few years ago I set out to conquer some of the climbs that feature in the various Grand Tours. I started with the French Alps, simply because they were the most accessible from the south-east of England.
My guide during the planning process was Tour Climbs, by Chris Sidwells, which, as the title suggests, only covered roads that le Tour had used at some time. It was while plotting out routes on the map that I became aware of other climbs that looked worthwhile – but would often be overlooked simply because they could never accommodate le Tour, and so would never receive the attendant publicity.
I managed to tackle a few of these lesser known climbs alongside their better known neighbours: my best find was Col de L'Arpettaz, a narrow deserted road near Ugine that packs 42 hairpin bends into its 16km length, and was more challenging and more enjoyable than many legendary climbs.
A few years later I came across one of Graeme Fife's earlier books, The Great Climbs of the Northern Alps. With over 100 climbs covered in just that area, perhaps I should not have been surprised to find that all of my 'alternative' choices were present, including Col de l'Arpettaz – as well as the climbs that le Tour has used, of course.
Moving on to this year, and planning is under way for a cycling trip to northern Italy. I discovered that guide books to the climbs in the area are decidedly scarce: Chris Sidwells has not produced Giro Climbs, and Simon Warren has not produced 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs of the Giro to match his Tour one.
The best books I could find were Mountain High and Mountain Higher, by Daniel Friebe and Pete Goding. Not being restricted to 'racing climbs' allowed for some great choices, but they covered all of Europe so the number in Italy was understandably limited.
Suddenly, with serendipitous timing, Rapha announced the fourth book in Fife's series of Great Road Climbs, this time covering the Dolomites and the Italian Alps. The title is important, as the Dolomites are a sub-section of that part of the Alps that appears in Italy, so well known climbs such as the Stelvio and Gavia are technically not within the Dolomites, as I had thought.
As with Fife's previous works (which also include guides to the southern Alps and the Pyrenees), the book starts with a brief introduction to the geology of the area, and moves on to the history – which includes a lot of fighting. As is often the case, military activity is responsible for many of the roads, and most have continued as important transport links. If any climb has played an important part in a cycle race, then that story is also covered.
The publisher Rapha's influence is apparent in the style of the photographs: supplied by Peter Drinkell, they are big, plentiful, and atmospheric. On a more practical level I find them useful for picking out highlights to be aware of on the climb, and for knowing the state of the road surface in advance.
Given confidence by my previous experience of Fife's work, I set about targeting some of his less well known climbs to join those that I had heard about from the Giro (and occasionally le Tour). Be warned, with over 70 to choose from there are a lot of unmissable climbs, so I am in for an arduous trip.
Fife decided to 'eschew cross-border passes', which rules out a few well known climbs (St Bernard, for example) – but many of them would also fall foul of his other rule: busy main roads are not covered in detail because without closed roads you are going to have a very different experience to those in a race. Why bother, when there are so many more pleasant alternatives?
Rather than any form of grading system, you get a lot of rather flowery prose that you have to decipher: it may not be as immediate as a number or a star, but it does a good job of inspiring you to get out there and experience the climbs for yourself.
There are more climb profiles than in his previous books, which is helpful, but some of the gradient information has been removed, which is not. You can normally work out the average gradient from the numbers provided, but you won't know the maximum gradient unless it merits a mention in the text – which the more extreme ones do.
For anyone intending to use the book in route planning, Fife rightly says that 'whilst GPS and other technologies are undoubtedly useful, the overview supplied by maps is indispensible'. However, he does also direct you to GPX files of his routes on the Rapha website.
In my experience, all of the books mentioned here will normally require the use of additional mapping information for a successful trip, as the maps included range from almost useless (Sidwells) to quite good (Friebe and Goding), with Warren's and Fife's falling somewhere in the middle.
An informative, inspirational and long overdue book about climbs that are already famous, and many more that deserve to be
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road.cc test report
Make and model: The Great Road Climbs of The Dolomites and Italian Alps by Graeme Fife
Size tested: n/a
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
In this, the fourth volume in the series of Rapha's guides to Europe's iconic mountain ranges, writer Graeme Fife takes us up and over the Great Road Climbs of the Dolomites and Italian Alps in characteristic fashion. Illustrated with the photography of Peter Drinkell – probably his best work yet – the book offers an idiosyncratic, impressionistic exploration of 80 of the most eulogised and lesser-known mountain passes of northern Italy. Historical titbits, humorous observations and stirring stories from cycling's past all feature, while striking double-page photographs and hand-illustrated maps and col profiles add flavour to a mighty tome that celebrates the greatness of the mountains.
Climbs featured include:
Tre Cime di Lavaredo
Passo di Giau
Madonna del Ghisallo
Muro di Sormano
Passo dello Stelvio
Passo di Gavia
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Title: The Great Climbs of the Dolomites and Italian Alps
Author: Graeme Fife and Peter Drinkell
Date: June 2016
Quite expensive if viewed only as a guide, but more acceptable for a coffee table book.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
It will be invaluable in planning my cycling holiday to northern Italy.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
It will make my holiday harder work than expected.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes: I have already bought and used the other three books in the series.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
The book does sterling service as a planning guide, but performs equally well as a 'coffee table' book.
About the tester
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