Why do road cyclists go to the mountains?
After all, cycling up a mountain is hard – so hard that, to many non-cyclists, it can seem absurd. But, for some, climbing a mountain gracefully (and beating your competitors up the slope) represents the pinnacle of cycling achievement. The mountains are where legends are forged and cycling’s greats make their names.
Many books tell you where the mountains are, or how long and how high. None of them ask ‘Why?’
Why are Europe’s mountain ranges professional cycling’s Wembley Stadium or its Colosseum? Why do amateurs also make a pilgrimage to these high, remote roads and what do we see and feel when we do?
Why are the roads there in the first place?
Higher Calling explores the central place of mountains in the folklore of road cycling. Blending adventure and travel writing with the rich narrative of pro racing, Max Leonard takes the reader from the battles that created the Alpine roads to the shepherds tending their flocks on the peaks, and to a Grand Tour climax on the ‘highest road in Europe’. And he tells stories of courage and sacrifice, war and love, obsession and elephants along the way.
French / noun
1. The red lantern that hangs on the rear of a train
2. The competitor who finishes last in the Tour de France
If you complete a bike race of over 3,000 kilometres, overcoming mountain ranges and merciless weather conditions while enduring physical and psychological agony, in the slowest time, should you be branded the loser? What if your loss helped a teammate win? What if others lacked the determination to finish? What if you were trying to come last?
Froome, Wiggins, Merckx – we know the winners of the Tour de France, but Lanterne Rouge tells the forgotten, often inspirational and occasionally absurd stories of the last-placed rider. We learn of stage winners and former yellow jerseys who tasted life at the other end of the bunch; the breakaway leader who stopped for a bottle of wine and then took a wrong turn; the doper whose drug cocktail accidently slowed him down and the rider who was recognised as the most combative despite finishing at the back.
Lanterne Rouge flips the Tour de France on its head and examines what these stories tell us about ourselves, the 99% who don’t win the trophy, and forces us to re-examine the meaning of success, failure and the very nature of sport.