Higher Calling by Max Leonard

Review published on October 8, 2018.

The cycling Grand Tours are over for 2018 but fans of the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta d’Espana will find lots to entertain them in this book, which celebrates cycling’s obsession with the mountains. I have often thought that cycling up steep slopes might be rewarded by flying downhill but I am assured by my cycling-mad son and Max Leonard’s friends, too, that it is getting to the top that is the euphoric moment.

This book will appeal not just to cycling’s obsessive climbers, but also to those like me who know a little bit about competitive cycling and even those who have no previous experience of this activity, as there are many wonderful human interest stories of the ‘mad’ competitors as well as fascinating history, geography and science along the way.

Max Leonard writes with humour and skill from the beginning when he interviews the men who clear the snow from the high mountain passes. These hairpin bends and mountain roads were built for the military to reach lookout posts and are still inhabited by shepherds today. He takes us through the geography of the ‘cols’ and waxes lyrical over the Col de Bonette which is the highest paved road in Europe.

With the help of Joe Dombrovski, the author sets off to explore the psyche of the climbers as well as the places they love and the science of training at altitude. Although this is an excellent read, I did find some of the more technical/scientific chapters were above my understanding, but in no way spoiled the flow of the writing. As with any sport, there are many people who are obsessed with every part of cycling to the exclusion of all else and they will be thrilled to read this book, but don’t be put off by that. I learned a lot, and will watch the big races next summer with new eyes.

Not an ideal book for reading groups, unless they have a sporty background, but worth the effort for individual readers.

Dorothy Anderson 4/3

Higher Calling by Max Leonard
Yellow Jersey 9780224100366 pbk May 2018

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