Taken from the first chapter of Higher Calling (published Yellow Jersey, UK, 2017 / Pegasus, US, 2018) — an exploration of road cycling in the mountains, and what pushes us to ride very slowly uphill . . .

I am drinking a coffee made for me in a Ricard glass by a man called Didier, and we are higher than the sun. I would go so far as to say nobody drinking coffee in Europe is higher than us right now. It is just past eight o’clock in the morning and we are in a blue portacabin placed slap bang…


The hidden history of modernism in the mountains

Extract from the Isola Press book by Max Leonard, with photos by Camille McMillan, available here

« Over the years I had puzzled out a good deal in my mind, but in spite of that, far from becoming clearer, things now appeared to me more incomprehensible than ever. The more images I gathered from the past, I said, the more unlikely it seemed to me that the past had actually happened in this way or that way, for nothing about it could be called normal: most of it was absurd, and if not absurd then appalling. »

Vertigo, WG Sebald…


She wore the tux and I put on my favourite green dress. Then we left the hotel and went out for some of that Riviera hustle. At least that’s how I think it happened, I forget.

I asked myself if I was feeling lucky.

Most of us spend our lives trying to ignore the odds. Beat them, perhaps; defy them, sometimes; but mainly ignore them. Living, partying, eating, drinking, smoking as we wish, until that moment we can ignore them no more. But on any given race day, bike racers — or, at least, good ones — calculate the odds…


I talked to the writer Paul Fournel in Paris in 2017, just after that year’s Tour de France. Some parts of this were published in Mondial magazine issue 6.

Your book — ANQUETIL, ALONE — I get the sense that it’s been a life’s work, in the same way that cycling is a whole life’s work.

Yes, this is exactly that. I have nothing to add!

You’ve been thinking about Jacques since you were very little…

Yes. I guess that all the kids in the world have a champion at some point, and usually it’s when you are about 10 years old, you can be seven to 12, so it was exactly the right time for me. Jacques Anquetil was that guy for me. And then, you know, of…


Conrad Faber’s map of the siege at Frankfurt, 1553

On the occasion of the British Library’s Magnificent Maps exhibition in 2010.

‘I am told there are people who do not care for maps, and I find it hard to believe,’ wrote Robert Louis Stephenson, recalling the moment he began to conjure his most famous story. …


Originally published at rouleur.cc.

October 1988. A crowd of 500 people waits on the 1,002m Col de Braus as Jean Vietto, only son of one of the best grimpeurs of all time, rides a yellow René Vietto-branded bike to the top. This remote col outside Nice was where René sealed his first ever victory and it was his wish that his ashes be scattered up here. Jean arrives and takes his bidon from the cage on his frame. He walks to a small patch of wild flowers by the road, unscrews the lid with ceremony and the contents come billowing…


Originally published at www.stinnerframeworks.com.

A friend messaged me from France last week: “The memorial on Mont Ventoux has fallen on its face,” he said. “I thought you’d want to know.”

This was news but only, really, to me. Because he wasn’t talking about Simpson. If it had been the memorial to Tommy Simpson — the British professional cyclist who collapsed and died on those pitiless hot slopes, chasing his dream of winning the 1967 Tour as it disappeared up the hill ahead of him — it would have made headlines across the cycling press. And besides, Simpson’s stone is too…


Originally published at www.stinnerframeworks.com.

There has been much standing around and scratching of heads in the ski resorts of the Alps and Dolomites this winter, a lot of heads upturned to azure blue skies, too much wondering where the snow has gone.

As their year begins, however falteringly, our time as cyclists in the high mountains is ending. And each year, as each day passes and the light fades from the sky a minute or two earlier, the same thoughts and questions enter the mind. How long can I keep riding up here? When, and where, do you stop?

Though…


Anybody can name the winners, but let’s raise a glass to the stylish cyclists who have taken home the lanterne rouge

Last year, Mr Ji Cheng of the Giant-Shimano team joined a select group of riders to be awarded the lanterne rouge — the unofficial prize bestowed by fans on the man who comes in last on the Tour de France. Mr Cheng crashed on the Champs Élysées and completed the final stage of the 3,500km race injured, on his own, and last. However, by completing the world’s greatest cycle race, he did more than any of his countrymen ever…


Meyrueis, Lozère, May 28 2013. A cleverer man than me once outlined the world’s classic blunders: never get involved in a land war in Asia, and never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line. That man’s dead now but to that list I add, from bitter experience: never count on good weather in the Massif Central. “Ça va être compliqué”, says Jeff, proprietor of Jeffbar on Meyrueis’s main strip, when I ask him what the weather’s going to do today. Compliqué. Jeff is better at making coffee than he is forecasting the weather. In the event…

Max Leonard

Writer. Lapsed hedonist, failed ascetic. Books: Higher Calling. Bunker Research. Lanterne Rouge.

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