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Mountains According to G, by Geraint Thomas

Tour de France, 2022: Geraint Thomas, Steven Kruijswijk and Romain Bardet in the chase group on the Col du Galibier
Tour de France, 2022: Geraint Thomas, Steven Kruijswijk and Romain Bardet in the chase group on the Col du Galibier
Tim de Waele / Getty

Title: Mountains According to G
Author: Geraint Thomas (with Tom Fordyce)
Publisher: Quercus
Year: 2020
Pages: 244
Order: Hachette
What it is: The third book in the According to G franchise
Strengths: The name on the cover
Weaknesses: You’d expect a book about mountains to have at least some photographs, wouldn’t you?

Iechyd da, folks! It’s me, G. Everybody’s second favourite Welsh cyclist (she sends me emails if I ever forget that I’m only second favourite, can you believe that?). Back in the Podium Café to tell you about my latest top ten bestselling award-nominated cycling book, following the success of my first top ten bestselling, award-nominated cycling book, 2015’s The World of Cycling According to G, and its top ten bestselling award-nominated sequel, 2018’s The Tour According to G. I know it’s been out a few years, but I’ve only just got round to reading it.

My agents and my publishers were hoping this one would be called The Giro According to G. Then the pandemic came along and the Giro was delayed until October, just before my book was supposed to be released in time to land in the Christmas stockings of lads and dads throughout the UK. It was probably good that we couldn’t do The Giro According to G. I crashed into a bidon in Italy, fell off, broke my hip – again! – and had to go home. Not nice. The race ended up being won by one of the men meant to be fetching bidons for me, TGH. I always knew he had it in him and was really happy for him. Really.

We thought briefly about doing The Worlds According to G. That would have only left Tom Fordyce, the ghost in the machine of this According to G franchise, a couple of weeks to type the whole thing. Even though that’s loads of time for a book like this we figured it’d be a bit of a gamble on the result. So we parked that thought. Which was wise as I ended up finishing fourth in Imola and didn’t even win a loser’s medal. What a year.

Someone suggested Bicycle Maintenance According to G. Could you imagine me doing that? How to fix a puncture? Hail your team car by putting your arm in the air and getting the mechanic to slot a new wheel in. Squeaking bottom bracket? Same, but get the mechanic to give you a new bike. Bonkers.

I suggested Crashing According to G, because if there’s one thing I’m an expert on it’s crashing. But the publishers said that Velon’s YouTube crash channel may attract dozens of viewers but people don’t really want to be reading about cleaning road rash with your electric toothbrush or wounds that weep for three days straight and then leave a scab the length of your thigh you have to peel off before you shower.

Tour de Romandie, 2021
Tour de Romandie, 2021: Wet or dry, with help or without, crashing is something I do better than anyone else. Despite this spill I still went on to become the first Welsh rider to win the Tour de Romandie. The following year I did the Swiss double when I became the first Welsh rider to win the Tour de Suisse.
Luc Claessen / Getty

Let me tell you, I was lost for what to suggest next.

Then one day Sara put on a DVD of The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill But Came Down A Mountain. It’s got Tara Fitzgerald in it and she almost always gets her kit off in films but Sa said I could still watch it. She thought it might take my mind off worrying about the book Tom was going to have to type for me. Only instead of taking my mind off things it gave me a brilliant idea. The book would be about mountains! And in a nod to the film that inspired it I’d fill it with mountains that were really just hills! Lovely!

The great thing about mountains is there’s hardly any other cycling books about them. It’s something new for my fans to spend their money on. Also, Tom reminded me that I’d talked about mountains in my last book, the top ten bestselling award-nominated The Tour According to G. Apparently I’d shared an original and never before thinked thought about fans not being able to dribble a ball across the hallowed turf of Wembley but being well able to ride up Alpe d’Huez. Tom said he could do a Peter Cossins and recycle that. And he did!

You can love football and never get the chance to score a goal at Wembley. You can love rugby and never get the chance to dive over the line at the Principality Stadium, or watch tennis all your life yet only dream of making a volley at the net on Centre Court at Wimbledon. But in cycling you can ride exactly the same climbs as those legends. You can experience exactly what they went through. You can ride up Alpe d’Huez and the Koppenberg and everything in between.

No one’s ever thought that before me and now I’ve thought it twice in two different books! Tidy.

Rather than having to go off and do any research on the different hills mountains Tom was going to write about for me, we decided to make the book about my trials, trails and tribulations. I’ve tribulated lots, so that way there’d be loads for Tom to type.

Every climb, it’d be me climbing it at some stage in my career. That’s how we started out with a couple of Welsh climbs, Rhigos and the Tumble which I rode in my Maindy Flyers days. If you’re pronouncing Rhigos ‘Regoss’ you’re doing it wrong. In the Valleys it’s pronounced proper, ‘Rick-Oss’ (imagine if Daniel Oss had a cooler brother – that shouldn’t be hard).

Rhigos is not even six kilometres long but it pitches up hard and you can find yourself Rick-rolled if you’re not careful. The Tumble is about the same length, a bit shorter, but harder. A certain Luke Rowe almost had a tumble with a sheep up there, coming down the descent, but they both stayed upright. One time, in the Tour of Wales, a certain Dan Martin beat me to the top. I still haven’t forgiven him.

If the Tumble was a rugby player it’d be a Welsh rugby player. Hard. You don’t ride your bike to have it easy. This is cycling, not bowls or snooker, or any of those sports with balls. Cycling is hard. And I’m hard I am, Cardiff hard. I rode round France one time with my pelvis held on by kinesio tape, I did. That’s why I’m telling you about real hard climbs like Rhigos and the Tumble.

Itzulia Basque, 2022
Itzulia Basque, 2022: you can take the boy out of the Valleys but you can never take the Valleys out of the boy.
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno / Getty

The other British climb included is the Cat and Fiddle, which I used to ride in my Academy days. It’s not the hardest climb. It’s not the most spectacular climb. It’s not the longest climb. It’s not the steepest climb. It’s the Arsenal of climbs. Arséne Wenger’s Arsenal. Solid. Decent. Dependable. A top four climb. But only if you exclude all the European climbs.

One time Colonel Kurtz – Sir Dave to you, mate – sent me up the Cat as punishment. Liverpool and Milan had been playing the Champions League final on the same day as my birthday. So me and Matt Brammeier had headed out to watch the match and get a few jars in. It would have been fine but a certain Mark Cavendish dobbed us in and I got sent out with a certain Bradley Wiggins – Sir Brad to you – who had just returned from the Giro where they have real mountains. He rode the legs off me. I still haven’t forgiven Cav for being a grass.

Another hill I got Tom to write about for me is Willunga Hill. I really thought the publishers would spot that that’s not a mountain. There’s a bloody great big clue in the name. But they didn’t complain. It fills the page count and makes the book big enough for Christmas stockings.

Willunga isn’t even five kilometres long but on the last day of the first race of the season it feels at least six. A certain Richie Porte is the Muhammad Ali of Willunga Hill. I’m not really sure where that simile (Sa’s Word of the Day app is really growing my vocabulary) is meant to be going other than bringing another sport into this, but there you go.

Then there’s the Belgian and Dutch bergs – the Kwaremont, Koppenberg and Cauberg – which even if you added them all together one on top of the other it wouldn’t take you up to Welsh Corner on the Alpe. I don’t think my publishers know much about geography if they think there’s actual mountains in Belgium and the Netherlands. But they do know how to pay the £400 to get my books nominated for the Sports Book Awards and the £2,500 to book a table at the awards ceremony. When you’re writing award nominated books, next to putting the right name on the cover, that’s the bit that really counts.

E3 Harelbeke 2015: Scaling the heights of the Oude Kwaremont
E3 Harelbeke 2015: Scaling the heights of the Oude Kwaremont
Tim De Waele / Getty

Speaking of the Alpe. Everybody thinks they know Alpe d’Huez. It’s the most famous climb in all of cycling. Everyone’s heard of it. If it was a football team it would be a football team everyone’s heard of. If it was a film it’d be The Shawshank Redemption. Isn’t that just a wonderful film? Morgan Freeman is just such a versatile actor. He can do everything. He can be the president of the United States in one film, the president of South Africa in another, and a different American president in another film. And he can even play God!

If Morgan Freeman was a cyclist he’d be an all rounder, able to sprint and to climb and to time trial. Able to win classics and Grand Tours. Able to win on the road and on the track. Yes, he’d be me. In fact, when my agents in Elton John’s Rocket Sports finally get their finger out and sell these According to G books to Netflix I want Morgan Freeman to play me. He’d be perfect!

Everybody knows Morgan Freeman. And everyone knows the Alpe. It’s an icon. It’s a target. It’s a dream. It’s a t-shirt, a poster, a tattoo. It’s a plate of mashed-up potatoes piled up into a peak in the middle of the plate, but Sa really doesn’t like me playing with my food, especially when I roll a pea down it to show her what descending is like.

But however much you think you know about Alpe d’Huez you can’t really know Alpe d’Huez. Not until you’ve ridden it. Not until you’ve ridden it under proper race conditions. You might be able to ride exactly the same roads as me and all the other legends of the sport. You might be able to experience exactly what we experienced. But you’ll never know Alpe d’Huez until you’ve ridden it in the Tour. Which you’ll never do. I have, so I know the Alpe.

Other hills I sneaked into Mountains According to G are the Cipressa and the Poggio. If you’re out for a ride you’re over them and sitting down to a coffee in San Remo before you even realise they were the Poggio and the Cipressa. Tiny little climbs with silly little gradients. Your granny would take longer climbing the stairs of an evening.

But do them at the end of Milan-San Remo and they’re proper climbs. You’ll never do them at the end of Milan-San Remo, you can only ever dream of climbing them after an aperitif – Campari, of course – of six hours and a couple of hundred kilometres of racing to get to them. But you can ride up them. That’s what makes cycling unique.

Tour de France, 2019: Sprinting to be the first Ineos rider home on the Planche des Belles Filles, 1’44” down on the stage winner
Tour de France, 2019: Sprinting to be the first Ineos rider home on the Planche des Belles Filles, 1’44” down on the stage winner
Bernard Papon-Pool / Getty

The Vosges. Why does everyone talk about the Alps and the Pyrenees all the time and hardly anyone ever talks about the Vosges? I talk about the Vosges in Mountains According to G. That’s the difference between me and everyone else. I talk about the Vosges mountains.

They’re strange, the Vosges. Like the Pyrenees but different. Not like the Alps but similar. They’re special in their own special way. Planche des Belles Filles, it doesn’t make any sense. One time, in 2017, I rode up it in the fabled maillot jaune, the Tour’s legendary yellow jersey. Other times I’ve ridden up it I’ve not had the yellow jersey. It’s a bit like that, Planche. Different every time.

There’s nowhere else quite like it. It’s not like its near neighbour, the Ballon d’Alsace. The Ballon is normally served as an hors d’oeuvres on a Tour stage. Planche is the entrée. So, the Ballon would be Welsh rarebit canapes while Planche would be leek soup. Or something like that. I don’t know what the lamb cawl that follows would be, I haven’t really thought this through. But you can enjoy Planche like you can enjoy a craft beer. Unless you don’t enjoy craft beers. And now with the digestif of its new gravel extension at the top Planche is a proper meal of a climb, so it is.

All this talking about food and drink, it’s not half set my stomach rumbling. I’d kill for some Bara bread right now.

As well as a bonus chapter about who the best climbers I’ve raced against are (at number one is a certain Mr Christopher Clive Froome) Mountains According to G comes with a glossary. Quercus love putting glossaries into their cycling books. I don’t think they realise that it’s cyclists who read them and they already know what a sprocket is. I don’t mind. It’s Tom has to do the typing.

Puig Major in Majorca, that’s known as the Pig. A pig is a filthy animal. The Puig isn’t filthy. It’s a bear. Not a killer bear. A cuddly bear. But even a cuddly bear is still a bear. And as the Wales hooker – that’s not a prostitute, it’s a rugby position – Scott Baldwin found out on tour in South Africa one time when he tried to pet a lion in the Weltevreden Game Lodge, cuddly animals can bite. Scott only got a nip on the hand. The Puig will bite your arse off. So maybe it’s not a cuddly bear after all.

I’m getting confused now. It might be the hunger knock from all that talk about food. I don’t even remember why we brought another Welsh rugby player into this. It might have been a bet Tom had with me to see how many other sports he could squeeze into Mountains According to G. Or it might have been the memo from the Elton John people to remind people I’m proper Welsh. I’m the kid from Cardiff, I am.

If you’re on the Puig and you see one of us proper pros out for a ride, don’t sprint onto our back wheels and then just sit there videoing the whole thing for TikTok or wherever. Would I go into your office and stand over you while you’re working on another tedious spreadsheet and just stare over your shoulder? Of course I wouldn’t.

Puig Major according to Mountains According to G
Puig Major according to Mountains According to G

I imagine you work in an office, with tedious spreadsheets. I don’t imagine you as an instructor in an outdoor centre, or working for the fire brigade or the NHS, or being a chef in a restaurant. Your job is very boring. You’re an office clerk. It’s the only reason you’d read a book like this. To escape your desperately dull life.

But, yeah, don’t try to sit in with the real cyclists when you see us on the Puig. And if one of us waves to say hello when we see you coming in the opposite direction, don’t take that as an invite to turn around and ride with us. We’re not saying hello. We’re just acknowledging your existence.

So, that’s the Puig. A pig of a cuddly bear. Full of annoying Freds. Fat Freds. In their forties. All wearing retro jerseys. From Prendas.

Well, that’s it for me. There’s more climbs in Mountains According to G but you get the gist of what it is that made this my third top ten bestselling award-nominated book in the According to G franchise. I’m sure I’ll be back soon. We still want to do The Giro According to G. Failing that we could easily knock out More Mountains According to G. And there’s always Bicycle Maintenance According to G to fall back on.

Until the next time, it’s ciao for now. Or as we say in the Valleys, hwyl fawr folks.

Mountains According to G, by Geraint Thomas, is published in the UK by Quercus
Mountains According to G, by Geraint Thomas, is published in the UK by Quercus