If you get excited every time you see a road cyclist flash by and then feel sad that it's not you. If you consider, only for a second, as you fly down a mountain at 45mph if you were to fall off – would you still have your teeth? Or get butterflies, a mixture of excitement and dread, when you know you'll soon be experiencing pain, cycling up hills for many miles? Then this series by Michael Blann is just for you.
The photographer grew up cycling around the South Downs, dreaming of the Tour de France and the mythical climbs of the Alps and Pyrenees. After a stint racing in Australia in his late teens, he returned to England to take up a place at Kingston University, where he graduated with a degree in Illustration and Printmaking. From there he worked as a studio manager at a design agency but it soon became apparent that his real passion lay in photography.
It wasn’t long before his work caught the eye of Getty Images where he was offered a role on the London creative stills team, travelling and shooting everything they threw at him. Finally, the drive for self-expression and autonomy won out and he left to work on personal projects whilst supporting himself with advertising commissions.
It was during this time that he started to explore the idea of doing a book on mountains and cycling, two subjects he was knowledgeable and passionate about. Shooting on a large format camera he started to document all the famous climbs of the Alps, Pyrenees and Dolomites, which had become synonymous with the exploits of the professional peloton riding the Grand Tours.
After three years of hard work and numerous trips across Europe the project had achieved its goal of recording, in beautiful detail, the landscapes and mountains of cycling’s Grand Tours. With the help of designer Andrew Diprose and journalist, Susannah Osborne, the work was compiled into a luxury coffee table book, Mountains: Epic Cycling Climbs, published by Thames & Hudson in 2016. Included within its pages were the recollections and anecdotes of riding in the mountains by some of the sports leading professional’s past and present.
"It is impossible to talk about cycling without talking about mountains," says journalist Susannah Osborne. "For cyclists and fans of cycling mountains are fundamental to understanding the nuances of the sport. Mont Ventoux, Passo Dello Stelvio, Alpe d’Huez, these famous peaks have become temples, where riders go to create a sense of self, where men and women validate their worth and where the sport’s heroes are born and crushed.
"There’s something very primaeval about making a passage over a mountain. From Hannibal to Napoleon, history tells us that these cols, peaks and summits present an immortal challenge to human physicality; their demanding gradients make us raw, challenge our self-belief and to conquer them demands a slice of your soul. As a cyclist, you leave a little bit of yourself on every mountain you ride."
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