For as long as humanity has existed, there have been optimists and pessimists – people that look at a beautiful thing and think ‘ah, lovely’, and people that sniff and say ‘I’ve seen better’. One of the joys of the internet is providing both groups of people a platform to share their musings.
Perhaps the most succinct, democratic format for that is the humble review – and perhaps the most pervasive review platform is that integrated into Google. Search for a location or a business and you’ll see a star rating pop up, an average of the perspectives from all the average people that have been there. You can, of course, sort those reviews to discover what people liked. But it’s much, much funnier to sort those reviews from lowest-score up.
In the past, we’ve interrogated the pro cycling season in Google Reviews, looking at the generic burger joints and Colombian cake shops that the peloton whooshed past in 2020. That was, in its way, instructive. We learnt about the “competent and cute staff” at a Siena bakery, the “too many Jesus pix” at the Louvre, and the “strong odor of urine!!” in EF’s hotel in Clermont-Ferrand.
But what of the mountains, the cobbles, the iconic landscapes of the most beautiful sport in the world?
Great news: there are reviews of them too. And not everyone is happy.
Perhaps cycling’s most legendary climb, Alpe d’Huez was the site of a dramatic Thomas Pidcock win at this year’s Tour de France, a stalemate between Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard, and a battle against the timecut for the grupetto. I was there. It was great – even with the crowds of people, the sometimes slow hospitality service, and the almost visible waft of COVID on the breeze. Five stars from me.
Daniel C disagrees:
“Passing at the same time as the Tour de France. Deplorable catering … other regions do not take customers for pigeons … the setting of the Huez, shame on France … it was all simply disgusting and in a state of disrepair. I will never set foot again I hope in such filth, to vomit.”
Daniel C (1 star)
Col du Tourmalet
Pure pessimism makes for a great Google Review, but another of my favourite sub-genres is the ones that are internally inconsistent. A hyper-specific masterpiece of this was a review of a local takeaway near our accommodation at Wollongong Road Worlds, defined by the key points of: this is the best, most authentic Chinese takeaway in the area, doesn’t take card payments, 1 star.
On the world cycling beat, I’m quite taken by this one-star review from Josep M. after a lovely family ride up the Col du Tourmalet:
Una maravella pujar amb els fills
(A wonderful climb with the children)
Josep M. (1 star)
Along a similar line to the above is this gem from a visitor to the Roubaix velodrome, which you might know from such iconic appearances as ‘being the Roubaix velodrome’. We don’t know whether Thomas B. enjoyed his proximity to this iconic structure of the sport, or whether he cares for cycling. We just know what he did not do:
J ai pas été au musée
(I did not go to the museum)
Thomas B. (1 star)
Still, Thomas is doing better than Kad B., who in their one-star review claim that they “went there for my vaccine that’s all”. Fact check: False, vaccines were handed out at the other velodrome in Roubaix.
The Giant of Provence is, for reasons not entirely clear to me, disproportionately slated by Google reviewers. It is, to be fair, a particularly enigmatic mountain – imposing, barren, standing out there in the middle of Provence like a big white sore thumb.
None of those facts would motivate me to slam it on Google, but I’m glad that the following Ventoux haters have let their freak flags fly:
Jammer dat er geen kfc zit.
(Too bad there is no KFC)
B1 (1 star)
Des cailloux,des cailloux , des cailloux
(Pebbles, pebbles, pebbles)
Christophe M. (3 stars)
La montagne est trop haute possibilité d’installer un escalator !!
(The mountain is too high possibility of installing an escalator !!)
Mael O. (1 star)
If Mael O. has concerns about the height of Ventoux, he’d be absolutely incandescent about the Stelvio. At 2,757 m tall, the heavily switchbacked route to the summit has been described by dangerousroads.org as – and I quote – “the Europe’s most iconic road”.
Most Google commenters are fixated on the switchbacks, the dramatic surrounds, or the amount of motorcycle traffic.
Rostan R., on the other hand, has been to the mountain, factually observed a key characteristic, and found it not to his liking:
Lo Stelvio e molto alto
(The Stelvio is very high)
Rostan R. (1 star)
Perhaps the most iconic stretch of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, the Koppenberg is so-named for the size of its cobbles – kinderkoppen translates to ‘children’s heads’. Those head-sized cobbles are placed up a 20%+ incline that tests the peloton to its limits. To be clear, for our sport’s purpose, both of those characteristics are features, not bugs.
Patrick M., on the other hand, disagrees:
“Too steep. Too bumpy.”
Patrick M (1 star)
Col du Galibier
Most Google reviews are just people getting things off their chests, but some of them are more poetic. The Col du Galibier prompted Bern A. into this enigmatic response:
Si vous n’avez pas peur du vide, allez y, sinon s’abstenir…🤔
(If you are not afraid of emptiness, go there, if not abstain … 🤔)
Bern A. (2 stars)
And therein lies the quandary: I am afraid of emptiness. At life’s core, really, is that fear – the unknown of what comes next, the impossible void at the boundary of mortal existence.
It’s good to know that a trip to Galibier will take me to that precipice, without stepping beyond it. Five stars for your two stars, Bern A. (🤔)
Arc de Triomphe / Champs-Élysées
Our Tour of the cycling destinations of Google Reviews ends in the same spot as the other Tour: on the Champs-Élysées, looking at the Arc de Triomphe. It’s one of the most stirring sights in sport – a meeting point between 12 big roads, one big roundabout with an arch on it, and a whole lot of history.
The Arc de Triomphe is one of Paris’ most famous monuments, honouring the sacrifices of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, plus the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War 1. It’s big, it’s austere, it’s recognisable, and it’s historic.
Hans M. has some constructive criticism, because of course he bloody does:
Cheap piece of bricks just like the road there bricky worse cheep
Hans M (1 star)