Bunker Research by Max Leonard

Max Leonard, author of Lanterne Rouge: the Last Man in the Tour de France and the Rapha City Cycling Europe guides has just received an award for his latest book, Bunker Research. The British Book Design and Production Awards made him the winner of the Self-Published Books category.

Max is a contributor to Rouleur Magazine and has worked for Rapha and Strava as a writer. The idea for Bunker Research came about when he was researching and writing another book about cycling in the mountains. Speaking to Lecool Magazine, he explained how he came across these “weird concrete cubes and metal domes overlooking the roads or up on ridges, and I became fascinated.” He discovered that they were fortifications built before the Second World War to protect France from Mussolini.

Strategically placed throughout the Alps the bunkers were built out of reinforced concrete and the constructions blend into their rugged, pristine environment. He sees them as enduring features in the landscape and relics from a different time in world politics. They will survive for many years to come and while they do:

...they just lay there, constructed from a form follows function ideology, resulting in a brutal organic aesthetic, being a unique subgenre in architecture…Now the bunkers are marooned, forlorn and crumbling, in some of the most beautiful and remote parts of France. They are disappearing into the landscapes they once commanded, stray facts from a future passed, still waiting for an onslaught that never came.

He describes the book as “…the story of an obsession; or rather, two obsessions running like parallel tracks over the course of more than a hundred years…” He worked in collaboration with Camille McMillan, the cycling photographer whose career spans two decades and at least eight editions of the Tour de France. He has been raising funds through kickstarter for a book of his own, The Circus. The images in Bunker Research are stunning, beautiful and at times, haunting.

Max now intends to get on with the original book he had been planning before he got distracted by the Alpine bunkers. Speaking to Lecool, he says:

I figure there are a lot of books that tell you where the mountains are, or what happened on this-or-that pass in the Tour de France in 1955, or whatever, but none that really look at what drives us to climb them. Tell a non-cyclist that you’re planning to spend your holiday cycling uphill, for hours at a time without a rest, and that when you reach the top it will be cold and wet and you will be at your mental and physical limits, and they will think you’re mad. But cyclists just get it. Further: why have the Dolomites and the Alps become the Wembley Stadium or the Madison Square Gardens of professional cycling? Why do us overweight, under-trained amateurs follow the pros there? What do we see when we do?

That sounds like another fascinating book to come and one that we’re anticipating with bated breath. In the meantime, you can order his current book online by going to the Bunker Research website at a cost of £30.