Nine Fine Books: part one
The editorial team's pick of 2014 cycling literature, starting with three from Andy McGrath.
A disclaimer as usual with our books of the year. We haven't read every single tome that landed on our desks over the course of 2014. And there were many. These just happen to be the ones that resonated with us, either because of the quality of the writing or the stories being told.
We have probably missed a few corkers along the way, so do let us know what books you have particularly enjoyed in the past 12 months.
The holidays are almost here: light the fire, feet up and settle down for a good read. Once you've finished the latest Rouleur, that is...
Andy McGrath - Assistant Editor
Gironimo – Tim Moore (Random House)
Thirteen years older and thirteen years none the wiser from his French Revolutions, the king of the Grand Tour travelogue is back, opting to ride the entire route of the 1914 Giro – arguably the hardest of all time.
As if that wasn’t enough, Moore seeks to ride what they rode and wear what they wore, ending up looking like a “terrifying Seventies pervert” in big hat, welder’s goggles and woollen top, on a clunky, ancient, bicycle that he built himself.
On this 2,000-mile ride, amusing accounts of Moore’s mediocrity – this thing would hardly work if he was any good at cycling – and mechanical misadventures meet wild anecdotes from that lousy, long-forgotten 1914 race, which just eight riders finished.
This all meets regular, entertaining observations on Italian life and culture that nearly had me involuntarily sullying the sanctity of Tube carriage silence with laughter, from accidentally spending a night in an old people’s home to keeping the Italian pizza industry in the black and a thousand near-death experiences at the hands of reckless drivers.
Moore has a turn of phrase like few other writers, It’s like Tim Parks with dashes of Les Woodland: the sporting ingénue and travel lover can enjoy this as much as the dyed-in-the-wool cycling fan.
While the tools – brakes made of prosecco cork and welding pervert get-up thankfully aren’t familiar to the modern cyclist – are outdated, many will recognise the growing affinity to a hunk of junk and the bloody-minded application to completing a bizarre feat.
101 Damnations by Ned Boulting (Yellow Jersey)
If Ned Boulting’s How I Won The Yellow Jumper was more of a love letter to the Tour, written in the flush of lust, all foolish errors and fumbling, this is a more like the reflections of a wised-up married man.
Eleven years since his first Tour, Ned knows all too well the race’s caprice: he’s both been in its warm embrace and had to proverbially dodge the hurled hair straighteners too.
The face of British cycling takes the reader on a lively journey round the 2014 Tour with the ITV crew, warts, woeful coffee, weirdly-exacting Chris Boardman and all.
A host of delightful, lesser-known stories from Tours of yore are woven in, such as those of Roger Rivière and Gérard Saint (who would probably have given Anquetil and Poulidor a run for their money had it not been for his death in a car crash).
Whether explaining the idiosyncrasies of Tour life or recounting his entertaining exchanges with Peter Sagan, Boulting, occasionally of this manor, is engaging and dexterous with his storytelling.
The only slight let down is the quality of the Tour’s racing. His disappointment at Vincenzo Nibali’s nice-but-dull personality and the lack of competition is palpable.
Never mind: 101 Damnations is still damn good, we say.
Legends of the Tour – Jan Cleijne (Head of Zeus)
I don’t often plump for graphic novels – and there’s not many in the cycling canon – but I’m glad I picked up this beauty.
With his illustrated version of Tour history and its most colourful events, Cleijne casts the race in a stunning and profound way.
He can go where written word or photographs are limited, sometimes diverting into caricature or imagination, such as his depiction of Andre Leducq’s dream-like, out-of-body experience to show his lost mental state after breaking a pedal in the 1930 Tour de France.
The Tour’s tapestry of darkness and delight, skullduggery and scenery is well-suited to this treatment.
Legends of the Tour also serves as an evocative reminder of the Tour and France’s vast change over time: Cleijne illustrates the first twenty-odd in sepia before moving into colour.
Informative, entertaining and impressively concise given the vast ground it has to cover, this is a must-have for the bookshelf for any discerning Tour lover.
And another thing...
The Rouleur annual, This Island Race, is fabulous, but we would say that, wouldn't we?
Indiano Pizza: Le Tour hits East London, by Sebastian and Simon Schels