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Something More Positive on Cycling

July 26, 2007

01ofht8dskl_aa90_Read two fine books on cycling during the Tour so far. The first is ‘The Hour’ by Michael Hutchinson. He
weaves into his own personal attempt on the Hour record the mystique and mythology of the challenge which has engaged most of the greats. It follows hard on the Graham Obree story at the cinema.

Hutchinson is a Northern Ireland guy who had some success in time trialling in the UK. If you know anything about the Hour record you’ll know the outcome of the book, but it is no less fascinating for that. And even if you know nothing about bikes its an engaging and often very funny read.

The second is ‘Tour de France-the history, the legend, the riders’ by Graeme Fife. He tells the story of Le Tour as he recounts his own assaults on some of the iconic mountains that have graced it. He begins with Alpe d’Huez incidentally and follows with Col du Glandon. He wrote about that mountain as I felt it last year, particularly as the road leaves the village of Le Rivier d’Allemond. The road soon fell away into a murderous but short descent before rising again at 12% and above. It was the closest I’ve come to tears of despair on the bike. Fife captures it well and lifted my spirits no end – it wasn’t just me!

His writing can be a little opinionated at times. He has little time for moody Italian riders, appears to hugely admire Robbie McEwan, and he can therefore do no wrong. But he tells the stories and legends of cycling very well and often with a wonderful turn of phrase.

Again if you have no background in cycling this book will astonish you with the tales of camaraderie on  the road, of astonishing bravery and endurance, and some of the photos of roads in the 30s and 40s are amazing.

He rounds off the book with chapters devoted to each of the tours from 98 to 2006. These may not be as accessible to the rookie but some of the background stories that often go unreported are great.

It seems to me that cycling turns up more than its fair share of philosophers and poets. Where Cantona is the best that football can produce the wisdom, insight and courage of cyclists is remarkable. I guess it must be something to do with the necessity of performing always at the limit in the face of incredible challenges. Riding through pain and illness for hours and hours each day at least gives a rider the time to contemplate. What else can you do when you can hardly grip the handlebars because your hands are ripped raw from a n encounter with the road. Or you can’t pull on the bars because you’ve cracked some vertebrae or a collarbone.

From → Books, Cycling, Sports

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