it's not just me who is continually underlining the depth and breadth of cycle sport's rich heritage. ever since the bicycle was invented in the latter part of the 19th century, there have been individuals willing to race each other aboard whatever bicycle was flavour of the day. and since many of the first organised races were created at the behest of the newspapers of the day, ostensibly to boost sales, that rich heritage has been well reported and recorded.
you need only have taken passing note of the plethora of books released to celebrate this year's running of the 100th tour de france, to realise just how many written works and dissertations exist about each and every year. though i am no historian, i'd figure this must surely rival the literature accorded many other sports over a similar period of time. and it's a practice that shows little sign of abating. when the tour de france finally reaches its 150th running, an ipad with a one terabyte memory will probably be required to store each and every action packed edition.
the existence of not only the tour but comparably classic one-day races and their place in the cycling pantheon is even attested to in this the latest edition of the cycling anthology. to quote from edward pickering's what makes a great race"...no modern race has captured the imagination in the same way the Grand Tours and the Classics do."
yet, this very publication has bucked the very trend alluded to above. only just into its third edition, the cycling anthology has become as much a part of the cycling firmament as paris-roubaix or liege-bastogne-liege, and it's hard to think of a time when it didn't exist. lionel birnie and ellis bacon are to be applauded for having the gumption to put keys to word processor, ink to paper and commission to writer(s).
and as witnessed in issues one and two, there is as much joy, education and portent to be experienced in the writings included in the third. aside from contributions from both the editors and the aforementioned mr pickering, well-known and respected authors richard moore, ned boulting, kenny pryde, jeremy whittle, rupert guinness and sam abt all provide individual chapters. they are joined by anthony tan, owen slot, neal rogers and colombian, klaus bellon gaitan rounding out a series of wide-ranging narratives concerning our favourite sport.
perhaps to be viewed as an added extra to the anthology's principal raison d'etre is the ability to compare and contrast the myriad of writing styles. while the compact and bijou volume, decorated with yet another superbly judged and appropriate illustration by simon scarsbrook, has a singularity of purpose, the only visible theme is that of the bicycle. style and purpose of prose has been left to the individual, and it's this individuality that has added a welcome dimension to all three editions.
ned boulting's profile of this year's tour winner chris froome attests to the man's almost casual inscrutability. "Will Chris Froome be great? Is he already great? Who is he really?
"Look straight at him for the answer. Look carefully. It's there, somewhere. But I'm damned if I can find it." mr boulting is also not averse to subtle, yet humorous moves in his consumate wordsmithing... "the kind of chance encounter in a crappy two-star hotel between two star riders which could only happen on the Tour.
however, the contents are not all constrained to that simply of expert opinion; one at least rests its case on that of investigative journalism. i might offer as justification, the chapter entitled 'nineteen eighty four' by richard moore. aside from a rather happy coincidence that this was the year of tour distinction for the subject of moore's first successful foray into bookdom (in search of robert millar), it was the year 'le tour feminin' took place alongside the male-only tour de france, and won by american marianne martin. though fastidious in his research and exemplary in his prose, moore is not bereft of a sense of humour "...set against a prevailing culture perhaps exemplified by the continued presence of podium girls [...] their primary function is to make the riders appear desirable. And given that most are emaciated-looking men in lycra, with shaved legs, they need all the help they can get."
while not wishing to relate a blow-by-blow account of each of the anhtology's 288 pages, i cannot move on without praising the very cleverly constructed 'you are the pro'. when that lucky, worked for break offers a leg up to world-tour level, it often arrives in the shape of a one-year contract. the pressure to perform, improve and impress in a scant twelve months throws more options in the newbie's face than could perhaps have been anticipated. ellis bacon offers us the chance to make our own decisions. we are that professional, and at the end of each section we are provided with a professional's options. whichever we choose directs us to our destiny; to go with the attack, turn to page 230; to stay put in the peloton for now, turn to page 232
superbly and realistically resolved.
regarding many of the other pages and chapters in the anthology, i truly know not whether to be sad or impressed. possibly both. i would be a fool to ignore the inherent drug and doping culture that was at one time part and parcel of professional cycle racing. its invasiveness rather obviously offers a great many opportunities for discussion, discourse and dissertation. it cannot and should not be ignored. however, the cycling monthlies have been dealing with this since before oprah, and i confess that i would rather be reading about the abounding positives that the modern incarnation of the sport surely has to offer.
that said, i worry that my apparent dismissal of these seeming endless ruminations and writings makes me a bad man. sometimes i wonder if i am in denial, more concerned with the flavour of carbon fibre that's reached the line first, than a disease that has oft threatened to dismember this beautiful sport. sometimes it takes repeated slaps on the face to have it sink in and perhaps this is the best way to have those slaps administered.
that i am already looking forward to anthology number four assures me that these dissections bear equality with their less contentious peers. in truth, a triumph of modern cycling literature,
thursday 31 october 2013