cycling's history is filled with the great, the good and the questionable, riders who have inspired adoration from entire nations, riders who are still revered today despite having passed on to the great parcours in the sky quite some time ago. several have left their own legacy of books and films which help confirm and often elevate their historical importance.
there are any number of reasons as to why this is and continues to be the case. my own theory is on a par with why humankind continues to purchase frighteningly expensive watches despite the persistence of a digital clock on every smartphone, tablet and desktop computer. that is, though we can enjoy the machinations and strategies of modern cycle racing, wearing rose-tinted spectacles allows us to view the past as filled with daring deeds of derring-do and swashbuckling on a grand scale. handing chris froome a new bicycle as and when he needs one bears little comparison with the plight of a tearful rene vietto after handing a wheel to his team leader.
but, logically speaking, there surely has to be a bridge between then and now; at least one rider who embraced the modern, yet wouldn't seem altogether out of place in the great debacles of yesteryear. opinion might conceivably be divided on such matters, but all things considered, i'd like to put forward greg lemond as that rider. greg is principally remembered for winning the 1989 tour de france from laurent fignon by a marginal 58 seconds, or perhaps for having been accidentally shot by his brother-in-law while out shooting turkeys. but his career is about so much more than that.
"Eddy Merckx, Felice Gimondi, Luis Ocana, Roger de Vlaminck, , Freddy Maertens - they all became my heroes. And the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix became my obsession.
though lemond has featured as the subject of samuel abt's 'the incredible comeback' as well as one half of richard moore's 'slaying the badger', guy andrews' latest, substantial tome 'yellow jersey racer' expounds the american's career through the eyes and words of many of his peers. in this extravagantly illustrated book, guy has interviewed riders such as phil anderson, ronan pensec, robert millar, chris boardman and others, offering each a chapter in which to express their views and experiences of the man who arguably brought professional cycling kicking and screaming into the modern, commerce driven world.
"While the rest of the peloton followed the rules - ate what they were told to eat, wore what they were told to wear, and generally stuck to tradition - Greg stood out."
the strategy of not only having lemond pen the foreword to the book, but relating his importance to the sport through the words of those who were on the road when he was on the road, is an unusual one, but cleverly deployed. while andrews is a writer worthy of our admiration, rarely given to flights of fancy or unnecessary, fawning adulation, those who made lemond's acquaintance in pursuit of their own careers pretty much tell it like it was without affectation.
"Greg could really beat the crap out of you, if he wanted to. You didn't want to ride with him, beacuse you knew he was going to beat you [...] very often people would stop riding just because Greg was there, because you knew he'd win the sprint. Unless Kelly was there and then even Kelly might not beat him." (robert millar).
perhaps understandably absent from the roll call of testifiers is bernard hinault, a rider who would either have told guy precisely what he thought of greg, or maybe not. either way, would any of us have believed him? the picture painted is that of a man every bit as obsessed with european cycle racing as were his team-mates, yet losing none of that laid-back attitude for which we believe the americans to be famous.
very much in his favour, guy andrews is every bit as capable an editor as he is a writer and photographer. several of the 270 superbly reproduced photographs are from the lens of mr andrews, but along with the others, they accurately and beautifully recount lemond's career from rudimentary yet auspicious beginnings, to those three yellow jerseys in the tour and beyond. it would be naive to deny that yellow jersey racer is not of the coffee table book genre, predominantly by dint of its size and weight (you won't be reading this in the bath), yet for those who prefer their pictures to someone else's words, it still constitutes a compulsive experience that is not undermined by the equally hefty price.
"Greg's willingness to try something different was another reason why he stood out from his peers. He refused to accept the usual team management policy of using only the sponsor's equipment. Indeed, even when his own fledgling bike brand sponsored his GAN team, he still looked elsewhere for the best frames and equipment he could find."
though lemond scarcely approaches the heights of obsessive fettling and inveterate footering displayed by eddy merckx, he wasn't backward in coming forward in his adoption of that which he thought held the promise of more speed or better handling. it is fitting, therefore, that the final pages of yellow jersey racer feature several of the bicycles that helped him to career victories. these include a 1974 cinelli, a 1983 gitane, the famous 1989 bottechia time-trial bike and 1992's carbon calfee, all photographed "on a small stretch of cobblestones he had built into his driveway."
this is a true monument of a book in every sense of that word, for which the cyclist in your life would find themselves extremely grateful on the morning of december 25th. even if that cyclist is you.
thursday 20 october 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................