the fun and frolics currently being provided by the contemporary bastions of british cycling have made it every bit as far as the mainstream press. though monday's sports news on radio four's today programme failed to make any mention of sunday's british road race championship, the guardian newspaper devoted half a page and a large(ish) photograph to the victories of both peter kennaugh and lizzie armitstead.
itv4 seems now to devote more of its scheduling to larger events such as the giro d'italia and is currently trailering the le tour like there was no tomorrow. couple that with team sky's predominantly british selection for those three weeks in july, and it doesn't take a science degree and a boxed set of the big bang theory to note that cycle sport in britain is a long way further forward than when i were a kid. and several hundred kilometres removed from the mighty dave t's childhood days.
however, it has often been said that in order to know where we're going, it's necessary to learn where we've been. gaining knowledge of how sparse were british riders participating in international competition in days gone by, places much of the current situation in some sort of perspective. it also goes a long way to explain why books such as robert dineen's kings of the road not only make sense in terms of a place on today's bookshelves, but why it is incumbent upon today's cognoscenti to read all 281 pages.
dineen's first foray into the world of cycle publishing came by way of his biography of sprinter reg harris. however, he is self-effacing enough not to aggrandise his efforts in the saddle and nor does he profess expert status when it comes to the intricacies of an often complex and obscure sport. there is little doubt that, while his athletic prowess seems to have improved during the researching and writing of kings of the road, his personal acquaintance with many of the sport's heroes and heroines will now be every bit as comprehensive as our own, after we've also read from cover to cover.
to partially explain the aobove contention, several of those interviewed for the various chapters were subtly interrogated by the author in an attempt to bolster his own chances of completing an etape du tour. knowledge of this provides an unremitting thread to his narrative, one that is never lost sight of, but yet never impinges itself upon the reader in a forceful manner.
first, however, for the reader less than familiar with the history of strife that featured in the fraught history of british cycling, dineen provides an overview that led to the banning of mass start racing in the uk, while it flourished in mainland europe. though the situation was eventually resolved between the two factional organisations (the national cyclists' union and the upstart british league of racing cyclists), it goes some way to explaining why britain was so poorly represented in the european peloton while the campionissimos reigned over the results and minds of the cycling cognoscenti on both sides of the channel.
if it was hard for the cyclists to participate in international racing, it was every bit as hard, if not harder for british fans to follow the sport.
"At the time Cycling, the predecessor to Cyling Weekly, was the only publication serving the sport and was fiercely supportive of the NCU."
that all was eventually resolved, if not entirely amicably, paved the way for those with the tenacity to move themselves to europe and compete against foreigners with many year's experience and willingness to give the brits a kicking.
the author's inroads to the sport's obscurity and means of improving his own cycling ability was to join a cycle club. many examples of club life seem still entrenched in mediaeval times, where riders who struggle on their first chaingang are all but left to their own devices. such is almost dineen's experience at the hands of east london velo. the club secretary takes the subtle approach: There are plenty of other clubs around here that you might be better suited to... I'd be happy to e-mail you a list of them."
though national byeways stalwart michael breckon's ambitions for the network are dealt with summarily at the beginning of chapter three, by that time, we've already been inducted into the world of british competitive cycling via an interview with scotsman iain steel, winner of the 1952 peace race. subsequent chapters bring the reader into contact with vin denson, alf engers, nicole cooke and father tony cooke - it is a salient point to note that nicole's inspiration to enter the world of competitive cycling was inspired by watching robert millar in the 1993 tour de france - tony doyle, colin sturgess and several other luminaries.
lest this come across as a meander around a gallery of british past successes, dineen's skill as an interlocutor prevents any descent into such depths, eliciting information that it often seems was scarcely destined to become public knowledge, persuading the reluctant to offer an hour or two of their time, or more often than once a seemingly misplaced sense of modesty.
"I'm not sure any of the cyclists now would want to read about me." alf engers.
the one notable oddity amongst this panoply of yesterday's cycling stars is a brief interview with vulpine's nick hussey. i mean not to demean mr hussey, fine fellow that he is, for though his palmares is far more impressive than mine (not hard) his person seems not to equate with those of other interviewees. it's also a chapter that provides dineen with the opportunity to offer a humorous, but largely unnecessary sideswipe at rapha.
"I have always struggled to justify buying a Rapha jersey when you could instead purchase, say, a flight to New York..."
'kings of the road' is a very good teacher; one that educates without ever appearing to do so. it deals with facets of competitive cycling we are unlikely ever to witness again. and while that bygone outlook was always forward looking, taking the fans along with it, i can't help thinking that the british trait of build 'em up, knock 'em down will, in time, be applied unsentimentally to the current crop of protagonists.
to summarise the admirable achievements of those featured, mostly in the face of adversity and a lack of corporate national support, dineen has listed their respective palmares just ahead of a comprehensive index. the tale may have been told by a man who would scarcely trouble the timekeepers in an evening ten, but nonetheless, the boy done good.
thursday 2 july 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................