there are objects in this world that have influence beyond any superficiality they might simply appear to own. the word iconic might readily be applied to many, but often as not, such an adjective becomes something of a cliche, thus devaluing its influence over more important details and objects. as an example, those cobbled roads in northern france, laid purely in the absence of tarmac to allow the farming community to travel between villages and their own fields.
though these large and unwieldy stone roads are still used to this day, the modern day tractor is a tad larger than those of yesteryear and may not find them as apposite as once they were. however, their relative innocence takes on a far more important role over one weekend in april each year, when we forget about the moaning we've done regarding the potholes on our own roads and cheer unreservedly at those participating in one of cycling's great monuments.
philippe brunel's kings of pain is not a new book. in fact, the title appears to have been one created by imperial works; brunel's original work was entitled le tour de france intimes. however, in his introduction, rapha's simon mottram pays tribute to having first opened the french edition around the turn of this century, almost 100 years after some of the book's photographs were taken. its significance bears relevance to rapha recently having celebrated their tenth anniversary, having occupied the original imperial works in 2004.
several years ago, in the original rapha cycle club in london's old street, i had arranged to meet with mr mottram to discuss rapha's prodigious and exemplary print output, a subject that i had intended to feature in the pixels of the post (it's an article that has yet to appear; the subject matter has turned out to be a lot larger and complex than i originally thought). simon had been given a copy of le tour de france intimes by rapha investor and board member, tim ashton, perhaps accidentally but undoubtedly setting the tone for ten years and counting of pain and suffering crafted from sportwool.
when time came to suffuse rapha's branding in its archetypal (some might say cliched) black and white format, a copy of the book was passed to photographer ben ingham, along with instruction to "make it so", as captain picard would have said. looking through this fabulous treasure trove of photos from the tour's early days, i'd say he did a darned fine job. rapha's re-publication of brunel's original, ten years after making sportwool a household word, pays tribute to that original philosophy, one that is still very much in evidence today.
despite the technological improvements that have imbued the world of photography, ultimately leading to several of the original film and camera companies going out of business, and the almost wholesale adoption of digital over film, there is a character and delight to early black and white film photography that arguably has never been superseded. looking longingly at a 1921 photo of swiss cyclists colle and parel taking a break in dalstein, moselle, it's hard to see the evidence that suggests a 24 megapixel nikon or canon has brought anything better to the party.
my review copy of kings of pain contained a short but excellent essay by grame fife in the box. entitled ex duris gloria it embodies, as only fife can, the philosophy and reality behind the phrase 'glory through suffering'.
"The history of cycle racing abounds with stories of endurance, willpower and sheer courage on an epic scale. The capacity of bike riders to drive themselves relentlessly, day after day through the pain barrier and way beyond makes them a breed apart."
if ever a collection of images was able to display the essence of graeme fife's words, those within kings of pain's 160 pages must surely be in with a fighting chance. tour riders receiving their after stage massage, being doused with a fire hose to lessen the effects of the heat, kneeling down to drink from a roadside bucket of water and desperately trying to remove a tyre with his teeth (bottecchia) in 1924, combine to define the meaning of convicts of the road. such imagery is very much at odds with the daily galleries accompanying this year's nibali showcase.
the book's cover has as its centrepiece, a photo of an irate ferdi kubler in 1949 brandishing a bicycle pump "in one of the towering rages for which he was famous." kubler is one of twenty-six of cycling's great heroes included in a book featuring metallic copper headings to each of brunel's chapters. bartali, coppi, van steenbergen, bobet, anquetil, poulidor, bahamontes, gimondi, merckx all feature, along with hinault, fignon, chiappucci and indurain amongst others. the only notable, conspicuous by his absence is surely luis ocana?
printed on heavy art paper, the photographic reproduction is peerless, as indeed is much of brunel's commentary.
"We may have thought we knew everything about the Tour and its cast of actors - racers, organizers, directeurs sportifs and reporters. But we never see champions the way we see them here: stripped of their glory, out of the spotlight..."
those of us who hold a long-time interest in the sport of cycle racing, who delight in its great history and the lives of those who created it, will find much here to gladden the heart. those of you more recently arrived at this most beautiful of sports, unaware of what preceded electric gear shifting and race radios, this truly ought to be compulsory reading. the very book that should come with every new road bike. your opinions of rapha are pretty much suprlus to requirements here; the inpsiration is clear to see, but one that applies to far more postcodes other than n7 9ah.
this might not be how we roll, but it's almost certainly why.
saturday 26 july 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................