the cyclist's friend. a miscellany of wit and wisdom. chris naylor. summersdale publishing 203pp illus. hardback £9.99

cyclists friend

'life is like a ten-speed bicycle; most of us have gears we never use.' charles schultz.

it may well be that it is the most incorrectly overused item of punctuation in the english language, depending, of course on how you view the correct usage in the first place. i am talking about the ellipsis, those three little dots or full stops that occasionally finish (or rather, don't finish) a sentence. strictly speaking, those dots indicate either a missing word (when used mid-sentence), or as in the case above described, it may mean a pause in speech, an unfinished thought or a trailing off into silence. i have come across many occasions where none of the foregoing are the case. i believe it may be in order to end a sentence with an ellipsis when trying to infer that there is more to come, either on another page, further down the same page, or simply left to the imagination.

unfortunately, many has been the instance where the ellipsis appears to have been added as a sort of afterthought, either because the author isn't sure quite how to finish what they started, or placed entirely erroneously, having no relevance to the foregoing. it seems that, according to the bluebook, a style guide for the american legal system, the ellipsis should feature a space prior to the first dot, and then between the two subsequent dots. if, rather than type the dots individually, you use the macintosh shortcut of alt/option + semi-colon, the dots appearing on the screen do not adhere to this discipline. i think you might agree that my finishing thus . . . is a trifle unnecessary, and quite frankly, most of us could care less.

the discussion of such an arcane item of punctuation within this article is germain to the book under review, for it could surely just as easily have modified the title of lance armstrong's first foray into print. thus; it's not about the bike..., using the ellipsis to infer that, contrary to the inference provided, the word 'but' may be the very one represented by those dots.

for any cyclist, the bicycle is the very core of their being; without a bicycle of some sort or other, surely we are simply pedestrians? such does not indicate that the mythical cyclist under consideration need be one that concerns themselves with all aspects of cycling, for the width of the cycling universe is surely great enough that there is something for everyone. and it is often that something for everyone that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. we delight in the paraphernalia that surrounds the bicycle, whether it be the introduction of a local cycle hire scheme, the government's cycle to work scheme, or simply some uplifting cycle related literature that can be used for surreptitious proselytising, or for the oft times much needed self affirmation that one has made the correct transportational choice.

even something to encourage a light degree of smugness.

such is the case with chris naylor's the cyclist's friend, here subtitled as a miscellany of wit and wisdom. prior to delving into its copious yet fulfilling contents, can i just say that if i never see the h.g.wells quote 'when i see an adult on a bicycle, i do not despair for the future of the human race' ever again, it will be too soon. the remark has been flogged to death, and i feel that anyone intent on regaling us with more contemporary wit and wisdom of a cyclical nature ought to pass over and move on.

that, however, does not preclude the substantial number of worthy epithets, whimsies and good old down-home baking from constituting the bulk of this small volume's 200 plus pages. marriage is a wonderful invention; but then again, so is a puncture repair kit attributed to scots comedian, billy connolly is a fine example. there are many smart-ass one liners included within, many of which are worth remembering, and not always for repeating or using defensively towards non-believers. there are brief descriptions of cycling styles, such as cyclocross, a fine testimony towards the all but unparalleled mechanical efficiency of the chain-driven bicycle. introductions to bicycle gurus such as gary fisher and mike burrows; a short dissertation on choosing the right saddle, and a brief discourse on the introduction of mountain stages to the tour de france.

there's even a short chapter about tommy simpson.

it's quite possible that many of you will have come across the one-liners in other publications, or inhabiting a coloured sidebar in one of the monthlies. but here are many all in the one book, and easily to hand when you need to recall who it was that actually propounded the statement in the first place. the cyclist's friend fulfils the position of feelgood literature, something i figure every cyclist needs at sometime in their career. add to that the convenience of access, and it's hard to fault mr naylor's choice of content. true, page 83's customising your bicycle delivers considerably less by way of specifics than the more recently reviewed volume from rouleur editor, guy andrews where considerably more detail was on offer, but if a few hundred words are employed to encourage some riders to think past the catalogue style of most purchases, then surely it has done no harm?

for a penny under ten pounds, no matter how much or how little you find within these pages, it is a small price to pay for that which does subsequently prove relevant. being able to dip in and out as the fancy or need takes, is an ideal format. this is not necessarily a book that should be read from start to finish, though i'd recommend finishing in which ever circumlocutious manner you find amenable.

maybe it is all about the bike...

summersdale publishing

posted monday 2 may 2011


top of page.


it is what it is, but isn't what it ain't

the mighty dave t

is there a specific upper or lower limit regarding the number of cyclists it takes to make a peloton? after all, european legislation has all sorts of arcane minimum and maximum numbers for so many differing factions, that there must surely be one on a list somewhere that dignifies the peloton. or perchance, would that come under the jurisdiction of the union cycliste international? i was out gathering kilometres yesterday, flying solo while continuing to test bicycles on your behalf, and by no stretch of the imagination would i have described myself as a peloton. and on the day prior to that, the mighty dave t and myself partook of a royal wedding bike ride, union jacks metaphorically blowing in the breeze (we'll get to the windy bit shortly), but again i'd hesitate to refer to the two of us as peletonese.

so could the number three be the break-even point? i'd be quite comfortable about that, so in the absence of any confirming literature from either the uci or european parliament, i'll make the decision on your behalf, that three riders is the absolute minimum that can inhabit a peloton.

that means that last weekend's fleche buffoon benefited from more than minimal numbers, but the fact that out of 47 riders pre-registered for the event, only 16 made it to the start-line could quite legitimately be regarded as a disappointment. such despondency was only minimally ameliorated by the knowledge that two folks turned up and entered on the line. while i have no real desire to start investigating the meaning of the word wimp, i can think of around 31 folks to which that epithet could conceivably apply.

union jacks

now before you sit back aghast at my lack of charitable thought, take mind of the conditions under which the fleche was to be ridden. i defer description to the ride organiser, the inestimable brian ignatin; "a few showed up, and went home... we had intermittent showers, though it was fairly steady when we started. no big deal though.". mr ignatin is not one given to over or under estimation, and bearing in mind that the ride was one of a trio designed to celebrate both the flemish and ardenne classics, is it possible that some had missed the point entirely?

though the past few years have generally favoured races such as flanders, roubaix and liege with a pleasant and shadow-casting climate, historically the attraction of such classics has been the arrival at the finish line of far fewer finishers than starters. preferably plastered in mud, dust or even blood, describing a substantial number of epic kilometres that make cycle racing the real hard sport that we know it to be. so why then, given that entrants to the fleche buffoon were presumably aware of the european classics' reputation and that the course was designed as a celebration of same, am i not correct to cast aspersions in their direction? i darned well think so.

it bears comparison, i believe, with today's and even yesterday's bike rides in the principality, a location currently being buffeted by an easterly wind inhabiting the 40-50kph range, with the occasional gust of greater magnitude. saturday was bereft of peleton, but grovelling up uiskentuie strand on a bike fitted with a sturmey archer three-speed hub gear was very nearly the visual equivalent of standing still. however, in the true sense of character building effort, i surely have a serious quantity to spare.


then there was today.

we did have a peloton today, numbers being over the now legal minimum of three, but we had a slightly extended wait for the mighty dave t, who, travelling up from the kingdom of port wemyss, was slightly detained by the wind mentioned above. taking into consideration the direction and strength of the wind, we opted to ride round loch gorm, taking us out to islay's atlantic coast. before turning left and experiencing a healing tailwind, i cannot pretend that the opening few kilometres were anyhting other than purgatory; but after that, it was cycling for softies, until turning back towards debbie's and the promise of a reviving intake of caffeine. at that point we were pretty much heading east, and progress was slow.

while i mean this as no form of serious comparison with those unwilling to dodge a smidgeon of precipitation in the fleche buffoon, for the lack of rain over here has had the farming community moaning, but on arrival at deb's, a dutch acquaintance of ours on holiday (and you'd figure the dutch would know as much about wind as we do) mentioned that they thought it would have been far too windy for cycling.

they were wrong.

posted sunday 1 may 2011


top of page.


aszure team issue carbon road bike

aszure team issue

it has long been a concern that i have not the temerity to become an entrepreneur, even at a sedate level, conceivaby within my financial means. over the years, i have been introduced to products not available in the uk, and had cause to mull over the possibilities of becoming the one responsible for distributing same amongst the great unwashed. but i am way too conservative in my outlook, and too full of subjective doom and gloom to risk life, limb and mortgage to put my money where my mouth is. if we were all like me, not only would i have nothing to write about, you'd have nothing to ride.

there are, however, certain areas of the cycling miasma away from which i would stay, providing excellent use for a ten foot barge pole. one is cycle clothing, and the second is carbon bicycles. many of you will have had the good fortune to attend either the scottish cycle show or, perhaps, the cycle show in earls court. or maybe even both. this being the case, it cannot have escaped your attention that simply standing at the entrance of either, it is possible to cast your gaze of acres of almost identical carbon fibre, distinguished only by slight variation in paint schemes and a head tube badge declaring a heritage that may actually mean something.

why on earth would i, or anyone else for that matter, wish to become another of the increasingly anonymous throng?

bbm bikes is the brainchild of ashley brown, a director of bbm wellness, which provides a corporate motivational service to business. this has expanded to a retail website offering a variety of well known cycle products, and perhaps logically, has now grown to offer a range of bicycles under the aszure name.

being particularly convinced that the market for carbon bicycles is perilously close to saturation point, intrigue and curiosity on my part, coupled with the offer of a review model on theirs, led to this particular test of a yellow, black and white bicycle, of which i can honestly say i had less than spectacular expectations.

of course, i've been wrong before (several times). has it happened again?

read the review here.

posted saturday 30 april 2011


top of page.


sky's the limit by richard moore. harper collins. hardback £16.99

sys the limit

'If it was easy,it wouldn't be worth doing, would it?'

it is a peculiarly british tradition, so far as i can ascertain, to build someone or something up to be at least the equal of their perceived ability, or perhaps just a touch further for good measure, before taking even greater pride in in bringing them down not just to size, but preferably a smidgeon smaller. rather than tease out a lengthy string of examples, i'll let you mull over your own delete as applicable, based entirely on markers pegged on your own social interests or strata.

the principal is largely non-specific; it can be applied to almost any walk of life you care to mention, cycling being one of them. look at poor cadel evans, once hailed as the great white hope when he donned the pink jersey in the giro while riding for mapei. a mountain biker made good in the world of skinny wheels and bendy bars.

that didn't last long. just ask cadel.

so, in a series of moves seemingly calculated to ignore the above principle, in a way that suggests the progenitors either considered it in similar light to that of superstition, or whose apparent arrogance simply occupied strata in which it wasn't even true, in 2010, along came world domination either side of the thin blue line.

team sky.

my introduction above might well suggest that i follow and support the well-worn path of the confirmed naysayers, and i have a sneaking suspicion that this might well be the case. not long after the team launch, i was provided with everything you could ever want to know about the corporate design, from the horses mouth responsible for same. it barely lasted 24 hours in these pixels before there was a respectful request to withdraw.

the corporate squeeze.

of course, mine is a trivial and less than life-changing gripe. perhaps jonathan vaughters would be less inclined to take the same view. in 2009, bradley wiggins arrived in paris, occupying fourth place, just one step off the podium and equalling robert millar's 1984 finish.

having sprung something of a surprise on an unsuspecting professional cycling world at the end of 2010, dave brailsford, fresh from unqualified gold medal success at the 2008 beijing olympics, brought forward his much vaunted step into the less predictable world of road racing. funded to an unspecified and hotly debated amount by bskyb, the world's principal satellite broadcaster, team sky was to be britain's great white (and blue) hope for the future of our cycle racing prestige on the international stage.

the problem here was lack of a credible team leader, one who paid at least lip service to being british, but preferably a true brit in lycra. up until 2009's tour de france, brailsford's persuasive tactics would have had a sole target by the name of cavendish. but cav seemed more than happy at htc columbia (now htc high-road) and had a few years of his contract yet to run, a contract he gave strong indication he was less than keen on breaking.

david millar would have been a popular choice, but with no disrespect to the scot, his podium days were well behind him, and sky weren't shelling out megabucks simply to employ someone of the right nationality but one that was, to be blunt unbankable.

that left only wiggins.

we know how the fairytale panned out; the happy ending has yet to materialise. though jonathan vaughters may only now feel like agreeing, brailsford was obviously capable of transferring a calculating nous in more directions than the number of watts produced by sir chris hoy in the last lap of the keirin. there are few others who could likely have stepped from one discipline to another and operated - successfully - at a hitherto unapproachable managerial level.

brailsford and his partner in crime (sic) shane sutton all but admit that things could perhaps been dealt with differently. that their approach to the less predictable world of road racing could have been a tad more subtle. there's the rumoured ganging-up on the shiny new team at 2010's tour of oman, when boasson hagen stopped for a natural break and everyone else scarpered towards the finish line. and then there's that bus.

of course, there are two parallel stories here; though the race results as far as the tour is concerned, were someway off the early season bravado, that nagging epithet all publicity is good publicity can't have done sky any harm. that's not to say there haven't been results to be proud of, not least geraint thomas' winning ride in the 2010 british road race championships, and the classics of both 2010 and 2011 are nothing to be ashamed of for those wearing that thin blue line on the back of a sky jersey.

with pretty much unbridled access to all points of the sky compass, author richard moore (surely turning into one of britain's most prolific cycle sport writers) has examined team sky perhaps in more depth than brailsford himself. what none of us need or want, including team sky themselves, is a whitewash sandwiched between two outer covers, and split by a few glossy photos. that would surely be to reinforce the self-fulfilling prophecy, leading to accusations of collusion and a less than critical word processor.

breathe easy; that's not what we have.

'there seemed a discrepancy between (scott) sunderland's view of the sports director's role as the most important person in the team and brailsford's. the above is taken from the early pages of the book, where moore seeks to describe the team setup under the implication that brailsford's managerial hand has a few dictatorial tendencies. by just over half-way through the book 'on 22 may a story appeared on the team's website, headlined: 'senior sports director scott sunderland has left team sky under a mutual agreement.'

this followed by 'a friend of sunderland, meanwhile, complained that he lost a 'power struggle' with brailsford. 'brailsford wanted to be in charge of everything, even though scott was the one with experience. why give him the job title senior sports director if you're not going to let him direct?'

depending on your proclivities, it's easy to come down on one side or the other in the above situation, but it's wise to remember that sport at this level bears little resemblance to the operating tendencies of velo club d'ardbeg. what is compelling throughout sky's the limit, is moore's style, insight and willingness to tell it like it is/was means that there's the impression that we're being told the whole, uncomfortable at times, narrative. of course, we'll never really know, but that's not a perceived secrecy exclusive to team sky.

the writing is concise, well-researched, unpretentious and impossible not to read to the end. there is little by way of character besmirchment, but that would surely have been the easy option to satisfy the antagonists. this is a book about team sky, about its successes and failings, about the riders that constitute the thin blue line, but mostly about the men at the helm. it is perhaps a deliberate contradiction that such is the case, for brailsford's style of management ostensibly favours supporting the riders at all costs.

it can't have been an easy task to characterise such a high profile (and let's not forget, british') cycle team when they are still very much the subject of forum chatter, yet barely into their professional stride. dave brailsford may well regret his implication that they can win the tour within five years, and win it clean, but it seems a trifle churlish not provide at least moral support. yet this does seem like the right time for such a book to be written.

however it's correspondingly easy to try and read between the lines, to suspect that moore hasn't placed all in black and white; leaving some details to the hercule poirots amongst the peletonese. then again, maybe all is out in the open between the page numbers. either way, it's hard to deny the suspicion of intrigue. well isn't it?

'then a woman steps forward; she's in her sixties. 'mr brailsford,' she says politely, 'i just want to thank you for giving us a team to support.'

for every british cycling fan, this should be compulsory reading. for the rest of the world it's only mandatory.

richard moore's sky's the limit is published on june 9 by harper collins.

posted friday 29 april 2011


top of page.


not black and white

"the logistics of preparing for paris-roubaix is certainly one of the most important of the year to implement. it is also the day when we are the closest to the professional cyclists as we are united in a common effort to fight against the cobblestones."
denis greffet, mavic neutral support.

mavic at paris roubaix

our own perception of colour is pretty much unrivalled in the animal kingdom, allowing that we're comfortable being labelled as animals in the first place. since eddy merckx doesn't appear too distraught at answering to cannibal, i think it unlikely that animal should give too much cause for concern. think of it, perhaps, as a worthy adjective.

however, there can be few amongst us who are not required, in some way or other, to view at least a portion of the world through the portal of a computer screen. i consider myself fortunate that those long hours trawling through the more arcane depths of adobe photoshop, are currently enhanced by a whopping 27 inches of flat panel monitor, providing much aplenty real estate on which to spread a seeming endless collection of panels surrounding images scaled pretty much as large as i like. even exploring the opposite end of the visual experience occupied by the ipad, touch-screen smartphones or ipod, a considerable proportion of each working day or leisure time will likely be spent staring at pixels. just as you are doing right now, come to that.

the average mp3 player stores your favourite music in compressed format, only one of which is that of the mp3 (strangely enough). this used to be known by the acronym ncq, or near cd quality, a concept coined to distinguish the effectiveness of the compressed format in comparison to the 44khz sampling prevalent on those shiny plastic discs. for most of us, near cd quality is perfectly acceptable; only those who listen in a soundproof, darkened room listening to the silence between musical phrases as opposed to the music itself will likely notice the difference. and there's a whole generation that has grown up with little idea of quite what a compact disc is/was in the first place.

vittoria at strade bianche

the digital world features many comparable examples, such as software's appreciation and display of colours. smartphones, ipads, televisions and computers all display colour in a combination of reds, greens and blues. digging further into the colour perception of the average video card, each of those colours survives by way of a total of 256 levels of each. greyscale is just the same; divided into 256 levels between absolute white (255) or total black (0). work out every combination of all those levels, coupled with each of the three colours, and it gives rise to the notion that computers can display in millions of colours.

those are the mechanics of digital perception.

but we don't notice those things, and nor should we; that's the computer's job, and assuming it does it correctly, all should appear well with the world. of course, grass, blue sky, warm sea are, in reality, not made up of millions of discrete levels of colour. the real world does not digitise itself, preferring to smoothly transition between one colour and the next, which is sort of the reason why we can tell that bbc iplayer isn't reality as we know it. here is an agglomeration of supporting casts whose sole reason for existence is providing us with a visual experience bearing at least a pastiche resemblance to reality, and perhaps just a touch more.

mavic at paris roubaix

cycling is exactly the same. well, not exactly the same, but there are similarities.

cycle racing, very basically put, consists of a bunch of blokes or women setting out from a start line and heading inexorably towards a finish line somewhereabouts. in an ideal world, the fastest cyclist would be the winner, unobstructed by any waifs and strays along the way. but life's not like that; chains can be unshipped, tubulars can roll off the rims, the selfsame tubulars can find themselves suddenly without the air they need to survive, and even professional cyclists can succumb to gravity and hit the floor. sometimes more than once.

that's just the riders. however, at some point, probably the minute after this year's race finishes, someone has to start planning next year's edition. races don't run themselves; marshals are required, neutral service, police, and at least in one or two of the classics, some poor soul standing at the side of the road drawing attention to themselves by holding up a pair of wheels. those are not the bits on which we, as avid race fans, tend to concentrate, for surely 'tis the podium and its relevance to the season, after which we chase?

the rest is just scenery.

thankfully, that last statement simply isn't true. for while my own inhabitation of photoshop's doing it by numbers procedures is of interest only to myself, the hidden structure of cycle racing is a fascination all of its own. the stars are the stars, but the supporting cast encapsulate intrigue, especially when raised to a level that can but increase the enthusiasm of the interested bystander.

that's you and me.

vittoria at strade bianche

occupying some of those red, green and blue pixels in constant motion are a couple of movies from leaders of the art. vittoria tyres provided service cars for this year's montepaschi - strade bianche, a scrabble across the white gravel roads that are later in the year, traversed by l'eroica. and secondly, the guys on the yellow motorbikes responsible for neutral service at paris-roubaix. for reasons i have difficulty in justifying, watching both of these films has only increased my enthusiasm for leaping on the bike and immediately going cycling, even though it depicts mostly the sort of backup that seems never to be driving a few hundred metres behind any of my own rides.

does anyone know how much it costs to hire a fully equipped mavic car for the weekend?


posted thursday 28 april 2011


top of page.


cervo rosso merino cycle jersey

cervo rosso merino jersey

i am comfortable in my own skin, partly because nobody else would be. i am master of all i survey, though at present that amounts to a cardboard box, a digital compact camera and a copy of today's guardian. it is likely as it should be. there is a smug satisfaction in having a secret identity, even if everyone seems to know what that is. how come lois lane never figured out that superman was just clark kent without his glasses? it seemed so glaringly obvious to everyone else. i have, however, most thankfully stopped short at wearing my boxer shorts on the outside.

variations on a theme are good. only the other day i was hurtling along roads constructed from neatly sewn together potholes, clad head to toe in cervo rosso's national pride jersey and bibshorts. you may have already read the review, in which case, you were hopefully as impressed as i. clothing such as that should really only be worn aboard high modulus carbon fibre; the fit, streamlining and flexibility were made for each other. you wouldn't go swimming in your levis (would you?).

cervo rosso merino jersey

but then life is not all about polyacrylonitrile, polyester or lycra; sometimes even cycling life inhabits the more refined fibres bestowed upon us, such as the perennial favourite, merino. there is little or no contradiction between a swiss clothier's desire to live in the fast lane, yet keep at least one foot (or two sleeves) in the modern past. if that doesn't come across as too much of a contradiction (which it probably does). but in the tradition of a red rag to a bull the fine chaps at cervo rosso have categorised this excellent piece of merino craftware under the urban section of their online shop. i will readily admit to not exactly living in the middle of nowhere (that's the next street along), but the epithet urban is little used around these here parts, and i would not be surprised if the gaelic language were bereft of a word that could be used in its place.

of course, words are mere shortcuts to the real thing, and just because carlyle figures that a merino cycle jersey is urban, doesn't mean to say that i, or the jersey agree. some similar style garments are all show and no go; designed to be worn in a relaxed manner, and to be used sparingly anywhere near a bicycle. not so in this case.

but it's the urban that grates.

cervo rosso merino jersey

glenegedale house sits opposite islay international airport. i'm unfortunately not well enough steeped in islay's heritage to let you know for why this large, stately building was originally built, but it is currently employed as a luxury guesthouse. on tuesday morning, around 10am, i was to meet with the proprietors for top-secret discussions. basically, i'm not telling you what i was there for, but suffice it to say that it had nothing whatsoever to do with cycling. however, cycling is the way that i travelled there.

as stated, my appointment was at 10am, but with a current incongruous spell of sunny weather, i headed out early with the intention of at least a part of my cycle being surplus to requirements. leather shoes, a pair of so-called urban shorts and the cervo rosso merino cycle jersey. three functional, buttoned rear pockets plus the zipped one missing from their race jersey; a full-length and chunky front zip that was an absolute doddle to open or close depending on internal warmth.

a polyester jersey is not windproof. nor is merino. but the latter has a cosy, warm affectation in tow, and layered over a similarly constructed baselayer it is the equal of any chill you may care to throw in its direction. what i should perhaps have mentioned is that glenegedale house is almost midway between islay's two major villages; in the middle of nowhere. from where, on a clear day, the hills of rathlin and the coast of northern ireland can be seen in the distance.

cervo rosso merino jersey

the middle of nowhere. not even remotely urban. i know, i was there.

and unlike its more streamlined brethren, the merino jersey is far more discreet in a slightly ostentatious way. for the words cervo rosso are embroidered only once across the wide chest stripe bordered by a thin red line. front left chest and right sleeve bear sewn, embroidered cr logos. but the crowning glory, and worth at least an extra 3kph, is the italian tricolour on the left sleeve.

the giro is but nine days away.

it's great, it's cool, it's stylish and it's currently on offer at £75. i dare you to think of a reason not to buy one.

but it's not urban.

cervo rosso

posted wednesday 27 april 2011


top of page.


slaying the badger. lemond, hinault and the greatest ever tour de france. richard moore. yellow jersey press. paperback. £12.99

slaying the badger

in the guardian newspaper's g2 section, around once a week, there is a rather cynical attempt at a book review entitled the digested read, a review which can often be lengthier than those i place in these black and yellow pixels, with little attempt to be serious but usually a serious attempt to be critical. at the very, very end of the same column is the digested, digested read encapsulating the entire volume in half a dozen or so words.

leaving aside the cynicism, i find myself in two minds over these last few words. if the author has gone to the trouble to compose the text which covers several hundred pages, and the publisher has gone to considerable trouble to include the book in its publishing schedule, send out review copies and have several hundred or thousand sales copies printed, surely it is only fair that the end result be given not only a fair hearing, but have more than a few words aimed in its direction?

but then again, often all that is needed, perhaps, are a few well chosen words of recommendation or dismissal to advise whether the book is worth considering in the first place. publishing really is that cut-throat. the failing in this latter ploy is accepting the veracity of the reviewer's words. is the reviewer of a similar mind to your own; what were his/her reasons for liking/hating the volume under question in the first place; do they have such a high opinion of themselves that you should accept without questioning? the right and proper criteria by which a book should be judged is to purchase a copy and read it for yourself.

such action would have me occasionally searching for alternative subject matter with which to fill these pages, though that is hardly your concern.

if i were to resort to a digested, digested read of the latest to spring from author richard moore, it would consist of something like greg didn't trust bernard, but won the race anyway. a total of nine words, encapsulating what amounts to 283 pages of narrative. (there may well be illustrations to accompany, but my proof copy was bereft of such.) not in a million years would i ever agree that those nine words could substitute for a lengthier review of slaying the badger because, while my brief precis is perfectly valid, that is merely the superficial outcome of the book, and tells nothing of the principal and supporting cast members.

moore's contention that this was the greatest ever tour de france may not sit well with everyone; many will have their own favourites and many a reason as to why that is the case. richard would, i believe have no argument with that; "i make the argument, with the subtitle of this book, that this was the greatest ever tour de france. it's an entirely subjective opinion, of course, which even owes to very personal, and objectively irrelevant, factors, such as my impressionable age (thirteen) and the fact that it was the first broadcast in its entirety on british television."

having read the book twice now, i feel i am inclined to agree, though perhaps if a subsequent volume depicted another version of the tour with such painstaking research and accuracy, i'd go along with that too. i have thought long and hard for another year to rival this assertion, if only because it would make me seem more scholarly than is actually the case, but i failed. rarely have the principal protagonists in any tour de france been riding for the same team. it is a net result of cycling's internal politics that, in the absence of a designated team leader from the outset, the rider who appears to be inhabiting the upper reaches of the gc with panache and vigour will, by default, assume the role. and in modern times, that dictates that none of the other riders in the team would dare to ride against this team leader. at least not if they had their eye on a contract for the following season.

such politicising and acceptance of the unwritten rules of professional cycling, often open to differing interpretation on a daily basis should, in this case be mitigated by what bernard hinault did or did not say on winning the 1985 tour de france. rather than aim for (at the time) a record breaking six tour victories, in deference to team-mate lemond's perhaps unwitting assistance in '85, hinault said he would return with the sole aim of helping lemond to yellow in '86.

of course, with hinault, while that was certainly the gist of the statement that lemond took to be the case, the badger may just have spoken with forked tongue. a re-consideration of his words may not have been a personal volte-face; though hinault was surely one of the most surly and single-minded charcaters to inhabit the sport, he was not without his own susceptibilities to external influences. the french fans, for one, and owner of la vie claire bernard tapie (who warrants an entire book of his own), who seems almost to have thrived on the implication that hinault and lemond might just be adversaries rather than cuddly team-mates.

in the writing of this book, richard moore continues to display and extend his well-earned reputation for exhaustive research. while many would shy from visiting the modern day hinault to ask what amounts to some searching questions that you figure the badger would really rather avoid, moore travelled to hinault's farmhouse and had the temerity to arrive early. he also flew to the usa to talk to greg and kathy lemond, a relevance that can be easily explained given that mrs lemond was one of the first wives to be omnipresent during the three week race in july. he has also spoken to the slightly eccentric, paul kochli the swiss who was the revolutionary choice of team coach, and to andy hampsten and other members of the 1986 la vie claire team.

still, talking to each, the badger's reputation not withstanding, is the easy bit. putting all that was revealed into context in such a masterly, relevant and intriguing fashion is a skill all of itself. the victor was known to you and i before even the contents page had been given a cursory glance, yet the narrative imposes a necessity to read to the very end to find out if greg really did win the 1986 tour de france. even after the two riders had crossed the line at the summit of alpe d'huez, virtually arm in arm, the best of buddies. hinault had been allowed to take the stage, but lemond now had well over two minutes in hand with merely the final time-trial to go. victory was assured.

wasn't it?

despite lemond being acknowledged as a better time-triallist than the badger, at the press conference subsequent to the alpe d'huez stage, hinault averred that "it isn't over yet". down to the wire. now you're all off to wikipedia to check who really did win.

a digested, digested read would never have done this book justice; plain and simple

'slaying the badger' is published on 26th may 2011 by yellow jersey press at £12.99

posted tuesday 26 april 2011


top of page.