Words: Ian Cleverly Photo: Jordan Gibbons
Firstly, an apology. I have been seriously slacking these past few weeks. The cycling books that have been arriving on my desk at the rate of three or four a week for the last couple of months have largely gone unread.
So apologies to the authors, to the publishers, and to you. Your prospective holiday reads gather dust, while plans for hours of lazing around the pool, book in one hand, beer in the other, are in tatters because this lazy-arse deputy ed can’t be done with actually reading and digesting each and every increasingly weighty tome that arrives in the post. Again, sorry. You know how it is: magazine to write and organise. Piffling, side-tracking matters. Waiting for a detailed analysis of the new releases to accompany your attempt at evening out a ridiculous cycling tan on the beach? Read no further. This is, most certainly, not it.
There is also the small matter of the non-stop perusal of cycling-related matter leading to brain atrophy or, at the very least, the impression that pain, suffering, drugs and untimely death are what makes the world go round. I try and fit a non-sport book between each two-wheeled tale – currently Patti Smith’s excellent autobiography Just Kids – to keep a balanced perspective. That Smith’s story should contain more than its fair share of pain, suffering, drugs and untimely death is an unfortunate coincidence. Back to the cycling books, then.
If you have read Jeff Connor’s Wide Eyed and Legless chronicling the sorry tale of ANC Halfords’ attempt at the 1987 Tour, you may consider re-visiting the story 25 years later superfluous. How wrong. Field of Fire is every bit as well written, funny and insightful as its predecessor. The author’s admittedly sketchy knowledge of the sport in 1987 has increased considerably and his recent interviews with team members and management show a greater understanding on all sides of the scale of what ANC were trying to undertake. Connor’s take on the sad descent into the gutter of Fleet Street’s red tops plays a big part in proceedings and the whole works perfectly. Highly recommended.
Merkcx: Half Man Half Bike by William Fotheringham I had high hopes for, but struggled to connect with. William has written some fine books, notably the Tom Simpson story Put me Back on my Bike and Roule Britannia, but falls short. It feels rushed and under-researched. Merckx is a notoriously difficult subject to get under the skin of and I am not convinced William has pulled it off. But then it topped the Times Bestseller’s List, so what do I know? Daniel Friebe’s The Cannibal awaits, but I’m all Merckxed-out for the moment.
So two Merckx’s arrive at once and, before you know it, there are also two Fotheringhams in the pile. The latest addition is from brother Alasdair, his first book. It makes you wonder what kept him. The Eagle of Toledo – The Life and Times of Federico Bahamontes, is not only a terrific tale but is very well handled by Hispanophile Alasdair. Accounts of cycle racing’s early years invariably contain suffering on a scale unimaginable to the modern professional, but post-Civil War Spain was another level altogether. Riding hundreds of miles between races, surviving on watermelons filched from fields, winning prize money was a necessity for the starving Bahamontes. The maverick climber comes across as a man difficult to like but, once you know the background, impossible not to admire. Alasdair’s book deserves a wider readership than I suspect it will get in this avalanche of summer cycling reading. Do seek it out.
As for the great unread, some appeal more than others. Nicholas Roche (too young), Stephen Roche (maybe…), Bill Strickland’s Tour de Lance (Bill is great, not so interested in the subject matter), Bjarne Riis (ditto on the subject matter), and Reg Harris (could be good).
Bike! compiled by experienced hands Daniel Benson and Richard Moore is a big handsome beast, a tribute to manufacturers, big and small, that have shaped the evolution of the racing bike through the 20th century and beyond. It looks mighty fine and I look forward to settling down on the sofa with it soon – this is no beach read, but the release date is September, so no worries there.
On the lighter side, Ned Boulting’s tremendous How I Won the Yellow Jumper has a Mark Cavendish green jumper update which should be equally good fun. Simon Warren’s demon little pocket book of fiendish ascents has a new brother, Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs – “Longer! Higher! Steeper!” You get the picture.
Around Ireland on a Bike by Paul Benjaminse got my attention, purely because it has been an awful long time since I did an anti-clockwise tour of the country and it is high time to re-visit. The scenery appears as dramatic as ever. Does every person you pass on the roads still say hello? Do the road surfaces remain rough as old boots? Probably, and long may it last.