Book Review – Cycling Anthology

Cycling Anthology

Cycling Anthology Volume Six

Strong, light, cheap. Pick two” said Keith Bontrager when it came to parts for your bike. Here’s a book that offers strong writing, that’s light and small enough to fit in a race jersey pocket and all for a keen price.

Is Ned Boulting the new Phil Liggett or the new Ned Boulting? The Phil and Paul commentary tandem is not eternal with Liggett especially having mused aloud that retirement is looming. Anglophone TV viewers, not just Britain but from Alaska to Australia, have heard them for decades. Boulting writes the opening chapter describing his mutation – think Gregor Samsa – from pundit to commentator, of how he goes from observing a race to noting everything around a race and compiling notes and cards on every rider and the daunting prospect of having to talk for hours over a bike race when there’s little happening except for men pedalling in Yorkshire countryside.

Equipe Mutuelle Seine et Marne Cycling Team

The story of the Mutuelle Seine et Marne team in the 1997 Tour is worth the book alone, this team was a tiny wildcard invite in the days when ASO could invite who it wanted to the Tour and also when invitations went out in mid-June meaning riders and teams fought hard for recognition in, say, the Dauphiné (not an ASO race back then but big on the radar all the same) meaning they might attract attention and invites only they were rinsed by July. It’s a well-told tale with characters like team manager Jacky Lachevre, literally “Jacky The Goat” and a rider called Jean-François Anti. rider Jean-Philippe Dojwa being allowed to ride ahead of the bunch as the régionale de l’étape, the local, only when he tries to meet his partner there’s a problem:

There were so many people on the side of the road. I looked and looked but never saw her.

If this is the tale of losers it’s an endearing one set against the pre Festina EPO-que and the team makes it to Paris with just two riders.

Robert Millar pens a series of imaginary letters from an American worker to Lance Armstrong chronicling the rise and fall of the rider. It seem almost a metaphor for the US cycling boom as it tracks Armstrong’s slipstream, pride turns to jingoism and then a pen pal version of Kübler-Ross, étape by étape. I suspect this contribution will work for some and annoy others but it brings to mind a meeting I had with American family in the Pyrenees once. They had travelled from outside Seattle to support “Lance” and father and son, dressed in matching jeans and sneakers, beamed with pride as they recounted how Armstrong was going to thrash his rivals again, that he was better than known dopers. I felt like having a little explanatory session – “You do know about Dr Ferrari, right?” – but why ruin the trip of a lifetime? Millar’s piece reads a lot like an imaginary continuation of what happened once that family got home.

Ellis Bacon’s piece is a fictional tale of race fixing and sports gambling, an imaginary tale but all too prescient. I suspect for now the sums traded on match bets, Rider X to beat Rider Y on Stage N etc, are too small to make an income from yet alone attract money from criminal syndicates, perhaps is is just a naive hope?

There’s plenty more, William Fotheringham is almost apologetic about writing about Bradley Wiggins again but this is a meditation on retirement and life in the public eye. Lionel Birnie covers the subject of food and the Tour de France, whether his own quest for cassoulet or the riders and what they get to eat, whether today’s lot or past participants. There’s an appearance of the old-skool trick of eating bread but pulling out the white core, a habit repeated so often it should be investigated to see if the old lore works or not. Another old tale is one that surely gets repeated again and again

When Kelly and his team-mates came down to breakfast on the first morning, the breakfast they were greeted with was much sparser than the hotel owner had intended. There was a small crescent-shaped grease mark on the paper tablecloth next to each plate. De Gribaldy had been down before his riders to remove the buttery croissants from temptation’s way.

Is there a theme? No, each contribution is unique but the Tour de France appears often, although for what the French call autour du Tour, literally “around the Tour” but really meaning on the margins. Even the account of the Mutuelle Seine et Marne team at times paints them as spectators reduced to watching Jan Ullrich and Richard Virenque from afar.

The Verdict: the format is handy enough and the eleven chapters offer variety, a greater depth of story than you usually find online or in a cycling magazine. Do check other editions especially the first two volumes. Recommended.

Note: a copy of this book was sent by Prendas Ciclismo.

You can find this for sale at via Prendas for £8.99 (€12.50 /$13.50) with free postage for UK readers. It’s on Amazon too but I recall the authors and publishers get more income if you buy it elsewhere, up to you to keep Lionel Birnie in cassoulet.

22 thoughts on “Book Review – Cycling Anthology”

  1. I must admit I find books on the lesser races more interesting than ones where there are lots of TdeF stories. My favourite factual cycling book being about the Rás in Ireland (home bias though)

    • Is that the Tom Daly one? If so, I though it is a fantastic read and one I would like to see INRNG’s opinions on since it place the race within the political developments of the time.

      In fact it was only through this book I found out the full story of one of my near neighbour’s victory in a stage of the Rás back in the 1950s!

  2. I arrived late to this series – I’m currently working may way through volume 3 – but I have to say I’ve been very impressed. A hugely diverse range of (mostly) interesting, (mostly) well-written articles. Highly recommended.

    • And that’s the beauty of these books, they achieve what they set out to do, you can read them in any order (books or chapters) depending on what takes your fancy and their length means you don’t really feel cheated by the occasional chapter that disappoints. (I’m also still stuck on vol 3 so maybe this only applies to the earlier editions).

  3. It is not uncommon that I have to look up something after reading inrng; this time I googled “Kúbler-Ross”. I also tried to find out about the “old-skool trick” of pulling out the white of the bread – but I’ll probably have to wait until I’ll read the book.
    PS The sums involved in betting on football matches in the Finnish league cab apparently belarge enough for an Asian-based syndicate to pay a single player on a team 50 000 euros to fix the result in two fixtures. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is enough action on whether rider X beats rider Y in race Z for a syndicate to keep a permanent base somewhere in Belgium, for instance – and I am afraid there are people who have the phone numbers of half the peloton in their iPhones.

    • Same in Australia in a lower league, the sort of league where matches might draw a crowd of 200 on a good day. Players paid off by an Asian syndicate to manipulate betting. Given the larger $ involved the further up the sporting scale you go you do have to worry about the top tiers and their integrity.

      • I suppose the hope is that higher paid sports people don’t need to accept the bribes so much and that they’re more likely to fear being caught, as what they do is seen by so many more people.
        Also, from the gamblers’ point of view, why pay more to bribe a rich person, when you can pay less and bet on lower levels of sport? Same reward, less outlay and less risk of being caught.

    • The french “used?” to believe that only the inside of bread would make you fat so they would scrape that out and eat only the crust. I experienced that when I raced in France in the mid 90’s, and I will never forget the exchange I had with my french roommate as I ate my breakfast of wholemeal pancakes cooked in a tablespoon of vegetable oil and how he said the oil would make me fat, while he sat down to his meal with a 1/4 lbs of butter beside him that he ate like it was cheese because it was full of “vitamins”! There was also the time that a female team mate was shutting down from dehydration and was crying/shivering/sweating and did not know what was happening, and the french response was to put blankets on her because she said she was cold. It was 35+ celsius that day…..

      • That’s fantastic.
        No wonder a Frenchman hasn’t won the Tour for thirty years!
        I was always told as a child that eating the bread crusts would make your hair curly.
        Maybe there’s a very thin, curly-headed super-w/kg young French hopeful out there waiting to be discovered still??
        Hope lies eternal. Vive le crust!

    • This does appear all over the place. No doubt it is hard to cover the race, the driving and finding the hotel etc is tiring all while there’s a race to watch and stories to be filed but it’s hard to think of other sports events that generate so many self-regarding articles.

  4. Ned Boulting, think Gregor Samsa ?

    From the Wikipedia entry on ‘Metamorphosis’ –
    “The rest of Kafka’s novella deals with Gregor’s attempts to adjust to his new condition as he deals with being burdensome to his parents and sister, who are repelled by the horrible, verminous creature Gregor has become”
    – not sure that’s quite how I’d view Ned…

    Although a few cycling fans have expressed a certain dissatisfaction with Phil&Paul in the last few years !

  5. Are these Cycling Anthologies worth collecting then ?

    Inrng, you piqued my interest saying that they were available on Amazon, so I had a look and found they were on-sale there for the same price as at Prendas (so my vote, like yours, would be to buy from small-volume cycling enthusiasts Prendas rather than a faceless giant with reportedly dubious labour practices…) and were on eBay for £10.97 !

    But also on Amazon are volume 2 for £504.08 and volume 4 for £522.17 !

    – I might invest in these rather than the stock market if this is real valuation…

    • £3.64 (£4.94 brand new) on for volume 2.
      Also, just because you have a book priced at a certain value, doesn’t mean you sell it. I’ve got a book on Amazon for about fifty quid – been on there four years.

    • The first three were re-issued not so long ago with different covers. The cover style changed from no 4 onwards and the re-issues were altered to match that style so it would be interesting to find out whether, in the future, a full set (however many Anthologies that will include) that matches or one that has the three original offerings will be more valuable- not that we would be talking big money I’m sure! From my own perspective I prefer the styling of the originals, but to be fair I am more concerned about the content.

  6. I have read all of these Anthologies from volume one and they are a breath of fresh air when they appear. So much cycling journalism has been reduced recently to predictable articles (for example how many bloody “white shorts with the world champs jersey” pieces can we put up with?) which is why I love coming to INRNG as well as these anthologies. New angles and great writing which is much better than sterile predictability!

  7. These books form the perfect antidote to the tediously hedged, middle-of-the-road writing that populates cycling magazines these days where the same bland analysis gets recycled over and over. Magazines have become more and more boring but in the Anthologies the best scribes loosen up and let go a bit.

Comments are closed.