Book Review: The Road Book

The Road Book, edited by Ned Boulting

This is a yearbook of the 2018 pro cycling season which contains the results of every race, listings of all the teams, their riders and more including some essays from guest writers and statistical and data nuggets. It’s an analogue effort in a digital age, a luxury good even.

A annual for the cycling season isn’t new, see the Wielerjaarboek by Bernard Callens which has covered Belgian cycling, or retrospectives by the likes of the Miroir du Cyclisme and there’s been the English-language The Cycling Year too in the past. The Road Book is bigger bordering on biblical, listing all the results from every pro race, male and female, plus a section on the UK domestic races too. On top of this all the teams are listed, along with their riders and they have info such as the number of career wins, their UCI ranking and so on. It’s chronological and above all comprehensive, you can see all the finishers of the Tour de France this year but also look up, say, the Tour de Romandie and find who won Stage 3, what the profile was and the weather that day; it’s an archive with info like who was second in the the points jersey after Stage 4 of the Szlakiem Walk Majora Hubala and so on.

There are summary results for smaller races and full listings for the grand tours. The picture above illustrates it, you can see the weather, the stage profile, the GC and then the full stage results on the following page. Each World Tour race gets a quick report so it’s not just the who, when, where but also the how. As you can imagine this amounts to hundreds and hundreds of pages.

There are essays inside too, the kind you might find in the dormant Cycling Anthology or Rouleur. One by Education First DS and writer Tom Southam about why modern racing is boring is compulsory. Marianne Vos explores her hopes and ambitions after years of dominance but otherwise they’re focused on the English-speaking part of the peloton, there’s one by Denmark’s Morten Okbo but it’s about the British; a piece about Niki Terpstra is an Englishman writing about a Dutchman in Belgium. Pippa York’s examination of Geraint Thomas and the burden of leadership is an exploration of the flipside of victory. They’re enjoyable but present an Anglo view of the peloton, ideally a yearbook would have voices from Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Colombia, Kazakhstan and beyond. Still they’re good reading and you want more as page after page of race results are very dry, there are only six of them meaning to read page by page would be like eating a plate of tortillas with only a teaspoon of salsa on hand.

As well as the essays, there are features with facts and figures supplied by Cillian Kelly, the example above looks at which race number or dossard has won the Tour de France most often, another page looks at Paris-Roubaix and how many times the winners in the last 20 years had to ride it prior to winning and the answer is a lot, you may reckon that experience counts in this race and here’s the data to prove it although you might have seen it before on social media. There are obituaries at the back which are quietly important. Having come out the moment the season there’s little room for retrospection, it does name several riders of the year but it’s more a day-by-day book than a yearbook.

Alas there are typos and errors. This blog has them too but they’re easy to fix at the click of a button. A few typos are inoffensive and are unlikely to mislead you, a “Zdanek Stybar” here, a “Colle delle Fenestre” there and so on. There are factual errors, a few results get mangled, more a hiccup than a howler, unless it was you who finished 14th in the Japan Cup and take it personally. The listed wheel supplier is wrong for half the men’s World Tour teams. Perhaps the 2019 version could include an a corrections chapter or an erratum to slip inside the 2018 edition?

One reason the errors matter is the price. It sells for £50 (about €56/$64 today) and that’s 20% more than anything at Rapha and Rouleur’s bookstores and deliberately not sold by online retailer Amazon. It’s part book, part luxury good. In a digital era there’s often pleasure in the analogue, think drip coffee or a vinyl LP. A premium price for luxury goods is often achieved by story that reaches the buyer: that coffee doesn’t just taste nice, it comes from an estate where the workers are paid a premium; that Coltrane or Clash record is direct copy of the master. Here the originality isn’t so obvious – the results inside are the same as cyclingquotient, cyclingnews, procyclingstats et al – but it is a heavyweight hardback and there is pleasure in opening the book and seeing where you land, something a website doesn’t provide.

The Verdict
It’s something we need, yet you may not need it. This is a useful endeavour that is comprehensive, complete and usefully collectively to the sport as a matter of reference. It certainly belongs in a library or the office of a cycling magazine but does it go on your bookshelf at home? Yes if you want every race result going and some extras but it also depends on what you’re willing to pay and how much you value a hardback in your hand over pixels in your palm.

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31 thoughts on “Book Review: The Road Book”

  1. I think the general idea was to produce something along the lines of cricket’s Wisden – the format and division between writing and results sounds very familiar – so from a certain Anglo perspective I think it makes more sense. I’m still undecided about whether to buy a copy for myself though – it’s a lot of money to drop.

    • I saw comparisons made to this but haven’t read or even seen Wisden so hard to know what is inside, but it’s an institution going back to the 19th century. If only there was a cycling version of this, the Roadbook of, say, 1989 and other years before the internet era so results, especially of the smaller races can be hard to find.

      • It was reading your review that really made me realise how weird/unique Wisden is – and how it isn’t necessarily something that somebody outside English sport would reference as a comparison. If it helps to picture it, now you’ve read the Cycling Yearbook just imagine a slightly smaller, yellower version about cricket and you’re probably there!

        Interesting thought about the lack of a historical cycling equivalent – one of the things about Wisden is that it provides the definitive record of cricket both in England and around the world (albeit truncated for the latter), and the editor’s view on the game is given a fair degree of prominence as an ‘independent’ observer. I know you’ve written before about the absence of reliable/definitive stats for the early years of the TdF, and the lack of that record (albeit it would almost certainly be definitively wrong!) is partially due to the lack of an equivalent.

        Do other (stereotypically) Eruo sports have definitive reference sources like this, or is it limited to the UK? If the latter, I guess the relative obscurity of cycling in the UK might be reason it never existed before. Maybe trying to create printed lists is simply a peculiarly Anglo trait?

        • I suppose sports specialists will know. You’d like to think repeatable sports where match records matter must have something similar, whether football leagues, major league baseball or even sumo matches and their rankings.

          • The definitive English sports yearbook has always been Wisden, but other notable examples with some longevity were Rothmans Football Yearbook and Rugby League Yearbook respectively.
            They were written along similar lines as I recall, though I haven’t read one for many a moon now.
            The point I remember about them, however, is that they were more affordable.
            Something a teenager could obtain for example, whereas perhaps this cycling yearbook reflects the more mature demographic market that seems to exist for road cycling in the UK?

            Was the Rothmans label from the cigarette brand, I’m now wondering?
            I was going to lament that Sky Sports produce the contemporary English football yearbook now but maybe that’s an improvement on the “20 fags” of old (now that is a British reference!)?

          • The Wisden comparison is interesting because cricket, like cycling, has always had a significant literary output. Wisdens are also quite collectable, and I suspect that this is something a series like this would aspire to becoming in the future.

            However, Wisden and the Rothman’s/Sky Sports/Sun Football Yearbooks have always been fairly affordable. The books were within reach of a teenage fan (although I suspect readers are older these days), and I’m not sure that’s the case here.

            Wisden tends to get heavily discounted by Amazon and others – £10 rather than the £55 cover price, albeit we’re at the end of the season now. The same is true for the football yearbook – £16 rather than the £40 cover price.

            In that respect, the cover price is right, but avoiding the discount market which surely accounts for a majority of sales, means that The Road Book steps out of kilter. Of course it would never sell the volume that those other titles do.

            While I’ve no doubt I’d enjoy flicking through the book, £50 for something destined to sit mostly on my bookshelf is about £25 too much for me.

        • I certainly bought it hoping for something along the lines of Wisden. I think the articles are good and would like more of them, so hopefully this will lay down a marker that next year they will improve on. Maybe some more journalists ( Cycling anthology guys?) would add to it

          Also think that Wisden is published in April – 7 months after the domestic season finishes. The Cycling Yearbook would benefit from something like that too (obviously going for the Christmas market) – would allow an article by the Vuelta winner like those from the Giro and Tour winners.

  2. Let’s be honest. A few Brits will buy this for their dads for Christmas and it’ll end up unopened on a bookshelf.

    I think Ned Boulting is trying to be different and nostalgic and old skool for the sake of it.

    “A PDF copy was sent free for review” – haha not even the real thing.

    Maybe a couple of the essays are good, but there’s enough content out there that doesn’t cost £50.

    I’m not against luxury items per se, but this one just doesn’t make sense.

    • Some of us LIKE books!

      In all seriousness, the internet doesn’t always make it easy to find the content you need at the time you need it, and that content can disappear at any moment. Having a permanent record of how things stood at the end of 2018 isn’t the stupidest idea out there.

      From Boulting’s point of view, I suspect it’s as much a statement that cycling is now a ‘serious’ sport that deserves this sort of love and attention. He’s probably right. As for purchasers, I guess people already know whether this is for them or not – as someone who bought this year’s Wisden for sentimental reasons, I can confirm that there are other reasons. It’s a luxury though – you’re right.

    • Note the PDF suited me just fine, I was offered a real copy but for review it’s easy to read digitally rather than carry it around everywhere, plus it feels right to mention if the book was given or purchased.

      • Youre absolutely right to note whether books have been sent free or if you purchased them.

        Doesn’t your comment though – that you preferred the PDF option over the book – hit the nail on the head? I understand the nostalgia for Wisden but this book seems a bit try-hard.

    • Boulting might be the editor but this is very much Cillian Kelly’s baby, he’s the fact/stats geek (@irishpeloton on twitter) and did all the heavy lifting, with Boulting writing the precis of each race. They’re obviously hoping it takes off enough to become an annual release with longevity (wasn’t that the idea behind Cycling Anthology?), personally I’m not sure the cycling market for fancy £50 paper databases is large enough when all those stats are a search engine click away.

      • Talking of the Cycling Anthology, any ideas why Lionel Birnie and Ellis Bacon stopped producing new editions? The early ones were reprinted so I’m assuming demand was good.

        • I’m not 100% sure but I half-remember a tweet from Lionel a couple of years back that basically seemed to suggest there were still copies of the last edition left and that they wouldn’t be doing another until they were sold. Maybe also with the Cycling Podcast growing so much as well as his other work it could be that the Anthologies have taken a back seat which is unfortunate.

  3. Maybe this solid, if unspectacular review, will put to bed the iffy rumours that INRNG is Ned Boulting. Unless it’s a majestic double bluff…

  4. Definitely outside my price range, and while I do appreciate the effort that went in to producing it, I could not justify forking out £50. I was thinking about asking for it as a Christmas gift but the confirmation that a certain writer has a piece in it (I’ll not name him to avoid a repeat of the onslaught of comments I got on Twitter from his fanboys when I dared to suggest I didn’t particularly like his writing style) means I will pass.
    I really do miss the Cycling Anthology though which was mentioned in passing above- great articles from different angles – just a pity it now seems to be no more.

  5. I enjoy your book reviews and always appreciate the stance you take in presenting pros and cons of a book and not just gushing praise because they’ve given you a free copy. But this one seems a bit harsh to me.

    Of a 900 page book, pointing out that some of it had been in a Tweet before by the author? Must be true of every book.

    I don’t think this is the type of book I’ll buy for myself (bit pricey) but I imagine a large part of the appeal is the physical book. Why did you not want to review the physical copy?

    You also got the name of the book wrong.

    I wish these guys well. I have several Wisdens and I enjoy them. But I often end up buying them second hand long after they’ve been released.

  6. This is the kind of geeky level thing i adore. Would sit happily alongside stacks of books dealing with the history of football shirts, maps of the tour de france, and covering seasons of european football in worrying detail. However none of those cost £50! Football shirt, £15. Maps of the Tour, £15. European football, £25.

    I will obsolutely buy this book… in a years time when it’ll be in that £10-25 price range. Until then i’ll put that £50 towards 5 cycling biographies at a tenner each, and if i need to know who finished 14th in the Japan Cup i’ll google it (Benjami Prades Reverter (Spa) Team Ukyo).

  7. Ordered mine last weekend. Can’t wait for it to arrive. I see my main use for it being reading over the previous years race summary before sitting down to watch the next years race. Can’t wait.

  8. A shame there is no E-Book format at all. I get its a Wisden-like effort and a physically tacticale reference object, but so was Encyclopedia Brittanica and everyone uses Wikipedia instead anyway. It would be a nicer way to look up results than Pro Cycling Stats, CQ and Wikipedia etc even in digital format off a reader I feel anyway.

    • As someone who used to review albums I can tell you I mostly got promo CDs in a cardboard slipcases instead of with the proper booklet, and often the discs had talking over the music in places to prevent you from pirating an album that hadn’t been released yet. The point is you have to make do with what you’re given if you’re given it for free, if you want the full experience, you have to pay full price.

      • I accept your point but in this case Inner Ring turned down the offer of the actual book (says so further up in the comments). Again I would say that judging a book like this where a large part of the £50 is the cover, the pages, the ink, is harsh. Of course nobody would pay £50 for a PDF. The review is rendered largely irrelevant.

        • I disagree. The picture of the tome at the top of the review enables the reader to evaluate its sensory properties, while INRNG expresses an opinion on the content.
          Personally I’m happy to pay something for the heft of a book, but the content has to be of sufficient interest too, and as a past lover of the Rothmans Football Year book I’m grateful for information about how this compares.

  9. I like the idea of this. It does remind me a little of Marty McFly with his Sports Almanac. How they condensed that down to something you could put in your back pocket is anyone’s guess (think this is beginning to make me sound like I believe Back to the Future was real…..)

    Done well I can see this as a brilliant way of collecting cycling history year after year. A real fan geek fest. I would imagine the chap who collects rear derailleurs to be into this if he wasn’t into rear derailleurs.

    £50 seems a bit steep though.

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