Prior to picking up this book I hadn’t heard of The Tour of the Battlefields (Circuit des Champs de Bataille in its native French), and given that it took place only once, back in 1919, I’m probably not the only one. Enter Tom Isitt, photojournalist and cycling enthusiast to provide enlightenment.
It’s a long time since I last pinned a number to my cycling jersey. Back in my day (when MTB wheels were all 26 inches and fluro lycra wasn’t retro) I entered a lot of cross-country races. The only tactic I observed, with mixed to middling results, was to ride flat-out from start to finish. My only ‘glorious’ road-racing memory involves failing to ride my breakaway companions off my wheel on a climb, then leading out the sprint, ignoring my inner monologue, which was breathlessly shouting, “you shouldn’t be leading out, you shouldn’t be leading out!”
I have no immediate intention of returning to competitive ways and so picked up Full Gas – How to Win a Bike Race: Tactics From Inside the Peloton, to give it its full title, unsure if this book was really for me.
It didn’t take long for those doubts to be dispelled.
Shut up legs! Retired pro-cyclist Jen’s Voigt inner-pain voice, turned catchphrase, turned marketing slogan is now the title of his autobiography.
Voigt had a long, successful career with a palmares that most domestiques (that’s mostly the role he played) would kill (their team leader) for: two Tour de France stages, wore the yellow jersey twice, five-times winner of Criterium International, won the Deutschland Tour, Tour Méditerranéen, plus various other stage wins and podiums, and he broke the Hour Record on the track.
Anquetil, Alone may not be the most comprehensive history of the first rider to win five Tours de France but if there’s one better written I’ll eat my chapeau.
To Maître Jacques in a minute. First, the author: Paul Fournel is a French writer, poet, publisher, and cultural ambassador. A few years back I stumbled upon his 2001 collection of essays on cycling, Need For The Bike (Besoin de vélo, in its original French). If you’re a cyclist and haven’t read it then do yourself a favour, open a new tab in your browser and order a copy. Now. Fournel may not have been the best cyclist ever (he describes his own two-wheeled talent as banal) but there’s no one who writes better about the sport.
Rainbows in the Mud – Inside the Intoxicating World of Cyclocross by Paul Maunder
What I knew about cyclocross before reading this book:
- ‘Cross is what masochistic roadies do in the winter
- Lots of mud
- Running and bunny-hopping
- More mud
- Did I mention mud?
Butcher, Blacksmith, Acrobat, Sweep – The Tale of the First Tour de France by Peter Cossins (Yellow Jersey Press) is part explanation of how the world’s greatest bike race came into being, and part sporting reportage of the inaugural Grand Tour’s monstrous stages. There’s a lot of historical detail packed in here but, thanks to Cossins’ telling and the nature of the events being told, none of it makes for dull reading.
Giro d’Italia – The Story of the World’s Most Beautiful Bike Race, to give it it’s full title, is exactly what it says on the cover. It takes in all the major editions and events from the Giro’s 1909 birth right up to Nibali’s win in 2016.
The Invisible Mile by New Zealand author David Coventry is a fictionalised account of the five Australian and New Zealand cyclists who, in 1928, formed the first English-speaking team to ride the Tour de France.