i say ‘best’, when in reality i mean ‘my favourites’, it’s pretty subjective. i confess, i prefer the slightly more literary ones, rather than the messy ramblings of an ex-pro. At the moment i have two cycling books on the go at once. whenever i get my grubby mitts on a new cycling tome it unceremoniously elbows all other reading material into the shadows; literary merit cannot compete with a velotastic yarn. i’m waiting for david millar’s autobiography to come out later this year, he has always struck me as one of the more erudite members of the peloton, and clearly has had some eventful experiences. at this precise moment, i am about to open the new brian robinson book, by graham fife, to get through.
in no particular order, (apart from the first one, which is without equal) these are some of my favourite books about cycling, with brief reasons as to why.
existential, truthful and incredibly beautiful in its simplicity, the rider encapsulates cycling through a rare and unparallelled depth of thought. it follows a ‘classic’ one-day race in southern france where the undulations of the road mirror and reflect the contours of the main character’s thoughts. there’s a fantastic review of the book here.
Laurent Fignon died last year; possibly the last of the truly great french cyclists. his writing is honest, compelling and endlessly charismatic, exploring what it means to be genuinely gifted within a profession, and what happens when that gift is eroded by the capricious effects of time. i really like the french title, “Nous étions jeunes et insouciants”, it’s the last word, with its allusions to unfettered youth, that loses something in the translation; it’s also manifestly sad in light of Fignon’s untimely death.
this book does more perhaps than any other – rough ride, yellow fever, breaking the chain included – to underscore the dark heart of cycling; through looking at the literal and metaphorical heights of emotion and glory achieved by Pantani, (a genuine mountain goat, able to decimate a peloton in a brief moment with a series of sudden accelerations) before tackling – in some detail – the shattering fallout from drug use and his subsequent tragic death. on a side note, if your partner is having trouble sleeping there are some lengthy scientific sections relating to haematocrit levels, read these aloud and they’ll be out for the count.
footage of Pantani riding at alarming speed up a mountain, before dropping a shattered Pavel Tonkov:
an idiosyncratic choice, but this book, and this island race, form a dyptich that captures the early continental incursions of British cyclists. it’s full of lovely anecdotal material; living in caravans, eating bread and cheese, beating the frenchies at their own game, being ganged up on by the pesky frenchies, that sort of thing.
britain’s most reclusive rider gets the matt rendell treatment. a well-written book that attempts to explore Robert Millar, someone who comes across as a incredibly focused, gifted climber, and a complete enigma to nearly everyone. He remains the first and last British rider to win a classification at the Tour, taking the polka dot jersey in 1984.