Have you ever dreamt about sitting down with a relaxing glass of wine and spending an evening just chatting cycling with a former World Champion? What if you could spend time with a Triple Crown winner? Well, that’s how reading the new book by Stephen Roche ‘Born to Ride’ felt to me. It gave me the distinct impression that I was having an intimate conversation with one of the all-time greats in the world of cycling.
The stories and the thoughts behind the action in the book are fascinating. Stephen’s personal views of the nature and culture of cycling in the 1980s–the teams, the Directors Sportif, the teammates and the rivals are the needed details. They fill in gaps in the urban legends and the well-documented stories that have become the lore of cycling. To be allowed into the depths of that world, just a bit, is a compelling read and well worth the price of admission.
Setting the stage with the details and drama of the World Championships of 1987, Stephen Roche narrates the tale of that fateful day, bone-numbingly wet, riding the circuit course at Villach, Austria. “During these early laps I am just staying in the wheels, sheltering from the wind behind other riders, freewheeling almost. That’s obviously an exaggeration, but that’s how easy I want it to feel, so that I can save everything I can for the end.” The winning strategy, the gear choices, the details of the day are the simple things, like putting on three rain jackets layered upon each other, that make for a build up that seems so very personal and intriguing. It also makes a fascinating read for fans of cycling and of sports psychology.
Mixed in with the racing are touching details of Stephen’s early days trying to gather up money to make the trip over to race in France as an amateur, as well as, engaging stories of the many people who helped make it possible. Stephen openly lets us in to his personal life in a genuine and straight forward manner. It is this glimpse into the triumphs and failures of the man that make you feel closer, that make you want to read more. It also makes you realize that a Triple Crown in cycling doesn’t insulate you from being human, from being a parent, or the devastation of having a child who develops leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant. Within these pages are the joys of winning and the sorrows of life.
One of the most intriguing takes I have from the book ‘Born to Ride’ is the strong undercurrent of confidence that comes through when Stephen Roche talks about being on the bike. He didn’t just think he could win, he knew the race was his to win, and he belonged on the top step of the podium. Interestingly, he is quite honest about the price he paid for it, within his own team and with others, cyclists and fans, who thought his tactics were not “pure” team spirit.
For me, these insights into the mindset of a champion come through between lines, chocked full of the images of iconic cyclists who are brought to life through Stephen’s reminiscences. The legends of cycling from Miguel Indurain, Laurent Fignon, Roberto Visentini, Sean Kelly to Robert Millar play prominently throughout Stephen’s career. The book runs the gamut from glimpses of the boy, who collected clippings of Sean Kelly and was told at school he “wasn’t likely to get anywhere”, to the triumphant 1987 World Champion and winner of the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France.
Like most conversations, which zig and zag and take you to unexpected, but not unwelcome places, Stephen also addresses the climate of doping in cycling that existed at the time, his opinions of the present-day UCI and its concerns about “cheating” and improving the image of the sport, and his role in each. It left me ever more hopeful for the future of cycling, that there is still a sense of direction for the sport which comes from people like Stephen Roche who have been there and lived it.
As I came to the end, finally putting the book down, there was a sense of joy and a sense of loss. The interlude with the past, like a fine wine or a lovely evening, was over all too soon, but I was left with a profound sense of place and a newfound appreciation for the real challenges and sacrifices it takes to be a cyclist. Overall, ‘Born to Ride’ is an absorbing and interesting new book, Stephen Roche’s first full autobiography, and I highly recommend spending a few enjoyable evenings savoring the conversation.
Title: Born To Ride
Author: Stephen Roche
Published by Yellow Jersey Press, The Random House Group
Available from 7th June 2012 in Hardback & eBook