For any fans of the Tour de France, who watch the ITV4 programme avidly during July, you will no doubt know the dulcet tones of Ned Boulting. He has become synonymous with the ITV4 programme, where he interviews the likes of Mark Cavendish post race, or whoever is currently sitting on top of the GC on that particular day.
I was looking forward to reading Ned’s book, as I thought it would be interesting to hear what non-cyclists think of the cycling world, for Ned himself is the first person to say that he had no idea about the Tour de France when he was first drafted onto the production team back in 2003, calling the yellow jersey “the yellow jumper”.
Ned’s book is easy to read, interesting, funny and witty. It might put you off ever wanting to work on a Grand Tour as he tells of incidents where he had little time to sleep, late finishes and early starts, and a lot of driving around France in the customary Renault Espace. But it is insightful nonetheless.
The book in itself is a breath of fresh air due to the dead pan, matter of fact way in which Ned narrates his various experiences. He has the ability to look at what he has done from what appears to be somebody else’s perspective. At certain points, it’s “no holds barred” where he recounts his experiences with Mark Cavendish, Robbie McEwen and Team Sky.
There is also a section about how Cavendish became the green jersey winner in 2011, as well as an hommage to Thomas Voeckler and throughout the book there seems to be an undercurrent of utmost respect for Gary Imlach, and Chris Boardman.
If you haven’t got a copy yet, I would thoroughly recommend this book – add it to your Christmas list at the very least. It’s only £8.99 from Amazon and other bookshops and you can even buy the eBook version, if that floats your boat.
For my part, I am hoping that Ned does a follow up – his behind the scenes view of Team Sky in the 2012 Tour de France would be an interesting read! Bravo, Ned! Keep up the good work! This book gets our Star Buy rating.
How I Won The Yellow Jumper: Dispatches from the Tour de France
Yellow Jersey Press (Random House) & Vintage Digital
Available in Paperback, iBook & Kindle
RRP £12.99 (Paperback), RRP £12.99 (eBook)
In search of Robert Millar
Unravelling the Mystery Surrounding Britain’s Most Successful Tour de France Cyclist
by Richard Moore
What a book! Thought provoking or what?! To date this must be the most enjoyable book about a past cyclist that I have ever had the privilege to read. It was such a great relief to read In search of Robert Millar after having to plough my way through Sex, Lies and Handlebar tape (the story of Jacque Anquetil) which had taken the thick end of two weeks to read, where as In search of Robert Millar was devoured in a matter of days!
To put my desire to read this book into perspective I must stress that Robert was in a key group of Tour de France riders whom I viewed as my sporting heroes in the 1980’s and as a young rider I looked up to, not so much as people whom I wanted to emulate but rather riders with a wide range of skill sets I wanted to learn from. The list included Paul Sherwin, Sean Kelly, Martin Early, Robert Millar, Greg Lemond, Sean Yates and Malcolm Elliot. As a young rider and even now I would certainly never have been able to place myself in this group and most certainly never in the same build as Robert. If he was a thoroughbred race horse I was the working shire-horse! But what stood out to me was his ability to suffer and suffer again knowing that those he was racing against where suffering even more then him. His ability to change speed up hill and put his opponents into major difficulty was legendary no it was the stuff that young boys dreams are made of.
I guess like many I had heard the rumours that Robert was now Roberto Millar and had dropped off the radar, occasionally passing comment on various bike forums, but I never wanted to believe what I had heard without proof. In essence this is what drew me to read In search of Robert Millar, would I be disappointed?
The quick answer to this question is a resounding NO. Far from being disappointed it was great, through the eyes of Richard Moore, to get a sneak insight into the life and times of one very special rider.
Richard’s book really does give the reader good understanding of what drives Robert and the things that make him tick. So many people interviewed for the book highlight that Robert was a very special, talented rider, with a good insight into the development of a race and wining strategy. Richard also shows how far ahead of his time Robert was with training methods and nutrition. Information Robert read was applied and tested in the real world of racing, things that did not work for him were then discarded. Robert was very focused on what worked and refused to pay lip service or waste any time on fads or pointless lab research that would not be applicable to his world.
The most telling tale of lab work verse real life was Robert’s first contact with a young Sports Science researcher called Peter Keen (later Performance Director for British Cycling). At a cycling conference Peter was pushing the use of Maxim as a major enhancement to performance for riders (hmm cross reference my review of Nuun and the recent BBC documentary). Robert needless to say dismissed the lab research as the product had never been tested in the field and just like Graeme Obree his opinion is that water works best.
Robert’s and Peter’s paths crossed again later in the book when Robert had been employed by the British Cycling to aid the development of the Road Racing squad. Needless to say as Peter appears to be a numbers man and Robert appears to be an experience man with no formal qualifications in sports science, surprise surprise Peter chose to not renew Roberts contract. I shall refrain from expressing my opinion about this but really encourage you to read the book and make up your own mind about the benefits of a sports science degree or the knowledge and understanding gained from the University of Real Life.
For me the most exciting part of the book must be the Epilogue, where Richard shares his e-mail communications with Robert Millar about the writing of the book. What a fascinating exchange.
Robert Millar for my money a cycling legend with so much that we can learn from. I can not recommend highly enough that you sit down and get hold of a copy of In search of Robert Millar I am sure you will not be disappointed.
In search of Robert Millar
Author: Richard Moore
Published by HarperSport (HarperCollins)
Available in Paperback, iBook & Kindle
RRP £8.99 (Paperback), RRP £8.99 (eBook), RRP £18.99 (Hardback)
Previous reads include:
Sex Lies and Handlebar Tape Jacques Anquetil (reviewed August 2012)
In Pursuit of Glory Bradley Wiggins
Flying Scotsman Graeme Obree
Rough Ride Paul Kimmage
Riding through the Darkness David Millar
We were young and carefree Laurent Fignon
Boy Racer Mark Cavendish (read Darren’s review here)
Mark Cavendish – Boy Racer
This book charts the rise of the fastest sprinter in the world, from his earliest foray into bike racing (BMX) up to his record breaking 2009 Tour de France stage victories.
You get to see the cycling world through his eyes, and his frank and brutal portrayal matches his persona. His honest account pulls no punches, just like his explosive sprinting power. His feisty temperament shines through throughout his writing, giving an entertaining read and insight into the world of professional cycling.
In his younger days, his ‘cocky’ attitude is occasionally interrupted by feelings of self doubt and depression, which surface into binge eating (large packets of crisps and cream cakes being the most sought after) which cause more problems for his Coaches and making him receive jibes of being fat and of not being good enough to ever ride the Tour de France, which is his dream.
But in a strange sort of way this is exactly what he needs to motivate himself forward, he loves proving his critics wrong and takes great delight in doing so, even shunning proven training techniques that have been honed over many years, he works in his own way.
His boisterous nature is set free during his time with the British Academy, especially when, like the other young lads there, he is living away from his parents for the first time. The Coaches and Staff have their hands full containing the parties, late nights and practical jokes and try to get them to take their training seriously enough to not mess around and throw their chances of success away.
He is a self confessed ‘scallywag’ and appears to always be looking for an opportunity for mischief. His talent is recognised early on but the characteristics that make him so good on the bike also cause troubles off the bike, as the years have passed he has matured and calmed down slightly, although he still wears his heart on his sleeve and says what he thinks, and makes no excuses for not being otherwise.
You either love him or hate him, and of course his temperament earns him a few enemies along the way, including Staff, Coaches and other teammates who have aspirations of beating his achievements. The long running friction and rivalry between him and Andre Greipel is described from his viewpoint, but with maturity we are led to believe that it is now confined to racing rivalry only.
The story of these formative years are weaved in between race accounts from the 2008 and 2009 Tours de France, we get a feel of what it must be like to be Mark Cavendish, from the buckling pressure to perform after your teammates have worked so hard for you all day, the thrill and danger of sprinting for the finish line, and to the nightmarish stages in the mountains where it takes all your energy and skill to just stay at the back of the field hoping not be eliminated.
The reader also gains an unglamorous insight into the organisation and ‘behind the scenes’ of daily life during the Tour, and Marks reaction and thoughts to some of the doping scandals that unfortunately seem to appear each year.
Just be aware that his language can be just as strong as his passion for the sport, expletives are used many times on some pages, but this reflects the moments of immense pressure he is under.
I found it to be an enjoyable read and more descriptive than many other books, you get the sense that Mark is talking to you personally, as if this is just a transcript of a relaxed chat, he is trying to get you to understand both his character and his professional life as a cyclist.
Title: Boy Racer
Author: Mark Cavendish
Published by Ebury Press
Available in Hardback, Paperback & eBook
Price: RRP £18.99 (Hardback), RRP £7.99 (Paperback), RRP £7.99 (eBook)
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