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10 or so of The Best Books on Cycling

(FYI:  If you’re one of my subscribers or regular readers, this will be a slight departure from my regular posts, but cycling, professional cycling, and books are some of my greatest interests.)

July is the month of the Tour De France.  In addition to watching the race on my iPad (via the NBC Sports Tour de France Live Mobile app- which they need to expand to include the Spring Classics and other races), I’ve been listening to The Humans Invent Tour de France podcast featuring Richard Moore, Daniel Friebe, and Lionel Birnie among others.  In a recent podcast, the three writers discussed the evolution of books on cycling and the ones that got them interested in writing about cycling.  (The books they noted were Rough Ride by Paul Kimmage and Four-Eyed and Legless by Jeff Connor- both of which I’ve read and enjoyed.  They also mentioned another book which has since proven to be more fiction than non-fiction.)

Here’s why cycling books can be great when done right.  A great cycling book tells a story of conflict- be it internal or external- the tragedy that results from the conflict and hopefully- but not always- the triumph over the conflict.  Winning the race is not always the ultimate triumph.  Overcoming conflict and tragedy can be greater than winning.

A good cycling book can also give you a behind the scenes entry into a sport that can seem utterly baffling at times.  Like most sports, there’s more than meets the eye.  Sometimes, tactics play a role, other times politics, and even others personal ambition and jealously.

As one who reads a number of books, this podcast got me wondering what were some of the best cycling books I’ve read.  Here’s my list of ten or so:

–  My Time by Bradley Wiggins.  Wiggins has written a number of books about his career and they all share one quality- bluntness.  Whether he’s talking about his absentee, alcoholic father, the year his Tour fell apart, or as in My Time, his complete dedication to winning, there doesn’t seem to be much whitewashing of the story or the facts.

Seven Deadly Sins:  My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong by David Walsh.  Walsh pursued the Armstrong story and lie for many years and this is his account of the pursuit of the story, the difficulties he endured personally and professionally while following this story.

– The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle.  Jaw-dropping.  The amount of doping, the extent of it, the lies.  Sad and fascinating at the same time.  (Coyle also wrote Lance Armstrong’s War which is also an enjoyable read.)

Racing Through the Dark by David Millar.  Another doping story, like Hamilton, but in this one, Millar eventually confessed and returned to the sport a fierce anti-doping advocate.  The road to truth was challenging and frustrating but worth it at the end.

–  Sky’s the Limit:  Wiggins and Cavendish The Quest to Win the Tour De France by Richard Moore.  (In regards to British cycling, he also wrote Heroes, Villains, and Velodromes:  Chris Hoy and Britians’ Track Cycling Revolution.)  Between these two books, Moore tells the story of how Britain returned to the top of the cycling world on both the track and the world.  Years of hard work, trial and error, imagination, sweat, and dedication along with some talented riders went into the British cycling revolution.

– In Search of Robert Millar by Richard Moore.  Prior to reading this book I knew very little of Robert Millar, the British cyclist of the eighties.  This portrait was fascinating, capturing one of the sport’s most unique characters.

We Were Young and Carefree by Laurent Fignon.  What are you to make of your career when you are an accomplished, successful professional cyclist, yet you are most known for losing the Tour to Greg Lemond by eight seconds.  Fignon gives a raw and honest look at his life as a cyclist.

– Put Me Back On My Bike by William Fotheringham.  This book is about another British cycling great, Tom Simpson, who was one of Britain’s early great riders in the sixties.  Unfortunately, his life ended in tragedy on the Tour when he died on the way up Mount Ventoux.   (Fotheringham is a prolific writer on cycling as well having written biographies of Eddy Merckx and Fausto Coppi among others.)

– Any book written by Samuel Abt.  It doesn’t matter if it’s Up The Road, Off To The Races, A Season in Turmoil, or Pedaling For Glory.  Each one is great and gives a great look at the history of cycling in the eighties and nineties when few books on the sport were being written.

Eddy Merckx:  The Cannibal by Daniel Friebe.  Nobody dominated races like Merckx. It didn’t matter if it was a one day race, a week long stage race, or a Grand Tour, Merckx won them all and did so convincingly.  It’s doubtful there will be another Merckx.

And if the recent past is any indication, there will be more in the future.  Domestique by Charley Wegelius is getting great reviews and I look forward to reading it when it’s released in the US.  UPDATE: I read Domestique by Charley Wegelius and it is fantastic, perhaps one of the best books on cycling I’ve ever read. He pulls back the curtain and tells  the story of what it’s like to be a professional cyclist.

In the next few months, a couple of books are expected out on the Lance Armstrong saga, which could be interesting.  One day, somebody will have to write the history of the early years of the Garmin team led by Jonathan Vaughters which has been a key plater in transforming professional cycling.

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