Seven Deadly Sins is David Walsh’s account of his pursuit of Lance Armstrong. It’s a very personal account. At times a far too personal account as Walsh allows his feelings to spill over in to the narrative. It’s part of what the book is all about of course but I preferred the more dispassionate elements to the sections where Walsh allows his feelings to intrude. It’s not an easy story for me, as a cycling fan, to follow. Performance enhancing drugs have been prevalent in the peloton for years but the late 90’s and early 2000’ saw it really explode. Seven Deadly Sins concentrates on Armstrong. But there is so much more to this than just him. So many more people involved at all levels and in all areas. Armstrong was a bad guy of course but in the single minded determination to take him down others have got away with things along the way – the whole host of riders who recently served short term bans during the off season in return for testimony spring to mind. Someday, hopefully, there will be a proper conclusion to all this. And with the benefit of time and distance someone will write the definitive account of this whole era. Walsh’s book is good. But that book will be so much better.
A couple of years ago Mark Cavendish won the road world championship for Great Britain. This book charts that process by the man who helped to mastermind it. I found it an amazing insight in to how British cycling reshaped itself in order to achieve on the road. I may be biased (turns out Ellingworth is from Burnley) but I thought he was refreshingly honest about what went well and what mistakes he made along the way. Some interesting nuggets to take away about how to organise yourself or a team in order to achieve a goal.
I love bikes and I love Holland. The wife and I have been to Amsterdam many times and so a book about the two jumped off the shelf at me (not literally of course). The book weaves the life of an American ex-pat with the history of the bike in the city. The biography piece was less interesting as I just didn’t have a massive amount of empathy with the author. The sections about the struggles cyclists had with the city council to get decent infrastructure was very insightful. However you did get the feeling the book was padded out in certain areas. For example one chapter on the second world war would have been enough but instead there were several which you couldn’t help feel was just because the author had access to lots and lots of archive materials. Does nobody edit books these days?!!
Following in the footsteps of a famous father can’t be easy. Nicolas Roche has that issue. He confronts it head on and discusses it openly in his autobiography. Mostly it’s formed from a serious of diary entries he wrote as columns for an Irish newspaper. The rest of the chapters help to fill in the blanks and give some context. The newspaper columns are far and away the best bit – they are candid and refreshing to see exactly how Roche thought and felt on those days.
Another cycling book but it’s fiction this time. Author Tim Krabbe uses his own experience as an amateur racer to describe just what it’s like to actually compete in a race. We get a great insight in the thoughts that go through his mind – the pain, the suffering, the fears, the insecurities. They are all laid bare for us to experience.
Jacques Anquetil is one of the greats of cycling. The first man to win the Tour de France five times. But his private life was a soap opera – he ended up have a child with his step-daughter (among other things). Although it would be easy to sensationalise, and this book does attempt to do that sometimes, the story and the man are interesting enough in themselves to keep you going. Anquetil was a unique and driven individual. But he was also a jumble of paradoxes.
More cycling and this time it’s a biography of Robert Millar. Until very recently Millar was the best stage racing cyclist this country has ever produced. And even after the efforts of Wiggins he’s still the best climber we’ve ever had. His prime was a little before I started watching the tour but I still remember watching him race towards the end of his career. Thinking back to that time it was very different to now. He was pretty much a lone wolf. As the book makes out though that’s a position that suited him. I don’t think he would have done well in today’s Team Sky environment – far too regimented for him. It’s that loner mentality that’s lost Millar his place in the British cycling pantheon really. Which is a shame. However, his talent and tenacity shine throughout the book. And ultimately, like all good cyclists, he’ll be judged on his palmares – something I’m sure he’d prefer anyway.
So. it’s been a little while since I’ve blogged. It’s not because I haven’t been reading. Instead I’ve just been a little lax at actually getting around to blogging so here’s the first of a few posts at once. The Chimp Paradox is a book I was really interested to read. As is probably becoming apparent I like cycling and I’ve been reading a lot in magazines and watching in documentaries about what British Cycling and Team Sky have been up to. One person who constantly appears is the team psychologist Dr Steve Peters – he’s the guy who gets this amazing athletes to deal with the pressure and expectation of competition. This book sets out his ideas about how the brain operates. More crucially it talks about how to manage the rational, human side of your brain and the more irrational, emotional, side of your brain – a side he labels your chimp. Overall I thought the book was very interesting and there was certainly some good stuff in there. Understanding and dealing with your emotions rather than attempting to stifle or ignore them. But some of the descriptions got to be too distracting – chimps and humans were one thing – planets, moons, asteroid belts, gremlins, and more were too much. If I didn’t know what he’d achieved I’d probably be put off by all the gimmicks but knowing that this works makes me look at it again. A book that’s worth a second look.
This book was lent to me by a co-worker. We’re both keen cyclists and so he passed this along after finishing it. Only a thin book it’s a quick read – completed on a Sunday afternoon with the FA Cup games on in the background. But a quick read doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth reading. It follows the journey of one man to build his perfect bike as he travels the globe going to all the top component manufacturers. Along the way he drops in details about the history and development of the bicycle. He clearly loves bikes, and that passion drives the book along. By the end I knew a lot more about bikes, and also felt a tad jealous I didn’t have a dream machine of my own
(ssshhhh,..don’t tell my bike I said that)
Okay – so it’s not that I’ve read two books in a day but rather that I’ve been a bit slack on blogging about it. For my next book it was a change of emphasis and I picked up a cycling title. Italians have always had a big place in the history of the sport and the link between cycling, culture and history is what this book sought to explore. You can’t help but feel that there’s a really great book to be written on this topic. Sadly, despite this being an interesting read, this book isn’t it, Too much was glossed over and yet, at the same time, too many points were repeated over and over (things were explained two or three times in the course of as many pages) Having said all that the topic was so interesting, the characters so larger than life, and the passion so intense it was still a fun journey through some of the greatest moments in the sport’s history.