Monday, January 21, 2019
Wednesday, January 2, 2019
Wednesday, December 26, 2018
Tuesday, December 18, 2018
“The Comeback: Greg LeMond, the True King of American Cycling and a Legendary Tour de France,” by Daniel de Vise
Tuesday, December 11, 2018
Joe Dombrowski, another American Cossins prevails upon to explain the sport, further undermines his premise that bicycle racing is a cerebral endeavor. He says, “A lot of great bike riders are kinda stupid. You know, having nothing going on up there, just primal instinct.” When Cossins asks Van Garderen if he agreed, he laughed and said, “I think some of the best cyclists in the peloton aren’t very intelligent and I reckon that’s often to their advantage.”
A racing friend who knew I was reading this book, whose subtitle is “Cycling’s top minds reveal the road to victory,” said that as far as he was concerned the largest single factor to one’s success is the “size of his balls.” Cossins doesn’t say that, but he does dwell considerably on one’s ability to suffer, which could be related to machismo. David Millar says it is better to dish out the suffering, setting the pace, than to have it dictated, being in arrears trying to keep up and wondering how much longer one can take it. Van Garderen recommends that one try to pass the pain one is feeling on to others, to “make them suffer more than you are.” Bradley Wiggins simply advises, “Just try and soak up the pain, not show it.” There’s no secret to success here, just ploys to endure, getting into “the mind set of suffering,” as Van Garderen phrases it.
Wednesday, December 5, 2018
Leonard approaches his subject with the tenacity and thoroughness of an investigative reporter, not simply relying on old newspapers and books, but going to the scene of many of the events he recounts, seeking a story behind the story. He makes multiple visits to the Col de la Bonette, the highest road of The Tour de France at 9,193 feet, gaining a true intimacy of the climb, hanging out with the crew that is clearing the winter snow covering it and returning along with the Giro d’Italia on May 28, 2016.
He gets a wave from Joe Dombrowski, an American climbing specialist riding for the Cannondale-Garmin team at the time, who is part of a six-man break. He has become a friend and is a recurring theme in the book, as Leonard seeks understanding of the climbing mentality. One of their get-togethers is an afternoon at the French National Sports Museum in Nice. Among its collection of bikes is one alleged to have belonged to Eddie Merckx. As they speculate as to its authenticity, Dombrowski takes a photo of it and sends it on the spot to Eddie’s son Axel, who was Dombrowksi’s director for two years before he graduated to Team Sky, asking if he can verify it. Such is the personalized detail of this most readable narrative, full of fascinating tales as was the previous book by this British author, “Lanterne Rouge,” about the last place finisher in each year’s Tour.
He recounts the legendary story of Alphonse Steinès, assistant to Tour de France founder Henri Desgrange, visiting the Col de Tourmalet in the Pyrenees to see if it would be suitable for the 1910 Tour. Steinès encountered snow and barely survived getting over the pass in the dark of night, but informs Desgrange that it would be perfectly fine for The Tour’s first incursion into the high mountains, a year before the Alps were attempted. Leonard goes beyond the dramatics of the story, detailing Steinès’ career working for the car manufacturer Martini testing hydraulic brakes on the cols of the Alps. Steinès may be a minor footnote in Tour lore, but the bicycle manufacturer Fiftyone just named its latest bike for Steinès. It sells for $16,700 and was profiled in the October issue of Procycling.
One of the great services Leonard accomplishes in this book is getting to the bottom of the fable that the great French climber Rene Vietto cut off his toe during the 1947 Tour and that it ended up in a bar in Marseille. He manages to track down the toe and even includes a photo of it in a jar of formaldehyde, label and all. It once was in a bar, the Chez Siciliano of a military friend of Vietto’s, but now resides in the kitchen cabinet of a former bicycle shop owner who has a vast collection of Vietto memorabilia in his home. Leonard compares it to a rarely glimpsed medieval relic of the saints, a bonafide link to the “Golden Age” of cycling.
Leonard establishes that Vietto’s small toe was amputated following The Tour, not during it, as some histories report. Vietto injured the toe in Paris-Roubaix several months before The Tour. It never fully healed and became septic to the bone. Vietto received a shot of penicillin on a rest day during The Tour to cope with the pain. Cutting it off would have been too severe of a medical procedure in the middle of a race.
Vietto is better known for a photo of him sitting on a ledge in tears during the 1934 Tour, his first as a 20-year old, when he gave up his wheel to his team leader Antonin Magne, who’d won the 1931 Tour and would win again in 1934. Vietto was a climbing sensation, going on to win the Mountains competition that year and was a threat to win The Tour, though he was a domestique. The photo is a potent symbol of the commitment and sacrifice that define the sport. In his research, Leonard tracks down Vietto’s son, Jean, a truck driver, who says that his father never regretted his choice of giving up his wheel, and that the photo truly immortalized him.
Leonard also spends time with the the grandson of George Mallory, the Englishman who may have summitted Everest in 1924, twenty-eight years before Sir Edmund Hilary, but died near the summit. His grandson George invented the concept of Everesting, riding up a hill, any hill, time after time in a single session until one accumulates the vertical feet of Everest—29,028. He first accomplished it in 1994 on a 3,300 foot peak in Australia near Melbourne. Making the climb would be a feat for many. Doing it eight times in a single go epitomizes the allure and challenge of climbing and the suffering cyclists willingly inflict upon themselves to accomplish something out of the ordinary—to claim some sort of bragging rights, though for an equal portion, simple personal satisfaction.
This leads into a commentary on Strava, the Swedish word for “strive,” a widely popular program that archives the times of any cyclist who enrolls in it on any climb, long or short, in the world. Now thousands of cyclists can compare their times to everyone else’s and compete to have the best time on any climb. Retired racer Phil Gaimon is on a mission to accumulate as many bests as he can. The program was created in 2009 by two guys on Harvard’s rowing team, one of whom was Swedish.
The breadth of his research includes Haruki Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” and Don DeLillo’s second book “End Zone” a novel about football, though he identifies it as “End Game.” That is just one of a small handful of faux pas. He refers to Pau as a “hilltop town.” This frequent Tour Ville Étape is a large city near the Pyrenees. It sprawls out on a small rise above a river, but would never be mistaken for a hilltop town which are common in Provence. He refers to Hollywood Westerns as Far West movies. But his cycling knowledge is most astute and far-ranging, which is the essence of this superb book. Just as after “Lanterne Rouge,” I eagerly await his next.