Tuesday, November 13, 2012

An Overflow of Tears in Tim Hilton's Cycling Memoir "One More Kilometre and We're in the Showers"

English cyclist Tim Hilton is a genuine devotee of the bicycle.  He has twelve bikes stashed in his garden shed, all of which he claims to use at various times of the year.  He witnessed cycling deity Fausto Coppi race in Paris in his teen-aged years.  He calls 1959 his year of dreams--the year Federico Bahamontes won the Tour de France.  He was a serious enough cyclist at the time to be shaving his legs and riding 300 miles a week.  He loved to race and to follow racing, but he understood that "the real goal of cycling is happiness."

In 2004 he published his cycling memoirs, "One More Kilometre and We're in the Showers."  It is an ode not only to his devotion to the bicycle but also to bicycle racing.  He writes as much about the character and accomplishments of cycling greats who have inspired him as he does about his own bicycling experiences as a club rider.

Hilton establishes early on in his book that he has a sensitivity to tears. He acknowledges that the bike can "make you weep, especially when you're a teen-ager and don't understand your body." He warns that when one "bonks," it can make one cry.

He is well versed in the capacity of the bicycle to bring pleasure and its power to bring people together and to keep one young.  So strong is its ability to elevate and to bond, that during World War II, he says, English cyclists who served in the military carried two photos with them: one of a wife or girl friend, and the other of their cycling club.

His memoir underscores the deep emotional commitment cyclists have to their riding, no better manifested than the tears it can bring.  His book abounds with mentions of crying from the personal to the well documented, such as those of Rene Vietto in the 1934 Tour de France  perched on a stone wall having given up his front wheel to his team leader Antonin Magne, forlorn over losing his chance of winning The Race.

As a fan of British cyclists, he recounts many of their noteworthy achievements.  The first Brit to ride in The Tour de France was Charlie Holland in 1937, though he didn't finish the race.  As he suffered up the Galibier, unpaved and muddy from melting snow, he passed one rider sobbing by the roadside, unable to continue. It was extreme heat in the 1955 Tour that had "brave men walking and weeping" on Mont Ventoux.

Tears were rampant in the 1967 Tour after the death of Tom Simpson on the Ventoux.  Earlier he wrote of Simpson crying after the 1960 Paris-Roubaix, devastated that he hadn't won after leading the race in a break-away only to be caught shortly before the finish.  It was the first time the race had ever been carried on television.  That immense publicity, he said, helped Simpson overcome his tears.

He devotes chapters to the great English woman time trialists Eileen Sheridan and Beryl Burton.  Sheridan was driven to tears towards the end of her record breaking 1953 ride the length of Great Britain from Land's End to John O'Groats. Her coach and nurse accompanying her had tears of their own, witnessing her heroism.  Burton confesses to tears in her autobiography determined to keep up with a male counterpart on a training ride.

In recounting the career of Coppi he mentions his struggles in the 1951 Tour, grieving over the recent death of his brother in a cycling accident, weeping and sometimes not even able to control his bike.  Coppi was so idolized by his Italian fans, they would cheer and weep over his extraordinary exploits.

He claims that the fragile and temperamental French three-time winner of The Tour, Louison Bobet, had a "tearful and petulant nature."  Before his prime when he was competing against Coppi, his younger intellectual brother, who also raced and went on to be a journalist, advised him to skip the 1952 Tour, recognizing that the Swiss rider Hugo Koblet would win it but then fade away.  "And who will weep for him?" he asked.
Towards the end of the book he writes about attending Britain's junior road championships in 2000 to see the young prodigy Bradley Wiggins.  He confesses to being prone to weeping fits at the time.  He would have been weeping with joy if he had known Wiggins would go on to win The Tour de France twelve years later.   When he published the book in 2004 only 51 British cyclists had competed in The Tour, with most of them being overmatched, as only 21 were strong enough to finish.  No Brit had ever been a threat to win The Tour.

He has enough material from the past few Tours with Mark Cavendish establishing himself as the greatest sprinter of all time and Wiggins' win and the emergence of Christopher Froome to write another book. With all the bicycle books being published, there is certainly a market for it.  There were three new biographies alone of Eddie Merckx published this past year. The biggest challenge for his sequel will be to come up with a title as distinctive as "One More Kilometre and We're in the Showers."

It will also be a challenge to match all the obscure trivia he manged to sprinkle in.  Anyone searching for bicycle trivia questions will have plenty of material.

Here are a few:

A--Which French cyclist was known as "Le Clown?"
B: Which Tour winner became a florist in later life?
C: What was the real first name of Belgium world champion Stan Ockers?
D: Of his many victories, what was Jacques Anquetil most proud of?
E: Who was the first foreigner to win the Giro d'Italia?

A: Roger Hassenforder in the 1950s
B: Ferdi Kubler
C: Constant
D: Winning a bridge tournament in Rouen
E: Hugo Koblet in 1950

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