Thursday, January 31, 2013

Gino Bartali, Man of Valor

Italians are an emotional sort.  Thus it comes as no surprise at the many instances of that ultimate emotional release, tears, in the recent biography, "Road to Valor," of Gino Bartali, the Italian two-time winner of The Tour de France.  There were twelve, six times as many as in the last cycling biography I read, "Eagle of Toledo," about Spain's Federico Bahamontes.

The brother-sister authors, Aili and Andres McConnon, acknowledge the Italian nature.  They quote a Belgian newspaper as citing the "southern temperament" of Italians  as explanation for the behaviour of thousands of Italian workers in Belgium who had gathered in the main plaza of Liege outside the hotel where Bartali was staying towards the end of  the 1948 Tour to celebrate his impending triumph.  They went wild, dancing and tossing their hats in the air and embracing one another and crying tears of happiness.  The Belgians had never seen anything like it.

Bartali had overcome a 21-minute deficit before the Alps and had built an even greater margin as The Race neared its conclusion in Paris.  The cyclingnews website ranks the 1948 Tour as the fifth greatest Tour of all time. Bartali had previously won The Tour in 1938.  The ten year gap between victories is the largest in Tour history, largely thanks to The Race not being conducted for seven years during WWII, 1940-1946.

His 1948 victory is also noteworthy for saving Italy from civil war.  On July 14 during a rest day at Cannes, there was an assassination attempt on the leader of the Communist Party in Italy leaving him near death in a coma.  It sparked widespread rioting throughout the country.  The prime minister of Italy, a friend of Bartali's, gave him a phone call, hoping to inspire him to win the next day's stage into the Alps to divert his countrymen from their crisis. Bartali told him he would do his best.

He fulfilled his promise and then some, winning the next three stages through the Alps and taking control of The Race.  The entire country went delirious with joy and calm returned. At that time cycling stars were the most pre-eminent celebrities of their day, bigger even than movie stars are now. When the  shooting victim regained consciousness, his first question was, "What happened at The Tour?   How did Bartali do?"

The McConnons were inspired to write this book after Andres happened to witness a stage of The Tour in 2002.  He was so overcome by what a cultural phenomenon it was and what exceptional athletes the riders were, that he wanted to write a book about cycling.  As he and his sister researched some of The Tour greats, they learned the largely untold story of Bartali's involvement during WWII helping to save Jews by serving as a messenger riding his bike vast distances transporting documents hidden in his frame to make false identity papers.  Bartali seemed the perfect subject for a book.  Many had been written about him, but none in English.  Though Bartali had died in 2000 at the age of 86, he left behind three autobiographies and was survived by his wife and a son.  The McConnons meticulously researched their book interviewing the Bartalis three times and many others and reading widely.  There are over fifty pages of footnotes, though no index.

They recount with remarkable detail the Bartoli story, mentioning such things as the special blue dress his mother wore when she attended his victory celebration at the Turin velodrome after his first Tour win in 1938 and that she softly cried with happiness.  His father was so thrilled by his impending victory in 1938  that he came to France for the first time to pay him a surprise visit at his hotel.  He was so overcome by emotion, he cried as he embraced his son.

The first mention of tears are those of Bartali as a youth when he was reprimanded by his father for allowing a friend to put curved racing handlebars on his bike, as his father did not wish him to become a racer, similar to the parents of Eddie Merckx. Bartali also admitted to tears as an adult when he had to withdraw from the 1937 Tour de France after a crash. He had won the Giro d'Italia the month before and hoped to become the first person ever to win The Tour and The Giro in the same year.  It was so important to the Italians to have an Italian win The Tour, his national federation did not allow him to ride the 1938 Giro, even though he was the defending champion, so he would be fresh to win that year's Tour, as he did.

The McConnons also cite other instances of tears in 1938.  They report that Hitler's eyes moistened with tears during a visit to Italy that year when Mussolini told him "no force can ever separate us."  Later that year a six-year old Jewish boy, the son of friends of Bartali, cried when he and his fellow Jewish classmates were told they could no longer attend the school they had been attending.

Bartali's hard riding could drive his adversaries to tears.  Jean Robic, winner of the 1947 Tour, broke down in tears during the 1948 Tour on the Galibier when he could no longer keep up.  On the previous stage, the McConnon's quote "L'Equipe" as reporting that Louisson Bobet, who went on to win The Tour three times during the '50s, crossed the finish line eighteen minutes behind Bartali with "his face covered in mud, except for the tiny furrows where tears had fallen down his cheeks."  After the completion of the race in Paris, Bartali embraced another French adversary who was shedding tears of a different sort, proud and relieved to have survived The Race.

No biography of Bartali is complete without mentioning his smoking.  This is no exception.  A doctor actually advised him to smoke a cigarette or two before every race to speed up his heart.  American cigarettes were his favorite but hard to come by.  He saved them for moments of importance.  Among the many cultural asides the McConnons offer is that Bartali's wife Adrianna smoked as a young woman during their courtship in an era when it was uncommon for women to do so. The Macedonia Extra brand of the time advertised itself as "The Cigarette of Great Athletes."  During the war when tobacco was in short supply, Bartali made do with cigarettes of rice-paper cylinders filled with dried chamomile flowers.  One of the sponsors of The Tour was O.C.B. Rolling Papers.  Its float in the publicity caravan  preceding the racers carried a machine that demonstrated the cutting and folding of cigarette rolling papers.

Despite their exceptional research, the McConnons are typical of those writing about cycling who did not grow up with the sport, betraying occasional evidence of not thoroughly knowing or understanding the sport.  Even Samuel Abt, who covered cycling for over twenty years for the "New York Times," after being assigned the beat while in the paper's Paris bureau,  was guilty of such lapses.  From time to time they make erroneous assertions that would make any teen-aged European cycling fan cringe.

When describing the duties of domestiques, they cite the case of an unnamed Italian cyclist who would make his domestiques push him along as he relieved himself, not realizing that this is basic cycling protocol.   They make it appear as if this is a rare, obscure incident, when it is not uncommon at all. It is a favorite picture of cycling photographers.  Such a photo fills the back cover of Graham Watson's oversized "Visions of Cycling." 

In that same paragraph on domestiques they recount the reputed story of Rene Vietto's toe without mentioning his name.  They say that after "a French cyclist" lost a toe to sepsis, he demanded that one of his domestiques amputate his own toe to "better understand his pain."  They at least are journalisticly responsible to use a euphemism for "allegedly" ("was said to have"), in essence admitting that they don't know if this story is correct or not, but that it is too good not to mention.

They are dead wrong when telling the famous story of Octave Lapize calling race officials "Murderers" during the 19l0 Tour for sending the racers over the high mountains of the Pyrenees for the first time.  They are correct that it happened at the top of the Aubisque, but not that the Aubisque was "the finish line" for the stage.  It was years before The Tour had a mountain top finish and there has never been one at the summit of the Aubisque.

They are also wrong regarding the well-documented friction between Coppi and Bartali at the 1948 World Championships.  The two rivals were teammates on the Italian team, but refused to work together. Either one could have won the race, but neither wanted the other to win and refused to sacrifice himself for the other.  By focusing their attentions on each other, they allowed their rivals to escape so far up the road that the two abandoned the race.  Their actions so infuriated team officials they were both suspended.  This happened at the "Road" Championships, not the "Track" Championships,  as the McConnons have it.  They commit a few other minor mistakes that aren't much more than typographical errors.  Their mistakes don't much undermine the integrity of this fine biography. They are just further evidence that the editing of American cycling literature has a ways to go to catch up to its European counterparts and that one can't be fully confident of the accuracy of any American cycling book.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Another Cycling Biography by a Fotheringham

With "Eagle of Toledo," a biography of Federico Bahamontes, the first Spaniard to win the Tour de France, Alasdair Fotheringham joins his brother William in the ranks of English cycling journalists who have written a book on a conqueror of The Tour de France.

This is Alasdair's first book, while William has written quite a few--books on Tour winners Fausto Coppi and Eddie Merckx, Tour fatality Tom Simpson, a history of the English in The Tour de France and a cycling encyclopedia called "Cyclopedia." Alasdair expresses some fraternal solidarity when he cites the latter as his source of information for the quite famous Albert Londres interview in 1924 with the Pelissier brothers on doping in the sport.  There was no need whatsoever to "footnote" this seminal interview other than to give his brother a nod.

Many books have been written on Merckx, Coppi and Simpson, but surprisingly only one other on the very colorful and still living Bahamontes, who will turn 85 this year. That lone book was published in 1969, ten years after his Tour victory, and has long been out of print.  Alasdair has been on the cycling beat since 199l, covering his first Tour the year after.  He first interviewed Bahamontes in 1993.  He knows his subject quite well, though that did not prevent him from portraying Bahamontes in a most objective, and not always flattering, light.

Despite his Tour victory and six wins of the King of the Mountains competition, Bahamontes may be best known for stopping to eat an ice cream cone at the summit of the Col de la Romeyere during the 1954 Tour de France.  It is an incident that nearly every book on The Tour mentions, though rarely with the actual story.  When Alasdair asked him about it in that 1993 interview, Bahamontes exclaimed, "I'm never going to hear the end of that ruddy ice cream."

Bahamontes was known as a cautious, if not poor, descender.  The myth of the ice cream cone incident is rooted in his so-called fear of descending.  As the story goes, he reached the summit of the Col de la Romeyere in the Alps way ahead of everyone else and feared making the descent on his own, so he grabbed an ice cream and waited for the peloton to catch up.

That makes for a nice fairy tale, but it is far from the truth. Bahamontes was not alone when he reached the summit.  Rather he was the lead rider in a four-person breakaway, fourteen minutes ahead of the peloton. On the climb he broke two spokes.  He couldn't risk descending on such a wheel, so after claiming the King of the Mountain points, waited for his team car and a replacement wheel.  During his wait he grabbed an ice cream cone from a cart.

Bahamontes was indeed an eccentric, playful character, known as "the unpredictable genius," who might well have pulled a crazy stunt such as he was accused of.  What he did do that complies with his reputation was to fill his water bottle after grabbing the ice cream  and then spray the peloton as it passed before his team car arrived, just as the fans sometimes do, to cool off the riders.  For that he was fined.

Appropriately, "bizarre" is Fotheringham's favorite adjective.  He uses it nine times, once to describe the ice cream incident and twice in reference to occasions when Bahamontes inexplicably abandoned a race.  He also applies it to substances racers were known to take and to describe erratic behaviour and also for some events in the 1959 Tour Bahamontes won.

Fotheringham sets straight another storied event in the lore of The Tour that involves Bahamontes.  It occurred in the 1963 Tour when Bahamontes finished second to Jacques Anquetil.  Part of the credit for Anquetil's win goes to an illegal bike change Anquetil made with the complicity of his team director Rafael Geminiani at the foot of the climb over the Col de la Forclaz.

Riders were not allowed to swap bikes unless they had a mechanical difficulty.  Gieminiani confirmed in an interview with Fotheringham that he did indeed cut a cable on Anquetil's bike, so he could claim that it had broken, allowing him to exchange his bike for a lighter one to make the climb faster.  After he finished the climb, Geminiani noticed there were no officials around, so he changed bikes again giving Anquetil a bike better for the flats.

Just last week Lance Armstrong discussed cheating with Oprah Winfrey.  He did not consider doping cheating since it did not give him an advantage over his opponents, as they were all doing the same.  This however might qualify as cheating, though Geminiani proudly calls it outwitting the system.

Regarding drugs, Bahamontes said, "I never took anything, never."  He fully observes the omerta, claiming he was totally oblivious to whatever drug-taking might have been going on, acknowledging only, "I saw a soigneur put something in a bidon, once, and that was it."

When Bahamontes began his career, Spain was still recovering from World War II and was extremely impoverished.  Food was in short supply.  He and his family would scrounge for anything to eat--orange peels, stale bread and even cats.  He raced not for glory, but to put food on the table.  Financial gain was his prime motivator throughout his career.

Unlike most cycling biographies there was hardly a mention of tears of triumph. After he won The Tour in 1959 there was no such emotional release other than from his wife Fermina.   His stoicism is so significant, Fotheringham actually writes, "There were no tears."  All he's concerned about is the financial benefit, asking his agent how much more appearance money he will be able to command at the post-Tour criteriums.

Fotheringham mentions tears on only one other occasion--in the l958 Tour on the stage to Aix-les-Baines when Bahamontes lost nearly thirty minutes.  He was struggling so badly his domestique Luis Otano, who was trying to help him, told Fotheringham that Bahamontes was crying and grabbing whatever food he could get.

Otana was one of several of Bahamontes former teammates that Fotheringham interviewed.  None are particularly fond of him, accusing him of being selfish and not a man of his word, in contrast to his fun-loving, happy-go-lucky public image.  Fotheringham cites instances of his not being honest with him and of how much of an attention-seeker he can be, even crashing an Albert Contador victory celebration.

He is still a very prominent and popular figure in Spanish cycling and devotes considerable energy to running the four-stage Vuelta a Toledo in his home town, a race that has been going on for nearly fifty years without interruption, unlike the country's premier race, the three-week long Vuelta a Espana, which did not run between 1950 and 1955 due to financial problems.  The final chapter of the book is a close-up of how hands-on Bahamontes is staging the race.  "The legend lives on," Fotheringham concludes, "albeit increasingly distorted."

Monday, January 14, 2013

David Byrne, Mr. Ubiquitous

One never knows where the multi-talented David Bryne might next turn up--on stage singing or in a movie or at a book signing or art gallery or bicycle advocacy meeting.  The man is truly ubiquitous.

Just as pet owners often take on the characterisitcs of their pets, Bryne seems to have assumed the nature of his favorite word. The word ubiquitous turns up with such uncommon frequency in his two books, "Bicycle Diaries" and "How Music Works,"  it is clearly a word he holds in high esteem.  It is a fine, catchy word.  Most authors restrict their use of it, but Bryne is virtually unrestrained in describing things as ubiquitous.  He can't seem to use it often enough, perhaps making up for his inability to use it in his music.

It is understandable that it infiltrated his bicycle book, as it is largely a book about riding his fold-up bike in cities around the world when on tour.  It is virtually impossible to write a travel book without the author commenting on some object or site that is often seen, then delving into their bag of adjectives to label it ubiquitous.

Usually authors limit their use of distinctive adjectives such as grotesque and bizarre and hideous and ludicrous and obsequious and ubiquitous to no more than two or three times per book, knowing that over-use can diminish its impact. Byrne is not inhibited by such thinking, almost turning ubiquitous into a cliche, while going easy on all other such adjectives.  He sprinkles it twelve times, along with an additional use of its abbreviated version, "ubiquity," in "Bicycle Diaries."   In contrast bizarre turns up just once in each book, and grotesqute and hideous only once in "Diaries" and not at all in "Music."

What an author finds ubiquitous is always illuminating.  In Turkey Bryne found mustaches and crumbling third-world concrete housing ubiquitous.  In Manila it was jeepneys (a cheap form of transport) and bland architecture.  In Buenos Airies it was pictures of Carlos Gardel and contemporary rock-and-roll.  While in London he philosophisizes on war and observes that the "ubiquitous image of soldiers rushing into battle with guns blazing simply didn't happen,"  as most soliders never use ther guns.  In the same commentary he complains about the ubiquity of adolescent boys playing war video games.   Even on home turf various things stand out as being ubiquitous.  In Columbus, Ohio it was anonymous modern buildings.  In his home base of Manhattan it was jay-walkers.  Oddly enough while bicycling in Australia, he found nothing ubiquitous.

It appeared as if he was trying to out-ubiquitous himself in "How Music Works," defying whatever admonishment he might have received from the adjective watch-dog society that oversees the word ubiquitous.  He uncorked the word eight times in the first 142 pages, including a virtual avalanche of four in a ten-page stretch.  But he must have exhausted himself, as he used it only twice in the final 200 pages, falling three short of its use in his earlier book.

"How Music Works" is part-memoir and part-social commentary, but at all times a tribute to the power of music and his love for it.  He credits music for saving his life.  It was the salvation for an innately shy and socially awkward guy.  It is also a history of music, making it easy for him to integrate ubiquitous into the book.

Whereas in his bicycle book calling an object ubiquitous meant it was often seen, in this book it is more of a pejorative of something that became all too common, almost like his use of the word.  At various points in time, certain music grew to be ubiquitous--recorded music, looping beats, 20th century classical music, recordings and radio broadcasts, use of samples, multi-track recording.  Despite his regard of music as a  healing and unifying force, he complains that hearing music is so ubiquitous that silence is a rarity and something to savor.

Not all of his uses of ubiquitous are reserved for music.  He slaps the label on blockbuster museum shows, launched by King Tut.  He also uses it with a negative connotation when he refers to the ubiquitous attitude that "utilitarian objects and activities, made and performed with integrity, consciously and mindfully, could be art."

As enjoyable and thought-provoking as this book was, I as a cyclist was disappointed that he makes only minimal mention of the bicycle.  He is considered a committed and ardent advocate of the bike.  If that were truly the case, he would have made that an underlining theme to the book.  Instead, bicycling receives less than half as many mentions as his favorite adjective.

One has to reconsider how much of a bicycling consciousness Bryne genuinely has, especially after he makes the admission that when he has writer's block his solution is to go jogging.   He does go out of his way to make a very positive assertion for the bike when he comments that Thomas Hoving, who ran the Metropolitan Museum in New York during the '60s and '70s, rode a bike, adding, "so he can't have been all about fancy art."  The book even includes a photo of Hoving on a racing bike with a handlebar bag wearing a coat and tie.

In "Bicycle Diaries" he asserts the great positive force the bicycle has been in his life, saying it has kept him sane, just as he claims music has in this book.  He ought to have reiterated that and regularly drawn comparisons to his twin saviors.  If he were a true voice for the bicycle, this book could have been another platform for his advocacy.  Instead, it is a sad missed opportunity to demonstrate his devotion to the cause and to save a few souls.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Many Factual Errors of "A Race for Madmen"

For the second time in ten years The Tour de France celebrates a centenary anniversary this year.  Ten years ago was the one hundredth birthday of The Tour, born in 1903.   This year is the one hundredth edition of The Race, as it wasn't contested for ten years during the two world wars.

In honor of that first anniversary there was a glut of books documenting The Tour's first one hundred years.  Whether there will be a similar glut this year remains to be seen.  English journalist Chris Sidwells is first out of the gate for this centenary with "A Race for Madmen, The Extraordinary History of the Tour de France."  It hit the bookshelves last July in time for a Tour expected to be dominated by the Brit Bradley Wiggins.  He guessed right on that, but the book is so loaded with mistakes, it appears to have been written by a madman in a rush to get the book out.  Though it is an entertaining read, it is not a book to go to if one desires the facts.

The front flap sets off an immediate alarm that this book can not be trusted, saying that  "170 years after its inception, the Tour is still troubled by insufficient crowd control and accusations of cheating."  Besides being sixty years off on how far back The Tour goes, "crowd control" is the least of The Tour's worries. Cheating is a nice euphemism for doping and it indeed has been an issue throughout The Tour's history.  Whole books have been written about it.

The front flap also sounds a warning that this book is extremely English centric claiming The Race was founded to demonstrate an English invention.  The Race was founded by French journalist Henri Desgrange to sell his newspaper "L'Auto," and it is a stretch to make the claim that an Englishman invented the bicycle.  A German invented the first two-wheeled device in 1817, the draisine, and a Frenchman was the first to put pedals on the device in 1860s.  Englishman James Starley further adapted the bike and amped up their production, but he certainly did not invent it.

The front flap is a gateway to a flood of misinformation. Sidwells is way off when he states that the city of Pau is "seated almost at the foot of the Col de Tourmalet."   Anyone who has followed The Tour in person and been in the Pyrenees, as Sidwells did as a reporter for the English monthly "Cycle Sport,"  well knows that Pau is a good fifty miles from the Tourmalet, nowhere near its foot. Pau is in the flat lands, not even nestled up against the mountains. 

When writing of the 1904 Tour, Sidwells states that after the first stage to Lyons from Paris, the "next day" the riders climbed the Col de Republique. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of the history of The Tour knows that its first two editions were both six stages long, with nearly every stage more than 200 miles keeping the riders in the saddle for up to 17 hours a day or more.  There were several days of rest between nearly every stage.  They did not set out the "next day" after completing a stage except for stage four of the first Tour, so the riders could be racing on the great national holiday July 14.   There was at least two days between every stage of the 1904 Tour, and nearly a week between the first and second stages.  

Sidwells may not be to blame for giving two distances for the longest stage of the first Tour, but rather poor editing.  He states on one page that the longest stage of the 1903 Tour was 293 miles, but then four pages later gives the distance of another stage that year as 323 miles, most doubt a typo as it was 232 miles.  It was no typo though when he states that Merckx won his first Tour in l969 by over twenty minutes. The actual time was 17 minutes and 54 seconds.  I well know that as it was mentioned in the two biographies of Merckx I recently read.  I also know from those books that he crashed badly on the Velodrome in Blois in September of that year, not August as Sidwells writes.

The glaring mistakes go on and on.  He writes that Miguel Indurain was the final Tour/Giro double winner in 1994, forgetting that Marco Pantani accomplished the feat four years later.  He's wrong again when he states Indurain was the first to win the Tour four times in a row.  Anquetil was the first from l961-1964. Merckx later accomplished the feat from 1969-1972.  Indurain was the first to win it five times in a row.  He also makes a near criminal mistake when he says Contador's first Tour win was Johann Bruyneel's sixth Tour success as a director.  How could he forget that Lance Armstrong won seven straight Tours under Bruyneel's directorship.  Such a mistake is beyond mere sloppiness.  It is sheer madness.  Even casual fans of the sport know that.

Perhaps his most outrageous factual error is of a fairly recent event in Tour history that is so well-documented that it is inconceivable that he could bungle it. He writes that Armstrong's fall in the 2003 Tour, while in the lead climbing a mountain, was caused by Armstrong clipping a baseball hat held by a young spectator.  Everyone else reported that it was a musette bag that caught Armstrong's handlebar and dragged him down.

If riders can be suspended two years for doping, Sidwells ought to be banned from writing for at least that amount for perpetrating such falsities.  It is beyond fathoming that someone who has covered the sport and written other books on it could  be so wrong on so many basics.  It makes one wonder if he actually wrote the book or simply had his name attached to it.

He should also be stripped of his credentials for an indeterminate period and made to perform a couple thousand hours of community service reading real Tour histories to the blind for lending credence to the Rene Vietto toe cutting myth in the 1947 Tour.  He claims that French rider and team leader Vietto had an aching toe cut off during that Tour and ordered his domestique Apo Lazarides to cut off a toe of his own in solidarity.  He goes on to say that Vietto's toe can be found in a bar in Marseilles.

When I first read this story years ago in Les Woodland's "The Yellow Jersey Companion to the Tour de France," I was shocked I had never read about it before and tried to confirm the story.  It is not written about in any of the official Tour histories.  Of the dozens of books I have read on The Tour only one other book,  "Push Yourself Just a Little Bit More," by Johnny Green, mentions it. Green is the former road manager of the Clash and got caught up in the Armstrong hoopla and followed the Tour in 2003 and 2004 and wrote a book about it.  It is a rock and roller's interpretation of The Tour.  The Vietto toe story is right up his alley.

Like Sidwells, I went in search of the toe in Marseilles and couldn't find it nor could I find anyone who knew anything about it.  My French friend Yvon, who has followed The Tour for over fifty years and is a full devotee, knew nothing about the Vietto toe story.  He contacted French friends and posed the question to French cycling web sites and could not verify that it ever happened.

Some of the inaccuracies Sidwells makes are simple misinterpretations or not being fully precise about something,  such as placing a plaque to Eugene Christophe in the village center of Ste Marie de Campon.  The plaque is near the center but it would have been far more fitting to say it was on the building of the blacksmith where he famously welded a fork in the 1913 Tour.  Likewise he is slightly off when he calls Festina a "Spanish outfit."  Festina is a former Swiss watch-making company now based in Spain, but the majority of its riders were French.  It was essentially a French team. He also makes irrelevant comments.  When he writes that there have been six directors of The Tour, he adds that they have all been men.

He claims that Michael Rasmussen was a good bike handler. That was belied when he crashed three times in the final time trial of the 2005 Tour costing him a spot on the podium, falling from third to fourth overall. It was one of the most ridiculous time trial rides in history and worthy of mention in the book, much more so than asserting that Rasmussen had good bike handling skills.

At least Sidwells showed full respect to L'Alpe d'Huez, referring to it with the capital "L" every time he mentioned it except once with a lower case "l" and once without either "L."  But he somewhat disrespects Greg LeMond by not capitalizing his "M."

When writing about Tommy Simpson, Sidwells divulges that Simpson was married to his mother's sister, making him his uncle, giving him insider information.  He quotes her as saying that Simpson admitted to taking pills, but that he never used injections. Despite having a family blood-line connected to the sport, Sidwells did not start writing about cycling until six years before writing this book.  That might be considered a disclaimer for not being fully versed in the sport, despite being a regular writer for "Cycle Sport."

Its a shame none of his colleagues at "Cycle Sport" gave the book a read before it was unleashed on the public.  Sidwells does write with color and vigor.  He contributes a few cases of tears that I have not read about elsewhere (Tour director Jean-Marie LeBlanc during the 1968 Festina Affair, yellow-jersey winner Andre Leducq during the 1930 Tour) and some of the more obscure ones that are rarely mentioned (Coppi's domestique Andrea Carrea during the 1952 Tour, Anquetil after winning Bordeaux-Paris in 1965). This could have been a worthy contribution to the world of cycling literature.  Instead, it is a book to be wary of.