Monday, October 28, 2013

Cycling Book Number Five from Richard Moore

Richard Moore is establishing himself as the premier English cycling journalist of our time.  His is a by-line I am always happy to see, whether on the cover of a book or in a magazine.  He always has something cogent and well-informed to offer, writing with the enthusiasm of the fan he once was growing up and the expert he became as a racer.

He has contributed five significant books on cycling in the past seven years beginning with a biography of the elusive Robert Millar, "In Search of Robert Millar," in 2007, trying to get to the bottom of an enigma that had all racing fans wondering.  Continuing his emphasis on the UK, he has also written books on the emergence of Great Britain as a cycling power on both the track and the road.  His book on the trackside, "Heroes, Villains and Velodromes," centered on Chris Hoy and his six Olympic gold medals, the most ever by a Brit.  Team Sky was the subject of his book, "Sky's the Limit," documenting Britain's increasing success on the road, culminating with two Tour de France wins after the book was published.

His masterpiece though is "Slaying the Badger," as fine a cycling book as has ever been written.  It dissects the battle between teammates Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault at the 1986 Tour de France, one of the most exciting ever.  Moore watched it on television as a thirteen-year old, fully infecting him with a love for the sport. It was the first time The Tour had been broadcast in the UK in its entirety.  To interview all the principals was like a dream come true for him.

It was only natural that Moore would be enlisted to write a book on The Tour de France celebrating its centenary race this year.  He provided the copy for the hefty coffee-table picture book "Tour de France 100."  He was somewhat shackled though with only 37 pages of the 224-page book given to copy.  The photos are sensational, but Moore unfortunately isn't able to thoroughly cover the rich history of The Tour, all too often giving an abbreviated, and not entirely correct, version of a storied event.  Two of those involve Eugene Christophe, the first man to wear the Yellow Jersey.  The first was in regards to his repair of his broken fork on the Tourmalet in 1913.  He wrote that he was given a ten-minute penalty for allowing a boy to assist him, operating a bellows, but not that the penalty was subsequently reduced to three minutes.  The penalty was a minor slap on the wrist anyway, as he lost over two hours doing the repair, knocking him out of contention after being in the lead.

Moore doesn't give the full story either on Christophe being the first rider to wear the Yellow Jersey.  It happened before the eleventh stage of the 1919 Race.  Moore writes that the color yellow was chosen by race director Henri Desgrange, as it was the color of the pages of his newspaper "L'Auto" that sponsored The Race.  Other histories say that isn't so clear.  It may have been the only brightly-colored jersey available when Desgrange gave in to the demands of the press and fans to make the race leader more visible.  Christophe wasn't happy at all to be so easily spotted by his rivals.  They mocked him and called him a canary for his bright plumage, sides of the story too that Moore couldn't include.

Moore's fact-checkers also missed a couple of blatant errors, uncharacteristic of his other nearly flawless books. The book states that three of the top four finishers in the 1904 Tour were disqualified.  It was actually the top four with the fifth placed rider nineteen-year old Henri Cornet elevated to victory.  The book also gets it wrong when it states there was a lone rest day between each stage from 1903 to 1924.  Some of those early years the stages had three to five rest days between them, not just one, and on occasion they did race back-to-back days.  More faulty information was the statement that The Race was changed from a time competition to a points competition in 1904.  That didn't happen until 1905 after the disaster of all the cheating in 1904.

Moore probably can't be blamed for a sloppy caption calling the fans lining the road four-deep on the Puy-de-Dome for a time trial in 1978 "supporters" of Joop Zoetemelk.  Hardly any of them were even applauding as he passed and it would be impossible to call them the supporters of any one rider unless it was a local hero and the fans were all wearing something relating to his uniform or holding up signs or truly going berserk as the rider passed.  It was a great picture nonetheless, one of the few in the book capturing the fervor of the fans.  The fans were neglected, with not even a photo of The Devil.

Nor did the book's rather paltry index do full justice to the sport.  It neglects to include its mountains, who are as noteworthy as the racers.  Moore recognizes this.  L'Alpe d'Huez is mentioned over sixteen times, more than any racer other than Anquetil, Merckx and Hinault.  The index is almost exclusively racers other than a few odd exceptions--Shelly Verses and  Willy Voet.  The only non-people listed are domestique, soignieur, caravan publicitaire and  voiture balai.  Moore mentions the great sports writer Antoine Blondin, but he is overlooked in the index.

One thing Moore does not neglect is tears.  He knows how intrinsic they are to the sport citing six such incidents.  Two were significant enough to mention twice.  One of them includes a full-page photo--the iconic shot of Rene Vietto perched on a wall after having given up a wheel to his team leader.  Two pages after the photo, Moore describes the incident again as one that "instantly captured the hearts of the French people." 

Richard Virenque's tears over his drug involvement with the Festina team in 1998 also merit two mentions.  The first came when he was protesting his innocence when his team was expelled from The Race.  The next came when he broke down at his trial two years later having to confess, after having written an autobiography the year before called "My Truth" proclaiming his innocence. 

There are three instances of racers crying over having to abandon The Tour--Pascal Simon in 1983 while wearing Yellow, Ottavio Bottecchia in 1926, after having won The Tour the previous two years, in atrocious weather in the Pyrenees and three-time winner Louison Bobet in his first Tour in 1947, earning him the nickname "Crybaby," which he eventually shed.

There is one incidental reference to tears relating to the USADA report that revealed the extent of Lance Armstrong's doping.  Moore wrote that it outlined its case in "eye-watering detail."  It indeed had to bring any devotee to the sport to tears or near tears.  He had to be speaking of himself.  And it is that deep emotional passion and devotion that makes him the writer he is. He genuinely cares about the sport.  Keep the books coming.

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