Tuesday, December 9, 2014

"Étape" by Richard Moore

With "Étape" Richard Moore returns to the formula of intimate interviews in the homes of cycling luminaries focusing on a specific race that worked so effectively in his masterpiece "Slaying the Badger," and produces another gold-nugget of a book that will thrill anyone who enjoys insights into the nitty-gritty of the sport and its principals.  Moore once again demonstrates he is part-master conversationalist, part-confessor figure and part-incisive inquisitor. He makes his subjects feel so at ease that they reveal previously unreported telling details that fully bring to life and illuminate the stories he is writing about.

While "Slaying the Badger" concentrated solely on one race, the 1986  Tour de France won by Greg LeMond, "Étape" devotes a chapter each to twenty significant stages of The Tour de France between 1971 and 2012.  Moore declines to go any further back, as the crux of his book are his penetrating interviews, knowing how fascinating it was for him and his readers when he was able to sit down with Hinault and LeMond and others in his previous book, resulting in a captivating and incisive understanding of the first of LeMond's three Tour wins.  

LeMond and Hinault are involved in four of the twenty stages recounted here, but none from 1986, since he already so thoroughly covered it.  The 1989 time trial when LeMond overcame a fifty second deficit to Laurent Fignon on the final stage to win by eight seconds, the closest Tour ever, was one of the obvious choices to include in the book.  Likewise was the 1992 stage to Sestriere dramatically won by Claudio Chiappucci, holding off a fast-charging Miguel Indurain.   

That 1992 stage was also noteworthy for LeMond finishing fifty minutes back.  He was one of eighteen riders who missed the time cut, eliminating him from The Race.  Just two years before LeMond had won The Tour.  This was one of the early indicators of the advent of EPO into the peloton.  Moore doesn't bring up drugs when he interviewed the flamboyant Chiappucci sitting on a couch in his villa surrounded by pillows adorned with his face and trophies and trinkets and photographs of himself, including one with the Pope.  He did ask him, though, if he felt sympathy for LeMond.  Not one bit.  He still harbored ill will to him after their battle in the 1990 Tour, won by LeMond.

Moore is such a respected writer Lance Armstromg agreed to be interviewed by him as long as he stuck to the two stages he wanted to talk about for the book--his first Tour stage win in 1995 after the death of his teammate Fabio Casartelli and the stage in 2003 when he was dragged down by a boy's musette bag in the Pyrenees.  But Armstrong felt so comfortable with Moore when he visited him in Austin, even driving with him to a golf course, that he brought up his antagonism towards Travis Tygaart, the investigator who brought him down, and his many haters.

Armstrong was most frank, providing one of many superb interviews.  He described Casartelli as very jovial and fun-loving, and added, "He didn't act like all the other Italians.  He was less serious, he whined a lot less.  A lot of the other Italian guys, I always considered them to be whiners."  

During his long breakaway on the 18th stage of the 1995 Tour, his team director Hennie Kuiper kept driving up to him to tell him how far ahead he was of his pursuers, as this was before the introduction of radios to the peloton.  Armstrong didn't want to be told and grew irritated.  "Hennie was kind of an annoying guy anyway," Armstrong told Moore, "but finally I told him, 'Hennie, don't come up here again.  They're not going to catch me."

Moore was able to include Shelley Verses, one of his favorite interviews from his earlier book.  She was the first female soignieur in the European peloton in the 1980s, causing quite a stir.  She was the masseus for Jean-Francois Bernard during the 1987 Tour that he lost to Stephen Roche.  He fell out of Yellow on the 19th stage in the Alps. After he crossed the line four minutes after Roche, he fell into the arms of Verses in tears.  Even on the massage table later he was still crying.  "Every time a tear came out of his eye, I just dabbed," she recounted.  Verses, who was briefly married to Phil Andersen, is a great wealth of fascinating details.  Moore should make his next book her biography.  He got a good start on it with a nine-page profile of her for Rouleur magazine.

Bernard's weren't the only tears in "Étape."  Chiappucci admitted he was cracking and nearly in tears on his breakaway to Sestriere.  Fignon said he cried for the first time since he was a child on the podium in 1989 after losing to LeMond.  And LeMond acknowledged tears during the 1989 Giro when he was struggling, yet to regain his form after his shooting accident two years earlier.  After losing seventeen minutes on one stage he called his wife in tears and told her, "I can't do this any more.  Get ready to sell everything."   But the tears were the emotional release he needed.  He finished second on the final time trial and realized that there was hope and that he might have a chance in the upcoming Tour, which he went on to win.

Two chapters are devoted to Mark Cavendish, a notorious crier.  Moore describes him as "highly sensitive, he would burst into tears and declare his love for his teammates."  One of the stages in the book describes his struggles climbing the Tourmalet in last place accompanied by his teammate Bernie Eisel, who is prodding him to make the time cut.  Cavendish is pissed at him and they ride parallel to each other on opposite sides of the road, not even drafting.  Cavendish tosses aside his radio and sunglasses to eliminate weight to seemingly make it easier.

Cavendish refers to the series of cols he had to cross that day as the "Ring of Fire."  Moore correctly identifies it as the "Circle of Death."  He also corrects Hinault for saying he never rode Paris-Roubaix again after he won it in 1981.  Hinault hated riding the cobbles and boycotted the race.  Enough chiding made him go and do it proving he could win it and be done with it.  He likes to say he never rode it again, as he tells Moore.  But Moore points out he rode it again the year after winning it and finished ninth, something he would prefer to forget.  

As thorough and knowledgeable as Moore is, he's not immune to mistakes.  He wrote that when LeMond first met Armstrong, he told him he looked like a soccer player.  Moore is English, and he must have been confused, knowing the rest of the world refers to soccer as football.  Armstrong had a bigger upper body than most cyclists from his years as a swimmer and triathlete before focusing on cycling.  To LeMond he had the physique of a football player.

Moore includes a rest day as one of his stages so he can interview and tell the story of the Swiss rider Urs Zimmerman, who wrote a semi-autobiographical, obscure novel, "In the Crosswind," about a cyclist contending with depression. He had an aversion to flying, so rather than joining all the other riders on a transfer flight during the 1991 Tour, he drove several hundred miles with the team mechanics.  It was mandated that all riders fly on the same plane, so none could have the advantage of traveling by private jet.  His drive was actually more draining than flying, but The Tour authorities kicked him out of The Race for breaking the rules.  The peloton protested, and he was reinstated.

A chapter on Eddie Merckx focuses on three stages during his 1971 Tour battle with Luis Ocana.  Moore reveals that Ocana named his dog Merckx, so he could accustom himself to being in command of a Merckx.  It didn't work.  His lone Tour win came in 1973 when Merckx wasn't competing.  Moore only had Merckx to interview, as Ocana is no longer alive, so dug up the dog story from another source.  

Both Armstrong and Bobby Julich speak with great respect and affection for Jan Ullrich.  Julich finished third in the 1998 Tour, just behind Ullrich. Pantani won the overall and cemented his victory on stage fifteen in the Alps, another of Moore's choices for his book.  When Pantani attacked on the Galibier, he turned around and  looked back with a smile on his face that Julich said he'll never forget.  Earlier in The Race, Julich had admired the watch Ullrich was wearing, a Tag Heuer.  Ullrich told him he had an extra and to come around his room and he could have it.  Julich never did, even though Ullrich reminded him several times more.  In Paris after The Race Ullrich saw him once again in the lobby of his hotel and told him to wait and ran up to his room for the watch.

Moore tells a similar heart-warming story about David Millar in his chapter on the stage Millar won in the 2012 Tour.  During another Tour Moore noticed Millar giving a gendarme a team jersey after a stage outside the Garmin bus just as Christian Vande Velde did for me in Corsica.  Millar told Moore that the gendarme had shepherded him through the crowds clearing the way on a stage when he had had a bad day and was way behind everyone else. He greatly appreciated his efforts, helping him make the time cut.  

Hardly a page passes without such untold, insightful glimpses into the world of professional cycling.  There is not a better book on cycling than "Slaying the Badger."  I can't recommend it highly enough.  And this book is a very worthy companion to it.


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