9.10.08 by Buffalo Bill
As I mentioned before, I have recently read an excellent book covering the history of cycle racing, called ‘The Sweat of the Gods’, by Dutchman Benjo Maso. If, like me, you are fascinated by road-racing and its history, I recommend this book. It starts by examining the ‘first bicycle race’, held on May 31st 1868, in Paris, and won by Englishman James Moore. Maso points out that not only was the race that James Moore won not even the first race of the day, but that numerous bicycle races had been run before May 31st 1868. And yet the myth of the ‘first bicycle race’ and its winner, persists to this day. This is theme of the book, the gap between the reality of racing, and its legends.
And I was delighted to read the following sentence on page 10:
Bicycle racing became such a craze that Clovis Clere, manager of the Folie Bergeres, not only built a velodrome, in Charenton, but held races on rollers in his nightclub.
The book is slim, but is both well-written, and packs in an astonishing amount of enlightening details, for example demonstrating why Koblet’s famous win on the Brive – Agen stage of the 1951 Tour de France wasn’t the superhuman feat of legend.
Another book I read recently is ‘Sex, Lies and Handlebar Tape’, by Paul Howard. This is a biography of the first rider to win the Tour de France five times, Jacques Anquetil. Anquetil was the first modern cycling super-star, arriving as he did, at the beginning of the TV age. My mother, who grew up in France, remembers him as stunningly handsome, always immaculate of appearance, and possessing the charisma and aura of a movie-star. He also liked a drink, and telling people to naff off and mind their own business. But didn’t like fixed-wheel bikes:
They’re crap. You have to pedal all the time.
And at the beginning of the summer, I read the ‘The Ride’, which is a beautiful collection of short stories and pictures about riding a bicycle. My favourite story is called ‘The Highway Cycle Group’, a reminiscence of childhood rides, but there’s also a piece by Greg Lemond recalling that amazing time-trial in 1989, Vicky Pendleton on match-sprinting and Winston on Rollapaluza. The Ride is produced by the Diprose brothers, and you may recall that Philip made the best film about bicycle messengers ever, called ‘Written in the Streets’. The first 1000 copies of the mag sold out ages ago, but they have gone back to the printers, and you should be able to order a copy of issue 1 from the Ride’s web-site. Issue 2 should be out sometime soon, and will include a piece by Paul Howard on the problems of writing ‘Sex, Lies and Handlebar Tape’.
Less happily, I read yesterday that Boris Johnson is not willing to put up more funding for 20 mph zones in London. Apparently, he wants to save money, and he thinks that 20 mph zones are not a good use of money. He is not convinced that increasing the zones, which apparently cover less than a quarter of Greater London is worthwhile, financially. Doctor Steve Lawson, of the European Road Assessment Programme, estimates that road crashes cost the UK economy 1.5% of Gross Domestic Product, which is a lot of money. Lower speeds mean less crashes (ok, it’s a little bit more complicated than that, but not much), so if you wanted to save money, then surely lowering the speed limits over a greater part of London would make financial sense?