The weekly spin: 10 cycling books for the holiday season
The holidays are a great time for buying and reading books, whether that means curling up on the couch on a cold day with a good read, gift giving, or both.
It’s also a quiet time for the sport of cycling, a perfect opportunity to fill the void with the written (or spoken) word. As picturesque as professional cycling may be, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes that can only be understood through discourse. And for some, it’s preferable to spend a few quiet hours reading about bike adventures, rather than race exploits.
With that in mind, here are 10 cycling books to consider for the upcoming holiday season. Some were published very recently; others were published some time in the past year or so. I can’t claim to have read every page of every book, but I intend to, and I’ve spent enough time with each of them to understand what they’re about.
Some of these books have different publishers, depending on location; when that’s the case, I’ve linked to the original publisher.
Cycling Anatomy: Your Illustrated Guide for Cycling Strength, Speed, and Endurance (2nd edition)
Author: Shannon Sovndal
Publisher: Human Kinetics
Published: June 2019
I don’t spend a lot of time lifting weights — or doing much of any other exercise, other than cycling. I feel like I probably should, especially after thumbing through Cycling Anatomy. Written by a former Garmin-Sharp team physician who is also an emergency physician, firefighter, and sports trainer, the book features illustrated examples of 89 strength and conditioning exercises. Each exercise has an accompanying “Cycling Focus” section, which highlights the muscles involved in cornering, climbing, descending, and sprinting, to explain how that particular exercise will help deliver maximum power to the pedals. If it feels a little like a textbook, that’s because it is; for certified professionals, a companion continuing education exam can be completed after reading the book.
The Beast, the Emperor and the Milkman: A Bone-shaking Tour through Cycling’s Flemish Heartlands
Author: Harry Pearson
Publisher: Bloomsbury Sport
Published: April 2019
There’s nowhere in the world that celebrates professional cycling like Belgium — and specifically the northern region of Flanders. English author Harry Pearson, whose books on cricket and football have received numerous awards, dives into the heart of Flanders and its love affair with bike racing. A blend of reporting, history, and first-person observation, Pearson follows races big and small across the spring of 2017. Along the way he weaves in and out of bars and cafes, cyclocross races, muddy fields, and cobblestone climbs to examine the characters and mythology of Belgian cycling.
Overlander: One Man’s Epic Race to Cross Australia
Author: Rupert Guinness
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Australia
Published: August 2018
A memoir of the 2017 Indian Pacific Wheel Race written by CyclingTips contributor Rupert Guinness, Overlander isn’t a new title; we ran a review of the book when it was published in August 2018. But it’s also not a book stuck in time, with its recurring themes of exploration, self-reflection, relationship dynamics, and ultimately, how we cope with tragedy; in this case, the death of British ultra-endurance figurehead Mike Hall. Because Guinness is both a compelling narrator and a gifted writer, every page bursts with his endearing personality and unique perspective.
British author Peter Cossins has been covering pro cycling since 1993, and has written books centering on the sport’s five Monuments, the iconic climb of l’Alpe d’Huez, and the stories and characters of the inaugural Tour de France. But one aspect of the sport always fascinated him — race craft. Titled Full Gas: How to Win a Bike Race in the UK, and named Cycling Book of the Year by the Telegraph Sports Book Awards, Cossins’ latest work explores the intricacies of tactics inside the pro peloton, which he describes as “chess, at 400 watts.”
With input from pro riders past and present, chapters examine the historical development of race tactics, racing in the wind, sprint lead outs, life in the grupetto, and the art of the breakaway, all serving as a detailed reminder that winning a bike race is as dependent on smarts as it is on good legs.
Ventoux: Sacrifice and Suffering on the Giant of Provence
Author: Jeremy Whittle
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
Published: June 2017
It’s been described as the hardest climb in France. It’s cemented the Tour de France winner the past five times it’s been used. It’s the site of British cyclist Tom Simpson’s death in 1961, less than a kilometer from the summit, and was the setting for the surreal image of Chris Froome running, without his bike, in 2016. It’s also the subject of fascination for British author Jeremy Whittle, cycling correspondent for The Guardian, who spoke with Eddy Merckx, Greg LeMond, Lance Armstrong, Bernard Hinault, and others to fully understand the legendary mountain.
In addition to looking back at some of the historic performances on the Giant of Provence, Whittle also examines how the foothills of Ventoux have become a cycling hotbed, while also detailing the history of plagues and battles that have taken place on its lower slopes.
Nine months after becoming the first American to win the Tour de France, Greg LeMond was in a hospital bed, fighting for his life after a hunting accident. His charmed career as a bike racer appeared to be over. And yet barely two years later, in July 1989, he put together one of the most monumental comebacks in the history of professional sports, winning by just eight seconds in a dramatic time-trial finale. A few months later, he would be crowned world road champion for the second time.
The Comeback, written by American author and journalist Daniel de Visé, chronicles LeMond’s life story, with a focus on how he got through one of the darkest periods in LeMond’s life, and culminating with his feud with another American Tour de France winner, who had a comeback story of his own.
Saving Lucy: A Girl, a Bike, a Street Dog
Author: Ishbel Rose Holmes
Published: October 2018
When British-Iranian adventurer Ishbel Rose Holmes set off to ride her bike across the world in 2014, rescuing stray dogs wasn’t part of the plan. That all changed one afternoon along the coast of Turkey when she met Lucy, who began following her along the journey. Within an hour, and without hesitating, Holmes jumped off her bike to rescue Lucy as she was attacked by four angry dogs. That was the beginning of a deep, reciprocal relationship between two creatures both in need of healing, traveling together for over 1,000 miles to the Syrian border, where Holmes hoped to find her canine friend a new life.
An anonymous pro cyclist dishing on life in the pro peloton? Hey, what a concept!
The Secret Pro has been a successful model for a recurring column here at CyclingTips, and Yellow Jersey Press took the same idea and turned it into a 216-page book. The author, the Secret Cyclist, has ridden for World Tour teams for 10 years, and has achieved top-10 finishes at Grand Tours, so he’s seen a few things. In the book, he shares his views on pro cycling’s pay structure, dealing with equipment sponsors, doping, contracts and agents, crashing, handling the media, retirement, unwritten rules, and much more.
So why all the secrecy?
“Every public aspect of our lives is so tightly controlled that being truly honest is all but impossible in a newspaper interview, never mind a whole book,” he writes. “You try write a warts-and-all blog about your office, and put your name to it. Question how the business is run, make sure you remember to call your boss a moron, and then tell me how it goes.”
From his early days as an awkward junior racer in Colorado, to life in the European peloton and as a teammate of Lance Armstrong’s on the US Postal Service squad, to his post-athletic career as a pro team manager, Jonathan Vaughters has amassed vast experience along the spectrum of professional cycling. It came at a cost; along the way, he sacrificed both his personal ethics and closest relationships in order to pursue his dreams.
Upon salvaging the future of his team in 2017 by ceding ownership to EF Education First, Vaughters separated from his second wife, and was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. He then sat down to write the story of his life in cycling, with the help of cycling writer Jeremy Whittle, owning up to his mistakes and failures in painstaking honesty.
“I wrote this book because I was in the fog of a divorce, in pain, and looking back through the dusty, tattered books of my memories,” Vaughters said. “I realized cycling had defined every fiber of my being, for better and for worse.”
Across the 2015-2018 seasons, Slovakian star Peter Sagan won three consecutive world road titles, as well as the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, and three green jerseys. He was also married, had a child, divorced, and was disqualified from the Tour de France. There’s a lot to unpack there, and in My World, co-written by John Deering, he shares the backstory behind both his victories and disappointments with a light, self-deprecating style.
Sagan is more than a winner, he’s an entertainer, but he usually doesn’t give much away in his media interviews; My World is his opportunity to open up on his terms, though he steers away from truly letting his guard down. As the title implies, it’s a window into Sagan’s world, though perhaps not an open door. Without ever taking a strong position, Sagan shares his perspective on doping in cycling, that Tour de France DQ, his strained relationship with former boss Oleg Tinkov, and his close bonds with team director Patxi Vila, agent Giovanni Lombardi, and brother and teammate, Juraj.