Books Featured Reviews

Domestique, The True Life Ups and Downs of a Tour Pro

domestique Charly WegeliusThe domestique. You’ve seen them. In the pack, working away. But possibly those who casually watch the big road races or dip in and out of coverage of the likes of the Tour de France consider riders hung back in the peleton as merely the ‘also rans’; tough riders, no doubt, but simply without the gift or grit of Wiggins, Contador, Nibali, et al. Not so – or at least a massive oversimplification of affairs – as the domestique is a very special breed of rider and one man who knows every detail of their life is Charly Wegelius. A professional for more than a decade with some 14 Grand Tours to his credit, Wegelius’s book Domestique, The True Life Ups and Downs of a Tour Pro lays bare the true struggle of life on the circuit and demystifies much of cycling’s inner machinations.


In his opening chapter, Prologue (natch), Wegelius says. ‘What is it to be a great cycling champion, I will never know. What I can tell you is what it is to race bicycles for a living’. And so he does, but this is typically self-deprecating – possibly just modest – of Wegelius. A ‘great cycling champion’, perhaps not by strict definition, but a great Domestique? Absolutely.


One of the finest achievements of this book is in defining the role of the domestique – ‘…to protect a rider from the wind, fetching food, clothing and information from the car… to manipulate, or force, the shape of a race to change it in favour of his leader.’ At times this seems almost mundane, workmanlike, but Wegelius, with equal measure of wit and wisdom, helps the reader understand what it takes to perform this invaluable role; what it takes to be an athlete of dedication and physical prowess the likes of which us mere mortals can only dream of, but to be denied, by definition of the job, the real shot at glory.    


Of course the book is also a biographical progression from cycle-mad kid in York, to driven youth and seasoned professional, and helping Wegelius’s story maintain shape and structure is co-author Tom Southam, once a pro himself, now known for his journalism in the sport. But Southam’s hand is appropriately subtle and it’s Wegelius’s tale and more importantly his ‘voice’ (with all its earthy profanities) that is allowed to shine through.


But wait. Will those looking for titillation and scandal on the drugs-front be disappointed? Is it even possible to write a cycling book – particularly one focused on the opening decade of the 21st century – to eschew a mention of doping? Of course not: part of the scene, but this is not an exposé (is there even anything left to expose?); Wegelius sets out his stall from the off: he doesn’t deny the scale of abuse but chooses not to make it his focus.


Wegelius balances humour with brutal reality (‘forget the glamour, welcome to the shitty, true life ups and downs of a tour cyclist’); entertainingly written without feeling obliged to turn to the salacious – a refreshing approach to cycling books. Domestique, The True Life Ups and Downs of a Tour Pro, Ebury Press (ISBN-10: 0091950937) is currently out in hardback at £16.99 (Kindle £9.29) with the paperback edition due February 2014. Buy online at


Books Featured Reviews

Tour de France 100th Race Anniversary Edition

tdf2013_book_largeOf course there are no end of books on various aspects of the Tour de France and numerous biographies of those you have ridden it to fill in the more personal (often painful) minutiae. But now, thanks to publishers Quercus, comes a book as rich and beguiling as the race itself. Tour de France 100th Race Anniversary Edition, authored by Françoise Laget, Gilles Montgermont, Serge Laget and Philippe Cazaban is an enormous volume that pulls off the seemingly impossible trick of being both concise and suitably detailed in turn.


Covering the birth of the TdF before dedicating a page per race through the subsequent one hundred editions, it includes overviews that capture the agony and ecstasy along with brief stats, such as final standings, total distances, average winner speed and map, all of which helps contextualise things. But this, perhaps, is not the book’s strongest selling point (excellent though the prose are) as Tour de France 100th Race Anniversary Edition is also a stunningly illustrated visual history with more than 250 photographs and illustrations – many previously unpublished – which elevates this beyond a ‘mere’ history.


Those that think they know the TdF are likely to find bountiful nuggets of archaic and obscure information here and the photographs will continue to captivate long after this year’s winner reaches the Champs-Élysées. As a written history, with substantial sidebars, this book is near perfect; as a collectable coffee table picture book it is unsurpassed.


Tour de France 100th Race Anniversary Edition is published by Quercus (ISBN-10: 1782064141) and worth every penny of the £30 cover price. Available from, amongst others,



Books Featured Reviews

Bradley Wiggins: Tour de Force

Bradley Wiggins: Tour de Force by John Deering - Team SkyHard to move without bumping into another book on Bradley Wiggins – his autobiography, My Time, is out, as is an update of his In Pursuit of Glory, and the official Team Sky’s 21 Days to Glory. Then there are the books Richard Moore, Daniel Friebe, Press Association Sports, et al. Britain’s first ever Tour de France winner and Olympic hero is certainly proving a gift to publishers… We have to assume the collective noun for these is ‘a peloton’ and amongst this bunch we find Bradley Wiggins: Tour de Force by John Deering, a regular contributor to Eurosport’s cycling coverage, Procycling and The Official Tour de France Guide. The fact that Deering has arguably nabbed the best title for his book reveals something of the tabloid headline nature of his book, but where it succeeds is in perfectly balancing biographic history with a virtual day-by-day account of Wiggins’ 2012 Tour de France battle, thus splicing together several of the other viral titles available.


Deering pulls off his trick by alternating chapters between breathless present tense details of the TdF with stories of Wiggins’ childhood and rise through the ranks. Whilst the latter is really better detailed in Wiggins’ own books and words, Deering’s blow-by-blow of the Tour is both evocative and perfect for those looking to learn more about the machinations of team tactics and minutiae of life on the road. If you can forgive the tabloidisms (‘He kisses the podium girls with the relaxed confidence of a former lover’) then Tour de Force is a rewarding read that ranks amongst the best on its subject.


Bradley Wiggins: Tour de Force by John Deering is published by Birlinn Ltd, £12.99 RRP paperback (ISBN-10: 1780271034) and £8.15 Kindle Edition. Available from


Books Reviews

Road to Valour

Gino Bartali was born into near poverty in rural Italy on the eve of the First World War, yet rose to become one of the greatest names in European cycling, winning the Giro three times – 1936, 1937 and 1946 – and the Tour de France twice, first in 1938 and again in 1948 (the largest ever gap between TdF wins.) But this is not the only focus of ‘Road to Valour’, written by brother and sister Aili and Andres McConnon, because Bartali was also a war hero, secretly aiding the Italian Resistance and in so doing becoming a national hero…


The full title of the book is the exhaustingly long ‘Road to Valour: Gino Bartali: Tour de France Legend and Italy’s Secret World War Two Hero’ and here, we feel, the problems begin (not least because Cyclo never trusts a title with more than one colon…)


The McConnons recount the story in minute detail; ten years of research calling on first hand interviews with family members and team mates and dialogue culled from newsreels, papers and Bartali’s own writing. They are at pains to point out that the book is not a work of fiction; an ascertain they probably feel obliged to make because their often florid prose reads like an historic novel of lurid proportions. Their manner is likely to divide readers; a Marmite style that will either carry you along with the drama or distract you in an avalanche of over-wrought phrases and laboured similes. The fact that the book really falls between two stalls (outright drama and serious academic history) is never more evident than in the approach they take to footnoting their text – more than 50 pages of suffix notes are contained but not a single one is easily approached because none are referenced in the main body, leaving you trying blindly to find out where a quote or fact may have come from. It smacks, in short, of uncertainty.


A shame then as Bartali’s story is a fascinating and, indeed, important one. As a cyclist few have equalled his meteoric rise (certainly in the face of such social and political adversity), and as a war hero – a sort of Italian Oskar Schindler if you will – his bravery and moral integrity are truly inspirational. If you can get beyond the McConnon’s bombastic hyperbole an excellent read lays beneath.


‘Road to Valour: Gino Bartali: Tour de France Legend and Italy’s Secret World War Two Hero’ (phew!) is published by W&N, £20.00 RRP hardback (ISBN-10: 0297859994) and £10.99 Kindle Edition. Available from


Books Reviews

Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike

Published in hardback in March this year, and due in paperback soon, Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike by William Fotheringham looks deep into the psyche of the cyclist who, for many, is the best there has ever been.


One of the key factors that support the publisher’s guff about Merckx being ‘to cycling what Ali is to boxing’…is the numbers. Quoted as a total of 445 victories in the publicity material but as ‘over 500’ and 525 by sources as diverse as the Guardian and Wikipedia. We’d suggest that if you are pinning your story on statistics at least get them right…


What isn’t in dispute is that Merckx won more races than any cyclist in history; five Tour de France, five Giros d’Italia, one Vualta a Espana and three world championships. Possibly the greatest achievement was to win, uniquely, the yellow (Overall Winner), green (Best Sprinter) and polka-dot (King of the Mountains] jerseys in a single Tour (1969).


Fotheringham, one of the most entertaining of cycling writers, provides interesting historical and political background to the two sides of Belgium and the rich traditions of Flanders cycling. His biographies of Tom Simpson (Put me back on my Bike) and Fausto Coppi (Fallen Angel) may be much more thrilling but, in part, that’s because both characters were flawed and met with personal tragedy. Because Merckx was relentlessly successful and focused the catalogue of rides and wins impresses rather than fascinates.


However, what Fotheringham does provide, as always, is a compelling opening chapter that takes you to the heart of the book – Merckx, near the end of his career, fighting for a futile third place finish on a brutal Alpine pass, with a jaw that was broken in two places just that morning. He also presents a rider who always attacked, the first rider to dominate the classics and the tour, day after day. Interviewed by Fotheringham in 1997 Merckx answered the key questions posed in the book: ‘Why the years of focus? Why the need to win so often and so much?’ Merckx replied with a simple soundbite: ‘Passion, only passion.’


Fotheringham suggests it all starts with a sensitive Flemish youngster, an outsider who spoke French, and one who was, in a community where cycle racing was key to the culture, ‘too small to win’. It was this fear of failure that led him at times to pursue the needless annihilation of his rivals.


If the background and the cycling action are well researched and detailed one aspect has been widely critised: to some, Fotheringham ‘takes a bucket of whitewash to Merckx’s use of performance enhancing drugs’. Merckx was said to be distraught early in his career when he realised that professional cycling was ‘rotten to the core’ yet still went on to be caught doping three times. Whatever your views on that issue this book is yet another quality title from Fotheringham; a fascinating story of, by any measure, the greatest competitive cyclist of them all.


Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike by William Fotheringham is published by Yellow Jersey – ISBN-10: 0224074482 – available from, amongst others,


Books Reviews


Gold by Chris CleaveChris Cleave’s latest novel Gold (Cyclo dares you not to burst spontaneously into Spandau Ballet) is set against a backdrop of Olympic Cycling with best friends/bitter rivals Kate and Zoe vying not only for the eponymous medal but, to an extent, the love of good husband/bad-boy Jack.


Cleave, already a well established and successful author (Little Bee, Incendiary), works hard here in capturing both the heartache and dedication that becoming a top-flight athlete involves – he took up and became addicted to the buzz of cycling in the process – but despite providing an imagined glimpse behind the curtain Gold pulls more in the direction of heavy-handed melodrama. Kate and Zoe are thinly sketched opposite sides of the same coin – meaning that neither elicit sympathy nor or cheers on the track – whilst both love interest Jack and grizzled old coach Tom are crashing clichés. Worse still, the use of a (potentially) terminal ill child as a plot device is so crushingly manipulative that it quite unbalances any momentary equilibrium achieved elsewhere in the plotting.


Cleave has done his homework and writes, at times, with impressive detail about the minutiae of cycling and the bikes themselves, but then applies the same descriptive techniques to things like kitchen worktops; which makes the whole process seem somewhat fetishistic. Purely as a wordsmith he sometimes shines; his description of the velodrome as ‘(the) gladiator’s arenas, encircled by the roaring crowd, where human speed and human loneliness were contained so that they might be witnessed’ is wonderfully lyrical – but the thrill of the drama that can unfold within these World or Olympic level arenas are never matched by the Mills and Boon relationships that he explores here.


Cyclo had expected great (or at least good) things from Gold. Cleave is a respected author and the backdrop of pro cycling had seemed an alluring prospect, but in reality watching a handful of rain-drenched Sunday warriors at play at a local track provides abundantly more thrills than this book.


Gold by Chris Cleave is published by Sceptre – ISBN-10: 0340963433. Available, amongst other places, from


Books Reviews Tech


When the original (paper would you believe?) edition of ‘Cyclepedia – A Tour of Icon Bicycle Design’ was published last year by Thames and Hundson we snapped up a copy here at Cyclo – spending hours poring over the delicious images and wishing we could start our own vintage/classic bike museum. Imagine our delight then at the release of the interactive iPad edition, and what a thing of beauty it is – as sumptuous and desirable as the bikes it covers.


The 100 bikes covered in the digital version – everything from the Skoot to the Lotus Sport 110 – are beautifully illustrated and supported by 360º ‘spinnable’ models with detailed close-ups of components and hundreds of pages of original brochure and promotion material, engineering sketches and far more besides.


Arguably there are some omissions (this being slimmed down from the print edition) but Cyclo feels this is more than adequately made up for by the wealth of interactive swiping and tapping available – our favourites being the animated fold-ups that can eat up hours of what would otherwise have been productive time.


As an overview of the evolution of cycling the app works wonderfully and the ability to reorder and catalogue content adds a personal touch that’s hard to beat. £6.99 is a price that at first seems steep for an app, but as the iPad continues to evolve as a means of content delivery it’s really time to start thinking in terms of coffee-table book comparisons (the print edition will cost you double). Buy it, play with it. Love it.


For further details see:


And while you’re there don’t forget to drop by and pick up a copy of the Cyclo app too:


Books Reviews

Racing Through the Dark

Although subtitled ‘The Fall and Rise of David Millar’ this excellent book in fact follows a far more rollercoaster route than that simplistic linear trajectory might suggest. Opening with the one-time cycling hero at the lowest possible point: alone in a cell and with his personal and professional life in tatters with room only for reflection. And reflection is what this memoir serves up by the spade load.


It could be easy to dismiss a book quite this painfully honest and, at times brutal in its examination of the world of pro cycling, as nothing more than an exercise in personal confession and by extension cathartic cleansing. That, though, could be rather reductive (despite the fact that Millar is confessing all) because the arguments that he puts forward about the dangers – and considerable advantages of – doping within professional sports are powerfully put and he is clearly not afraid of exploring the grey areas that even those of a ‘black and white’ disposition when it comes to cheating should be forced to admire.


In interview Millar can come across as both intense and somewhat humourless and it’s accurate to say that both those characteristics apply to Racing Through the Dark. That’s not to say that it isn’t thoroughly entertaining – it’s absolutely riveting at times – just don’t expect too many laughs along the way. Some have accused Millar of being naïve in his expectations of future TdF riders competing ‘clean’ but its more a case of him (genuinely we think) hoping that this could be the case. Andy why not? If anyone can articulate the (very) highs of pro cycling whilst also illuminating the darkest corners, it’s Millar.


This is not only one of the best cycling or sports books of the year, but one of the best books period.


Racing Through the Dark: The Fall and Rise of David Millar is published by Orion (ISBN-10: 1409114945) with an RRP of £18.99 – available from