CYCLE RACING IN A YEAR OF COVID:
THE ROAD BOOK 2020 & RACING IN THE TIME OF COVID
Title: Racing in the time of Covid
Editor: Will Fotheringham
Publisher: YouCaxton Publications
Date: November 2020
Reviewed by Richard Peploe
Title: The Road Book 2020
Editor: Ned Boulting
Publisher: The Road Book Ltd
Date: December 2020
Reviewed by: Richard Peploe
Most areas of life that have been affected by Covid-19 in some way over the last year or so, but this review covers two books that had a very specific challenge: how to cover a year of sporting activity if there might not be any sport - or a severely disrupted programme?
For most of us some level of leisure cycling has been able to continue, albeit within certain restrictions; however, cycle racing has had an altogether more disorderly year. Spare a thought for The Road Book , which encountered the challenge of Covid-19 in only its third year of publication.
Most people are aware of the annual Wisden publication, which provides a statistical summary of the professional cricket season every year, and is the definitive printed reference work for those who can’t or won’t rely on digital documents. It is an easy cliché to compare The Road Book to Wisden - but I will do it anyway, because there are so many similarities (albeit the latter has a 155-year head start).
However, there is one difference: The Road Book 2020 covers the 2020 season and came out just before Christmas 2020, whereas the next edition of Wisden will be called 2021, but will also cover the 2020 season..
I imagine that The Road Book team spent most of the Spring and Summer able to do little work on the project, apart from worry that a slim booklet might be sufficient to represent the season; however, when racing did restart in August no doubt their work became every bit as intense as the racing, concentrating a lot of activity into little more than three months.
To put it another way, despite losing five key months of the season, the 2020 volume is only about 25% smaller than the previous year. With early-season races for 2021 being cancelled already, it will be interesting to see what we end up with for the next edition.
You can download some representative pages of The Road Book . Just as with Wisden, The Road Book is, however, more than just pages of statistics and analyses that are there to be called upon when necessary: the most obvious is a distillation of great photos to represent the season, where riders outnumber spectators in most of the pictures.
Then there are ‘Riders of the year’ awards, obituaries, and a handful of articles by well-known journalists, authors, and riders. If you want a flavour of these contributions, there are significant extracts on The Road Book’s website . You would expect the professional writers to come up with the goods, but I was particularly impressed by the insights offered by the professional cyclists.
A book like this will only appeal to a certain type of person, and such people are likely to be completists – those who want the full set. Fortunately for them, with this being only the third edition the cost of achieving that is still relatively manageable – especially as there are deals available on the earlier years .
Such were the vicissitudes of the 2020 race season that, when we look back on it in years to come, we might forget some of the twists and turns that lie behind the bare statistics. Fortunately, another book attempts to address that issue: called Racing in the time of Covid from La Course en Tête, it provides “a review of the tumultuous 2020 Road Racing season.”
In the midst of a frantic (and condensed) race season, the website La Course en Tête was a welcome arrival to help make sense of it. Headed up by Will Fotheringham, it provided an outlet for a handful of respected sports writers to provide some long-form journalism. It was not the place for daily race results, and you certainly wouldn’t find lots of ‘click bait’ articles; it was however the place to find considered analysis in a year when unprecedented events were happening at …. well, an unprecedented rate.
A selection of timeless articles has been chosen to appear in print, along with a few specially commissioned pieces to round out the coverage. This does mean that the majority of the writing originally appeared on the website, and is still available to view there - for the time being. The events described may have occurred only a few months ago, but so much has happened since it sometimes feels like ancient history already.
Most of the articles are three or four pages long, which makes it easy to digest the book in manageable chunks. It might be that at some point events will over-take some of what has been written: in the meantime this is as good a way as any to remind ourselves of how the year unfolded, and tells some of the background behind the bare statistics that appear in The Road Book.
The book is available direct from their website , and this will incur a carriage cost; it is also available from a few cycle shops, such as Prendas, Condor Cycles , and Cycle Heaven. You will also see it available on Amazon, where it is available without paying for postage (or on Kindle). However, be aware that this is a slightly different product, provided through the Amazon ‘print on demand’ service, and being black and white it loses the limited amount of colour present in the various illustrations.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, the effect of Covid-19 on racing has not been neatly restricted to one year, so the title of this book really should have been ‘Racing in the time of Covid - volume 1’, to allow for a volume 2 at some point.
These are two very different books about the same year of cycle racing, and they complement each other rather well. In the future, once we are managing life with the virus, there should be a full year of ‘normal’ racing for The Road Book to catalogue – and we will have to accept that a more conventional season might give La Course en Tête writers less opportunity to showcase their talents.
REVIEW PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 2021