END OF SEASON 2021 CYCLE RACING RETROSPECTIVES
Title: The Road Book 2021
Editor: Ned Boulting
Publisher: The Road Book Ltd
Date: November 2021
Reviewed by Richard Peploe
Title: Racing in the time of the Super-Teams
Editor: Will Fotheringham
Publisher: YouCaxton Publications
Date: November 2021
Reviewed by Richard Peploe
This time last year I was commenting on how theroadbook.co.uk/ The Road Book had done a good job of producing their third edition in difficult circumstances; I also noted that La Course en Tete’s ‘Racing in the time of Covid’ was a welcome addition to help make sense of the unusual season. Here we are again with similar thoughts – just with all the challenges and disruption dialled down a bit.
La Course en Tete returns with short analyses of the key discussion points from a more normal season of racing, most of which have previously appeared on their lacourseentete.com/ website: The Road Book continues to provide cycling with the sort of chronicle that few sports achieve - other than Wisden does for cricket.
Once again, a wealth of high-quality journalists feature in both works, supported by a small selection of relevant images. They have done an impressive job of producing the books so soon after the season ended, no doubt spurred on by the importance of Christmas to the book market – especially for any ‘year in review’ offering.
Although people’s lives have continued to be disrupted by Covid-19 during 2021, many things returned to something closer to normal: cycle racing was one of those things, to such an extent that La Course en Tete decided to call this year’s book ‘Racing in the time of the Super-Teams’ - rather than reference Covid again in a year when most of the important races not only took place, but took place at their usual time.
One of the few significant events to have a date change was Paris-Roubaix: unwelcome though the change may have been, the grim autumn weather made sure that both events were memorable, and made for great viewing. That’s the first time I have been able to say ‘both events’, because the even bigger news was that for the first time ever there was an event for women.
Looking at how each book covers that race perfectly illustrates what each has to offer: recognising that “it is hard to stress the importance of this race”, The Road Book gives a brief event report and the bare statistics of this new arrival. Winner Lizzie Deignan then has the chance to tell us more in her contribution to an illuminating chapter called ‘In the winners’ words’; no doubt written once the significance of her victory had sunk in, she recognises that “the moment was bigger than me.”
This blends very nicely with the more traditional coverage from La Course en Tete, entitled “A mud-soaked masterclass from Lizzie Deignan.” Not surprisingly there are some very similar comments from Deignan, including less rehearsed quotes from the post-race interviews, ending with “I’m so proud I can say I’m the first ever winner.” It’s the same story throughout the season, with each book complementing the other by offering something different and worthwhile.
Just as it might have been better to refer to 2020 as ‘a’ year of Covid rather than ‘the’ year, so I would have called 2021 a year of Super-Teams: as Fotheringham notes, “cycling has had super-teams before, but not on this scale.” Most people would immediately think he was referring to men’s trade teams such as Jumbo-Visma or Ineos, but he points out that the Dutch women’s team was just as relevant, although they only came together for races held under national colours.
Two of those occasions were the World Championships and the Olympics, and in both events the Dutch team failed to capitalise on their strengths. La Course en Tete gives under-dog Anna Kiesenhofer the credit that she deserves for seizing the opportunity to win the women’s Olympic road race, whereas most other coverage focussed on the “failure of the Dutch squad.” I welcome that slightly different view, which reminds us that even the best are fallible.
Similarly, I like The Road Book’s ability to produce information that you would have a hard job finding on Google, such as determining the dominant colour in professional cycling kits over recent years: to save you the trouble of trying, it’s been white recently, taking over from reds and blues.
Or how about knowing how far from a Lidl store the Deceuninck-Quickstep team were at each of their victories – prompted by the supermarket being a co-sponsor? Apparently, it was as little as 300 metres. Who comes up with these ideas?
Both books are still in the early stages of what I hope will be long and successful runs, and each has found their own place in the market. No doubt there’s going to be plenty to write about next year, although with some events (such as the Tour Down Under) being postponed or cancelled already it might not always be exactly the sort of talking points that we want.