The Road Book 2022
Title: The Road Book 2022
Editor: Ned Boulting
Publisher: The Road Book Ltd
Date: November 2022
Reviewed by Richard Peploe
All images courtesy of Sean Hardy
Fans of our sport are often in limbo at this time of year: one road season has ended, and the start of the next is still a few weeks away. Fortunately, there are a few regular events that can anchor us to our favourite activity: perhaps the ‘best’ road bike is put into hibernation, and the mudguard-friendly winter bike is unleashed - or maybe you have to develop an interest in track cycling and cyclo-cross?
Since 2018 enthusiasts have had a new tradition to tide them over the lull in sporting activity: the publication of The Road Book. Describing itself as a ‘Cycling Almanack’, it is a substantial book, providing a very thorough summary of the season of cycle racing. Obviously not everyone will be interested in such old school technology in an increasingly digital environment, but those that understand the appeal will welcome the arrival of the fifth edition.
We have reviewed previous editions, in 2020 and 2021 ; these were accompanied by reviews of a complementary book by La Course en Tête. Unfortunately, that won’t be the case this year, as the latter hasn’t made it to a third edition.
The Road Book hasn’t strayed far from its proven formula, which ensures that it is all reassuringly familiar, whilst at the same time being completely new – as it is every year.
As you would expect, the majority of the pages are taken up with race results and team profiles, providing more statistics than any normal person could ever want. For me those pages are there for future reference, rather than something to be digested now. I always appreciate the tactile sensation of a high-quality book when looking back at a previous year - although there is a tendency to become distracted by other interesting lines of enquiry. Still, that’s never really a hardship, is it?
For me, it’s the other pages that are of more immediate benefit – and greatly increase the appeal of the book. Everyone will have their own favourites. It may not be the 31 images though: whilst they are as good a representation of the season as you will find anywhere, most of them are the same or similar to one’s you will have already seen during the year.
By contrast, whereas the names of many of those who have written for the book may be familiar, you won’t have seen their contributions anywhere else. Editor Ned Boulting’s excellent encapsulation of the season is always a highlight, and those race winners who describe their big day ‘in their own words’ always expand on what has been said in interviews earlier in the year.
The obituaries are a necessary inclusion, even if rarely a welcome one, and the various long-form essays scattered throughout the book are always worth your time. However, the most satisfying pages may well be the ‘Infographics’: hiding in plain sight throughout the book (but not listed in the contents), you have to search them out. Your reward is often some useful information presented in a semi-graphical form for brevity and clarity – such as that old favourite of the number of kilometres spent in breakaways during the Grand Tours.
Another regular feature is the Riders of the Year Awards, voted for by an impressive calibre of judges. There was pretty good consensus over the main award winners this year: not only did Annemiek van Vleuten and Remco Evenepoel receive two awards each from The Road Book, those two were also the main winners of the prestigious Vélo d’Or awards from Vélo magazine – and they took the top two places in the International rider award from Cycling Weekly magazine. Nothing contentious there, then.
There has been some debate as to the validity of having a Young Person’s award in races (eg White jersey), because these days the youngsters are often taking the overall prize as well. Taking the initiative, The Road Book have dropped the category of Best Young Male Rider. Instead, they have taken a decision that races would do well to adopt, and have an award for Best Veteran Male Rider: step forward 36-year-old Geraint Thomas.
However, in an inconsistent move, they didn’t apply the same logic to the women’s peloton. It was the right decision: not to do so would have resulted in the 40-year-old Van Vleuten taking a third award, but deprived 18-year-old Zoe Bäckstedt of a win. Bear in mind that she managed to hold four (junior) world-titles concurrently, across different disciplines. They couldn’t ignore that.
Women’s cycling moved closer to achieving the coverage and support that it deserves this year, which is reflected in the book. Understandably, there is a limit to what can be achieved when the number of female riders (and races for them) is so much less than it is for males. Although quantity may be limited, quality is not: Boulting notes that “for many Road Book readers, the Tour de France Femmes produced the most memorable days of racing over the course of the entire year.” I agree: now we just need fuller media coverage to do it justice.
The Road Book still costs the same as when it first launched – so (in the unlikely event of it being included in the Office of National Statistics’ ‘basket of goods’) it won’t have done anything to increase the rate of inflation. Of course, £50 is still a lot of money for a book, but (at least on my bookcase) it is no longer quite such an unusual price, as a few other publications have now caught up as prices increase.
When reviewing the very first edition for another website, I expressed regret that such an annual wasn’t around when I first started following the sport. The Road Book team can’t invent a time machine to remedy that – but they are doing the next best thing: as of next spring they are retrospectively constructing Road Books for previous years. It will be interesting to see which year (or years) they start with, and how closely they can follow The Road Book’s successful format.
There’s not long between the last race of the season and Christmas, so The Road Book team have to work fast to have the new edition ready in time for the commercially important ‘gifting season’. Fortunately, they have managed it again, so the challenge of knowing what present to buy a certain type of cyclist has been solved.