The Fabulous World of Cycling

Posted on
Photographs: Jonathan Briggs

We have too many books in our house. They spill off their shelves to form untidy piles on the floor, like literary stalagmites. From time to time a purge is necessary, and on one such occasion I made a discovery that took me back 30 years. Time collapsed. I was 11 again and just beginning to fall in love with cycling. The madeleine that sparked this Proustian moment? Five dusty books, lost beneath a stack of novels, untouched for years. Along the spine of each book ran the legend ‘The Fabulous World of Cycling’.
Between 1983 and 1991, Winning Magazine published a series of annual books, reviewing the season just finished. The format was simple. Half the book was given to one-day Classics, half to stage races. For each race there were glossy photographs, a summary of how the race unfolded, and a question and answer session between the magazine’s editor and Eddy Merckx. When I was given the first of my five books I was barely aware of Merckx, but for Winning he was, of course, the star turn.
The various editors asked this supreme pundit about everything from how to descend the Poggio to how to stay warm during Het Volk and the financial attractions of competing in the Tour de Suisse. Much of the time Merckx seemed disappointed in the peloton of the time – according to him the riders were tactically naive, feverish (as he described 71) or simply lazy. But he is a great analyst and the editors’ questions tease out some fascinating tactical insights. Merckx shows not only the depth of his understanding of the sport, but also of the psychology and physiology of his contemporaries. The great rivalries are explored, as well as the dynamics of teams like Peter Post’s all-conquering Panasonic, and the result is a masterclass in what makes cycling so alluring – that unique blend of heart, head and gut.
The editorial style is endearingly idiosyncratic – sometimes baffling. At the end of the 1986 Milan-Sanremo there is a picture of 71’s wife throwing a fetching white bomber jacket over her husband’s La Redoute jersey, the photograph accompanied by the comment “71 doesn’t seem very disappointed by the outcome of the Primavera. Perhaps he has other appointments to keep”.
What other appointments? A dinner party? And what happened to him in the race? The commentary gives no clue.

Roche and the white bomber jacket
With the benefit of hindsight, the books illuminate how doping was perceived during the ‘80s. When Sean Kelly won the 1984 autumn classic Blois-Chaville in convincing style, the editor, Leon Michaux, wrote how Kelly closed gaps to breakaways “with such ease that everybody marvelled at his strength”, before eulogising about Kelly’s ability and commitment: “Right now, Kelly is one of the best. He’s flying and his superiority keeps him from making mistakes.” On the same page, apparently without irony, there is an image of Kelly looking decidedly sheepish, accompanied by the caption “Kelly has just learned that the tests carried out at the end of Paris-Brussels were positive and that he has been disqualified. The Irishman protested about the conditions in which the control was done and found notably abnormal the fact that so many people had access to the official area.”
In the entry for the 1987 Milk Race, with news of three positive tests during the race, doping takes centre-stage. Rather than brushing the issue aside, as with Kelly three years earlier, this editor engages in a lengthy discussion about this “ugly topic” and concludes that the real question is “not whether the Milk Race organisers were right or wrong but how strict are other race organisers or how rife is drug taking in cycling”.
I wonder if Riccardo Riccò wishes he’d been racing in the mid-‘80s, when the penalty for doping was relegation to last place on the stage, a ten-minute penalty, a one-month suspended sentence and a £500 fine.
Blois-Chaville? Henninger Turm? Zurich Championships? There are races here which once had history and status, but have since disappeared from the calendar. Newer races too, like the Nissan Classic – a race built as a kind of promotional vehicle for Kelly. And the Coors Classic, with its uber-cool red-and-white-striped leader’s jersey. Merckx likes to see races in new territories and is refreshingly honest when it comes to those he dislikes. Top of his list for extinction is Bordeaux-Paris, a monster 580km-race run off behind dernys. He can’t really be bothered to analyse the race, simply saying: “Bordeaux-Paris is, however, a race which ages badly. Those who go there are often riders who have had a bad Spring Classics season or who are looking for a little publicity. This race exists, therefore, as a sort of vestige of old times and I can’t see what could improve the reputation.”

Malcolm Elliott (top left) and ‘King’ Kelly (bottom) at the Nissan
My 11-year-old self didn’t understand doping, nor the tactical nuances of the peloton. In those days before the internet, before cycling made it into newspapers, and before one could watch three hours of coverage of the Tour of the Basque Country on a wet Tuesday afternoon, I devoured any cycling content I could lay my hands on. I read Cycling Weekly cover-to-cover before school every Thursday morning. I hunted down the glossy monthly magazines. But these books felt deeper, more loving of the sport, more sophisticated. They have shaped my vision of cycling, the races I like, my penchant for obscure trade team jerseys. Even the way I ride. To this day, when I’m on the brake hoods and I split my fingers across them, I think of Eric Vanderaerden speeding towards victory in the freezing 1985 edition of the Tour of Flanders.
Our nostalgia for cycling focuses too much on the iconic. We think of the famous Renault jersey, Hinault’s legendary ride through the snow to Liège. But these books remind me of the little things: shiny Benotto handlebar tape, riders with trademark haircuts, the absence of sunglasses, Alexi Grewal eating an apple during the finale of the Olympic road race, aero covers stretched over leather helmets, those blue Patrick shoes Bernard Hinault wore with the first Look pedals.

Who needs gels when you’ve got an apple?
Why do I have such fondness for these books? Because they evoke memories of what I found to love in cycling in the first place – its colour, its drama, its diversity and complexity. But more important than any of that, is the human emotion. That’s what really connected. There is no science here, only pain and joy, anger, disappointment, stoicism. The whole gamut. Perhaps these books taught me a little more than how to hold my handlebars in interesting ways. The world of cycling is indeed fabulous.
From issue 51 of 1 magazine

446 thoughts on “The Fabulous World of Cycling”

  1. Greetings! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could locate
    a captcha plugin for my comment form? I’m using the same blog platform as
    yours and I’m having problems finding one? Thanks a lot!

  2. Hey there! I know this is kinda off topic but I’d figured I’d ask.
    Would you be interested in exchanging links or maybe guest authoring a blog post or vice-versa?
    My website goes over a lot of the same topics as yours and I feel we could greatly benefit from each other.
    If you might be interested feel free to send me an e-mail.

    I look forward to hearing from you! Awesome blog by the way!

  3. Hey there are using WordPress for your site platform?
    I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started and set up
    my own. Do you require any coding expertise to make your own blog?
    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  4. Hello! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any issues with
    hackers? My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and
    I ended up losing several weeks of hard work due to no data backup.

    Do you have any methods to stop hackers?

  5. Very good blog you have here but I was wanting to know if you knew of any message
    boards that cover the same topics discussed here?

    I’d really love to be a part of community where I can get responses from
    other knowledgeable individuals that share the same interest.
    If you have any recommendations, please let me know. Thanks a lot!

  6. Hi there I am so thrilled I found your blog, I really found you by accident, while
    I was looking on Askjeeve for something else,
    Anyhow I am here now and would just like to say thank
    you for a incredible post and a all round enjoyable
    blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t
    have time to look over it all at the moment but I have bookmarked it and also included your RSS feeds, so when I have time I
    will be back to read more, Please do keep up the great job.

  7. I’m impressed, I have to admit. Genuinely rarely should i encounter a weblog that’s both educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you may have hit the nail about the head. Your idea is outstanding; the problem is an element that insufficient persons are speaking intelligently about. I am delighted we came across this during my look for something with this.

  8. Thanks for another wonderful post. The place else may just anybody get that type of info in such a perfect means of writing?
    I have a presentation next week, and I am on the search for such info.

  9. We’re a group of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community.
    Your website provided us with valuable information to work
    on. You’ve done an impressive job and our whole community will be thankful to

  10. My brother recommended I may like this website. He was once entirely right.
    This submit actually made my day. You cann’t imagine simply how so much time I
    had spent for this information! Thanks!

  11. I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you create this website yourself or did you hire someone to do
    it for you? Plz respond as I’m looking to create my own blog and would like to know
    where u got this from. thank you

  12. I’m amazed, I must say. Seldom do I come across a blog that’s equally educative
    and interesting, and without a doubt, you have hit the nail on the head.

    The issue is something which not enough folks are speaking intelligently about.
    I am very happy that I found this during my hunt for something relating to this.

  13. Thanks , I’ve just been looking for information about this subject for ages and yours is the greatest I have discovered
    till now. But, what in regards to the bottom line? Are
    you certain about the supply?

  14. I am sure this paragraph has touched all the internet people,
    its really really pleasant paragraph on building up new website.

  15. Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Thank you so much, However I am
    going through problems with your RSS. I don’t understand the reason why I cannot subscribe to it.
    Is there anybody else having similar RSS problems? Anyone who knows the answer can you kindly respond?

  16. Excellent weblog here! Additionally your web site
    a lot up very fast! What web host are you the use of?

    Can I am getting your associate hyperlink on your host?

    I wish my website loaded up as fast as yours lol

  17. Great site. Lots of helpful info here. I’m sending it
    to a few pals ans additionally sharing in delicious. And naturally, thanks for
    your sweat!

  18. Thanks for ones marvelous posting! I genuinely enjoyed reading it,
    you are a great author. I will be sure to bookmark your blog and will eventually come back
    down the road. I want to encourage you to continue your great work, have a nice weekend!

  19. Link exchange is nothing else however it is only placing the other person’s web site link on your page at
    suitable place and other person will also do same in favor
    of you.

  20. Hi! I know this is kind of off-topic but I needed to ask.
    Does running a well-established blog such as yours take a massive amount work?
    I’m brand new to operating a blog but I do write in my journal every day.

    I’d like to start a blog so I will be able to
    share my personal experience and thoughts online. Please let me know if you have any kind of recommendations or tips
    for new aspiring bloggers. Thankyou!

  21. Status Auto Liker, Auto Liker, Photo Liker, Auto Like, ZFN Liker, Working Auto Liker, Increase Likes, autolike, Autoliker, Autolike, Photo Auto Liker, Autoliker, auto liker, autoliker, auto like, Autolike International, Status Liker

  22. Thanks for some other wonderful article. The place else
    could anybody get that type of info in such a perfect method
    of writing? I’ve a presentation next week, and I am on the search for such information.

  23. I used to be more than happy to search out this net-site.I wanted to thanks for your time for this glorious read!! I undoubtedly enjoying each little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to take a look at new stuff you blog post.

  24. Amazing blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere? A theme like yours with a few simple adjustements would really make my blog jump out. Please let me know where you got your design. Many thanks

  25. This is a good tip particularly to those fresh to the blogosphere.
    Simple but very accurate information… Thank you for sharing this one.
    A must read article!

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published.