Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Herbie & Laurent

In a bid to research for my book I have been getting my way through a good few more cycling books than usual, the highlight of this so far has turned out to be Herbie Sykes’ The Eagle of the Cantavese while the real disappointment has been the newly translated We were young and carefree by Laurent Fignon.

Herbie actually sent me his book a while ago as I had been pestering him with a few writing related questions, I figured I was on to a winner when the first things he did was recommend I read American Pastoral and quote Kurt Vonnegut. Most cycling writers I come across give you the impression they are just failed riders who enjoyed English G.C.S.E (some, the better ones, even admit to that).

Where Herbie’s book looks for all the stories, the tales, the lives and the details of his subject, Fignon just seems to breeze through all this, trying simply (and failing in my mind) to prove that he was actually a great champion who was dealt more than his fair share of bad luck. Maybe this is really what it looks like through a champion’s eye, but in not taking into account his audience, he simply comes across as more arrogant than I imagined and totally lacks any humility.

I see Fignon as a man who had a chip on his shoulder, then lost the Tour and found that chip became a dent; the thing is - I’m not so sure that I need to hear about it. There are many many hard luck stories in cycling, a quick leaf through the lives of many of the post-war Italian cyclists that appear in Herbie’s book is testament to that, but I think it really is the way you tell ‘em.

The good bits of course, of Fignon’s book, are the revelations about the Columbian riders importing coke into Europe in their frames and ‘handing it out by the bag-load’ after Lucho Herrera’s win in the 1986 Tour of Spain, and how while racing in Columbia the entire Renault Elf team rode the last stage after knocking back a gram each.

Both these books are adherent to the trend in cycling books to be historical and really focus on a bygone eras for cycling, and both of them seem to lament those epochs passing. It reminds me of something I read in Kurt Vonnegut’s marvellous little volume A Man Without a Country (which, I think is worth a read every few months or so as it is the closest I think anyone has ever come to explaining what it’s all about) that;

‘There have never been any ”Good Old Days,” there have just been days’.

And of course coming as it does from the mind of Vonnegut that quote rings true. I can be guilty of this kind of rose tinted viewing of bygone eras in cycling. Looking through my own blogs and writings I can really see why I was so attracted to what I thought Fignon would have to say. I saw him as the last bastion of the ‘old ways’ of cycling, as, it turns out did he, claiming that his loss in the 1989 Tour was the moment cycling changed forever, from a bespoke trade and tradition of ‘winners’ to a factory made assembly line of ‘earners’.

But then, I go back to Herbie’s book and I can here the same things being said by the elderly Italian pros, that things changed forever after that time, and (obviously) got a lot worse. To be honest riding in either era looked bloody horrible in certain respects, and completely unstable financially, as well as downright dangerous.

So, note to self while I go through the thought process in creating the shape of my book, avoid telling everyone that things changed for the worse when Lance won the Tour (that was where I had my personal marker for the shift between one cycling world and another) and focus more on just what happened in those days, that were neither good, nor bad, but just simply days.

No comments:

Post a Comment