Bicycle racing is an eminently photogenic sport. The raw effort needed, the closeness of riders to each other and to the spectators, along with the relative lack of protective clothing, allow the athletes emotions to be readily captured. Add in the shifting backdrops that the best stage races offer (and the passion that some areas engender) and you have a rock solid recipe for stunning images.
As with the racing itself, changes in camera technologies have allowed new perspectives to be captured and new insights found in this century old sport. But the eternal truths of effort, ecstasy and despair remain constant. Two current books show that this is as true now as it was in the infancy of the Tour de France.
Produced by organisers Welcome To Yorkshire, ‘Two Days in Yorkshire’ by Peter Cossins and Andrew Denton (£35.00, Hardcover) commemorates and celebrates the Tour’s recent 48 hour sojourn in the county for what has been unanimously described as the ‘Grandest Grand Depárt ever’. If we have already agreed that bike racing is photogenic, we also have to say that Yorkshire is very photogenic too and the marriage of the two produces some gorgeous images.
The instantly famous picture of the massive crowd engulfing the riders atop Buttertubs on Stage 1 adorns the front cover but the empty vistas of Starbotton and the snaking roads of Holme Moss also stand out from the excellent offering. Featuring the work of Tim de Waele, Jered & Ashley Gruber and a host of others this is modern Tour photography of the highest order and the end result is a book that never feels as if the material is being stretched to fill a few more pages. Alongside more than 200 images of the race, the route, the riders and the fans’ short but memorable time in the cycling limelight is an insider’s diary by Jersey Pocket friend Andrew Denton who sheds an equally bright light on how the bid to host the Grand Depárt was won in the first place.
Given that high speed film, lightweight cameras, helicopters and a hundred other inventions weren’t available to the early Tour de France snappers, it seems incredible that they managed to capture so much of that raw emotion as is found in Rapha’s repackaged reprint of Philippe Brunel’s ‘Masters and Convicts of the Road’. A fascinating photo and text loveletter to the golden ages of cycling, the retitling of the book to include ‘Kings of Pain’ (£40, Hardcover) – the collection of clothing produced in Rapha’s tenth anniversary – is the only change from the original. The black and white picture selection and (freshly translated) text remain the same. And what pictures! The two which grace the front and back cover – Ferdi Kubler brandishing a frame pump at some unseen tormentor and Louison Bobet calmly looking out the rear window of an ambulance – set the tone perfectly. This is the Tour de France seen from the inside.
The thing which strikes the most throughout is the incredible access the unnamed photographers had to riders in those days. Bartali in pyjamas reading his route map in bed, Koblet in the bath- arms ravaged by crashes but with not a single hair out of place, Coppi reflecting on another tough day whilst soaking his feet in the bidet. There were no hiding places for the Convict; no tour bus to hide in; no sanctuary for a private moment of celebration or commiseration – everything is played out on the road and the ‘off-duty’ parts of the of the Tour are seen as part of the road too. Here they truly are prisoners of the Tour; caged animals to be stared at and marvelled over at every waking (and even occasionally sleeping) moment.
The record of the road – all the way from Garin to Indurain – where mud-crusted legs, battered clothing, grimey faces with tired eyes are allied with the looks of general resignation that this is simply the Prisoner’s Fate. A picture of the more widely troubled Charley Gaul, his face partially obscured through a glass window (echoes of another prison, another cell) is haunting in the extreme. The Pain which the title speaks of is not just physical it would seem. It is also the pain of fame and the loss of privacy as well as the struggle of the mind to overcome and persevere in the face of insurmountable difficulty. Bravery, it seems, is eternal.
My extended family were at my house this weekend for a significant birthday celebration. All comers, all ages, cyclists and non-cyclists were drawn to both books and the many contrasting words and pictures to be found inside..