It is a strange feeling to realise that I have not reviewed a Cycling Anthology before. They have popped up on the blog in the past on Christmas wish lists and the launch of Volume 4 featured, tangentially at least, in my Portrait of The Cycling Podcast feature but I must admit that I was somewhat chastened to find I’ve not previously written specifically about these excellent collections of original writing. As the series now reaches Volume 5 the time has come to rectify such a glaring oversight.
The premise of the Anthologies remains simple: get the very best cycling journalist’s around and give them free rein to write, at length, on a subject of their own choosing, and share the sales income equally. It’s an appealingly noble formula that has served editors Ellis Bacon and Lionel Birnie well over the editions and Volume 5 – the second to be published by Yellow Jersey Press (RRP £8.99, paperback) – is no exception. The range and quality of the writing is as high as ever and this edition can be seen as a particularly strong one.
In the latest offering, alongside Bacon and Birnie who both offer excellent chapters, are such notable cycling stalwarts as Brendan Gallagher, Jeremy Whittle, Francois Thomazeau, Edward Pickering, Andy McGrath, Matt Beaudin, Daniel Friebe, and Matt McGeehan. The ten chapters range widely; going back as much as a century historically and as far as Colombia geographically. We find treatises on that most elusive of cycling qualities: panache, alongside a revealing look at the Tour de France’s least well known director, Jean-Francois Naquet-Radiguet.. Who? Well, exactly. We have a report from the 2014 Track World Champs in Cali, Columbia and an elegy to the forgotten Pyrenean summit finish in Superbagneres. All are good reads in their own right but collected together in short chapter form they give us a fantastic tasting-plate of words that the authors have really invested their hearts and souls into.
The stand-out chapters for me this time around are equally varied. The volume rightfully opens with Brendan Gallagher’s “Soldiers of the Road”, covering his thoughts on the centenary of the start of World War I, as seen through the veil of the cyclists who fought (and often perished) in the conflict. As well as discussing the three Tour winners who died, Lapize, Faber and Petit-Breton, Gallagher also contextualises the War in terms of the bicycle itself. A key military ‘vehicle’ at the time, it is estimated that over 100,000 British soldiers served ‘a la velo‘ during the Great War. The number for the French and Belgians is significantly higher. The sheer scale of the conflict is always bewildering but, as usual, it’s the human touch that hits home hardest. Gallagher’s poignant revelations about reconnaissance cyclist John Henry Parr, the very first British soldier to be killed in the fighting, bring the madness and confusion of war home in the most personal way. His loss serves as a marker for all those who followed.
Loss of a different kind is covered excellently by Andy McGrath in his chapter “The Search For Joey McLoughlin”. McLoughlin was a promising Liverpudlian rider in the late 1980’s, the winner of the 1986 Milk Race, who, like many before, headed to the Continent to fulfil his pro-cycling dreams. A contract with the Z-Peugeot team in 1988 that should have been the start of something great was really the beginning of the end. He returned to England and retired a year later, aged just 26. A few years later he disappeared completely, nit just from his cycling friends and work associates but also from his family and relations as well. McGrath starts the process of tracking him down but it will take more time and a longer story to solve this particular mystery.
Elsewhere, Matthew Beaudin’s “The Sounds of Cycling”, an aural analysis of the 2014 Tour de France, is a structural tour de force – a brilliant conceived and executed diary of a month away from home, as told through the audible assault that defines the chaos of the Tour. It’s quite wonderful. Similarly bold is Ellis Bacon’s retelling of the same Tour in rhyming verse. I must admit that I approached this chapter with significant apprehension but Bacon manages the seemingly impossible and actually leaves you wanting more. Chapeau indeed sir..
The four preceding volumes are also still available and have become a valued repository of cycling fact and cycling whimsy in my house. Even at the distance of such an overdue review, I would heartily recommend them all..
The Cycling Anthology Volume 5 will be released on 6th November.