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Tomorrow We Ride, by Jean Bobet

With the Tour approaching, I wanted to put the word out about this fantastic book, which came out last year in English translation.  I haven't finished it yet, and frankly I don't think I'm going to anytime soon, since it's overdue from the library.  I'm a little more than halfway through though, and it's really, really good.  It's basically a memoir of pro cycling in the 50s, from the perspective of the author, Jean Bobet - you may not have heard of him, but if the name sounds familiar, it's because his brother, Louison, was the first great French cyclist of the post-war period, and won pretty much everything in sight - 3 straight Tours, every monument save LBL, the world championship, etc etc etc.

The fact that it's written not by Louison (who died in 1983) but Jean is quite interesting in itself.  Jean was a pro for many years, most of them spent on his brother's team (which just happened to be the "équipe Louison Bobet" - Louison got so popular that he basically formed his own team, along with Mercier bicycles).  Jean was never a star, though he won Paris-Nice and the amateur world championship, and finished third one year in Milan-San Remo.  However, the fact that his brother was the biggest star in cycling means that the story is told from somewhere between the perspective of a star and a domestique.  So, for example, we hear about Louison picking out the most strategic spot on the Paris-Roubaix course for his team to take a pee; then we hear about how everyone pees as fast as he can - except Louison, who takes his sweet time because he's not the one who will be doing the work to catch up to the peloton; then we hear about the grumbling of Jean and all the other teammates who are busting their asses bringing Louison back to the bunch; finally, we hear Jean's description of riding into the Roubaix velodrome:

Here's the velodrome.  It's really incongruous, a velodrome at the end of hell.  It's indecent.

But you do your lap and a half because, good god, you've arrived in Roubaix.  On your bike.  You pass the finish line.  You look at the podium and you see Louison, with flowers in his arms.

He's won, the bastard...

And freewheeling, at long last, you tell yourself that next year...


Anyways I don't want to go on forever, suffice it to say that I'm loving the book, the writing is pleasant and unpretentious, it's an easy read without being simplistic.  There are some fantastic photos too (at least in the French edition) - a great one of Coppi, Schulte, Koblet, Van Steenbergen, Kubler and Louison Bobet all standing next to each other at the Velodrome d'Hiver (the famous "Vel d'Hiv") in Paris in 1952; another of Louison rocking this fantastic "L. Bobet" jersey with front pockets and a collar (can someone please bring the collar back to cycling jerseys?  They look so good), with the caption "Louison at the summit of his art."

But perhaps the most beautiful lines of the book come in this description of Jean being passed by Coppi in a time trial during the Giro:

He arrives.  He passes me on the left.  He doesn't see me.  He's on a cushion of air.  His long legs turn with incredible speed.  He has his hands on top of the bar.  He's sublime.  I manage to keep him in my sights for a little while.  I see his Bianchi jersey, blue celeste, and his blue celeste team car where his mechanic, the faithful Pinella, balances with his spare bike on his shoulder.  No one will ever take that image away from me.  That day, in a cloud of golden dust, I saw the sun, riding his bike, between Grosseto and Follonica.

Here's a description of the book at abebooks.com.

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