Title: A Journey Through the Cycling Year
Authors: The Cycling Podcast (Lionel Birnie, Daniel Friebe, and Richard Moore) with Orla Chennaoui, Joe Dombrowski, Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, Sebastien Piquet, Fran Reyes, Ciro Scognamiglio, and François Thomazeau and photography by Simon Gill
Publisher: Yellow Jersey Press
What it is: A year-end look-back-with-laughter Christmas stocking filler for fans of the Cycling Podcast
Strength: Fans of the Cycling Podcast will lap up the laddish bantz and bullshitting
Weaknesses: You probably need to be a fan of the Cycling Podcast to get half the jokes
As with books by Ned Boulting and Phil Gaimon, it probably helps when picking up a copy of A Journey Through the Cycling Year if you are already a fan of the authors – the Cycling Podcast, fronted by Lionel Birnie, Daniel Friebe and Richard Moore – and so buy into all the in jokes and the self-reverential humour. And in jokes and self-reverential humour is what this is all about: at this stage in its life cycle, the Cycling Podcast has become a bit of a sitcom. Irish sports fans will have seen how this works, with Off the Ball and its spin-off Second Captains, British petrol-heads will have seen how this works with Top Gear and its spin off the Grand Tour. After a while these things stop being about whatever it is they were about to begin with and start being about their presenters as characters in an on-going show, each with their own funny traits: Birnie, he’s got some sort of food thing going on; Friebe, he’s constantly being corrected; and Moore, he plays the uptight dad who can’t cope with riders having nicknames. Three guys and a sitcom? It’s Last of the Summer Wine, isn’t it?
Those funny traits are front and centre in A Journey Through the Cycling Year, which isn’t really about the cycling year (who won what, when, where and how) but about the authors’ own journeys through the year: much of the book is taken up with on-the-road diaries. There’s a multi-part on-the-road diary written by Friebe, Birnie, and Moore from the Giro (“I sleep badly, miss my morning run and we have our first Cycling Podcast team barney of the Giro en route to Team Sky’s hotel in Palmero. The blow-up is an HD snapshot of typical traits: Richard being Buffaloey, with every missed turning and lost minute inching Napalm ever closer to a stress explosion ...”). There’s a multi-part on-the-road diary written by Moore, François Thomazeau, and Birnie from the Tour (“The highlight of the day, however, concerns Daniel’s crowing at the finish. In Procycling magazine he’s tipped Calmejane for today’s stage, which he took great delight in telling our listeners. Only problem was, the Nostradamus of the cycling world had written too much, and some of his precious words – including this prediction – were cut from the magazine. Poor Daniel. He was reduced to digging out the original Word doc and posting it on Twitter as evidence.”) There’s a multi-part on-the-road diary written by Moore, Fran Reyes, and Birnie from the Vuelta (“We try to go for a decent meal in Castellón, where we’re staying a second night. TripAdvisor is both the saviour and scourge of the modern tourist, and we are nothing if not modern tourists. Face inches from my phone, feeling like the Pied Piper with my companions at my heals, I follow a blue dot to one of the city’s top-rated restaurants, only to end up at a closed door.”). There’s even an on-the-road diary written by Orla Chennaoui from La Course (“Given the hype and the controversy, it was a race not to be ignored or reported on from afar, and so it was that I came to find myself waiting outside my sister-in-law’s house for the Mystery Machine to roll into view. This was the nickname Simon, the photographer, and I had given to his VW camper the night before, in honour of the cartoon Scooby Doo. I’m almost sure there was a good reason for it at the time.”).
Elsewhere, Birnie offers an A to Z of the lesser Flemish classics: “B is for Boothel Ahoi. We stayed in Kortrijk, because it was ideally situated for the three races we wanted to see, on a floating boat called the Boothel Ahoi. It may have lacked space but it was well appointed and served a very good breakfast.” Ciro Scognamiglio writes a love letter to Pippo Pozzato: “How or why did Pozzato become my soul sister? I honestly can’t explain … so I ask him. ‘We’re total opposites. First of all, I actually like working whereas you’re bone idle,’ was his reply.” Reyes serves up an homage to Alberto Contador: “Contador gets to perform a fairy-tale ending that, with him being an archetypal Spanish icon, feels somehow perfect in its imperfection.” Thomazeau writes about the 30-plus years of hurt since a Frenchman last won the Tour: “Richard Virenque told me in a recent interview he was convinced he would have won the Tour without the Festina scandal. ‘We were flying,’ he said.” And Seb Piquet fills us in on life as the voice of radio Tour: “In my first year on the Grande Boucle, a gentleman by the name of Bernard Hinault came up to me at the finish after the third stage. Bernard Hinault, the Badger, a legend, a man I admired and still do.”
In addition to these, there’s two contributions from professional cyclists – Cannondale-Drapac’s Joe Dombrowski and Cervélo-Bigla’s Ashleigh Moolman Pasio – neither of which, like all the preceding pieces, are really about actual bike races. Rather, each is about the economics – read woes – of the sport: Dombrowski offering an insider’s view on life in the Jonathan Vaughters-fronted team as it teetered on the edge of financial collapse (“When the team announced it would attempt to close the budget shortfall via crowdfunding it was a topic of great debate, but it made me even more pessimistic. A professional sports team funded by fans? Really?”); Moolman Pasio on the problems with the Giro Rosa and women’s cycling in general (“No longer did I think it was OK for the ‘most prestigious’ tour to serve us plain pasta every meal (and I mean every single meal). No longer did I think it was OK to jam riders into cars for upwards of four-hour transfers between stages. No longer did I think it was OK to sleep in dormitories or dirty, old hotels. No longer did I think it was acceptable to have no race results published, no coverage of any kind, laughable prize money, disproportionate UCI points...”).
Though similar to some extent to the Ellis Bacon and Lionel Birnie edited Cycling Anthology, A Journey Through the Cycling Year should not be confused with the former which, across six issues, only twice managed to find female contributors, and never managed to escape the trap of the Smurfette principle and have more than one female contributor at a time. This new-look anthology, while still being quite the sausage fest, betters the record of old by having in one issue as many female contributors as its now dormant cousin managed in six: Moolman Pasio and Chennaoui. Each gets to write about women’s cycling. Cause, like, you know, the only women interested in cycling are only interested in women’s cycling. Still, nine guys, two gals, that’s what you call a great leap forward in the march toward equality of the sexes in the five years since the first Cycling Anthology appeared.
If The Cycling Anthology was a magazine in book format then A Journey Through the Cycling Year is a Christmas annual, albeit it one that’s arrived a few months late for the festive season. And celebrating Christmas, it’s got pictures: Simon Gill offers 20-odd pics from the Classics and the Grand Tours, all presented in full glossy colour while dotted around the book are inky-black pictures illustrating the different stories.
With so much of A Journey Through the Cycling Year being just colour reporting, little of it lingers long in the memory after putting the book down (the stand out exception being Moolman Pasio writing about the Giro Rosa and women’s cycling: “Part of me realised I had grown out of it. Not the leader’s jersey but the actual race. […] That’s when I realised it wasn’t the fact that I had changed, it was that the race hadn’t changed. And was never going to change.”). But, for fans of the Cycling Podcast, I somehow doubt this will be much of a problem: they are getting what they want, their favourite characters and their favourite routines, now in book form. We all love a good sitcom.