Title: Velopedia – The Infographic Book of Cycling
Author: Robert Dineen
Publisher: Aurum Press
What it is: A cycling miscellany
It all seems like such a long, long, long time ago that I said nice things about William Fotheringham's Cyclopedia. A lot of miscellanies have passed across my desk in the time since. So many. Here's another. Carrying a name that's very different from Fotheringham's: Velopedia. See what they did there?
The name is not the only thing on repeat. Most all of these miscellanies just reheat the same old stories, serve the reader sloppy seconds. The only way I can tell them apart at this stage is by the quality of their errors. Do they contain, for instance, silly little mistakes that an informed proofreader should have spotted?
“ASOS owns the Tour de France, Paris-Nice and Paris-Roubaix, among others”.
(If nothing else that malapropism holds out the hope of ASO joining ASOS and ASSOS in their long-running legal dispute, the Jarndyce and Jarndyce of our times.)
Then one could consider whether the mistakes are of the 'confused author confusing his readers' variety. Take the section here that deals with the “nearly-men of the Tour”, those who have finished on the podium “without actually winning”. Author Robert Dineen (Reg Harris, Kings of the Road) not entirely unexpectedly opens with the pretty predictable Raymond Poulider. The eternal second. The man who finished most often on the Tour's podium – eight times, a record equalled by the now air-brushed Lance Armstrong before his results were annulled – but not even once got to stand on the top step. So far so normal for this little listicle. But how do you account for Jan Ullrich (winner in 1997), Joop Zoetemelk (winner in 1980), Lucien van Impe (winner in 1976), and Gustave Garrigou (winner in 1911) being the other names on the list?
Sometimes the mistakes one comes across in these miscellanies are of the truly bizarre variety, such as here with the names of the people who have won the Tour five times. I used to have an easy to recollect mnemonic for recalling this: Ascetic Marsupials Harbour Italian Ambitions – which effortlessly prompted the remembrance of Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault, Indurain and Armstrong. Then Armstrong added a couple more victories which removed him from the five-times club. Leaving me with just Ascetic Marsupials Harbour Italian. And that, frankly, is just gibberish. What mnemonic Dineen uses I don't know but somehow his five-timers are still five in number: Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault, Indurain and … Maurice Garin. Yes, that Maurice Garin. Winner of the first Tour, air-brushed from victory in the second one. What's he doing in a listicle of five-time champs? Buggered if I know.
Other miscellany errors tend toward the variety one expects from a bullshitter wading further and further out of his depth. Consider, if you will, this bit of nonsense about Chris Boardman and his marvellously mythical Lotus bike:
Though Graeme Obree innovated the aerodynamic 'Superman' position in which the rider's arms were extended in front, Chris Boardman's Lotus 108 is the most famous design to adopt it. Boardman helped to develop the bike himself and won the individual pursuit on it at the 1992 Olympics, Great Britain's first cycling gold at the Games in 72 years. The UCI later banned the riding position.
Whether you can fairly claim that Boardman helped develop the Lotus 108 is a point I'll leave the techs mechs geeks to argue about (he didn't) but his use of Obree's Superman position on it in 1992 would have been pretty bleeding amazing given Obree didn't adopt it himself until after the tucked position he used to break the Hour in 1993 was banned, the new stretched-out posture bringing the Scot a rainbow jumper in the individual pursuit in 1995.
Then there are those hoary old chestnuts that show the author is more wedded to myth than accuracy, such as the piece of bullshit about Alphonsina Strada pulling the wool over everyone's eyes at the 1924 Giro d'Italia. Some people, it seems, just can't handle reality and prefer the fictionalised version.
Finally, there are those stories so divorced from reality that they ought to come with a decree nisi and alimony payments. Dineen here at times rivals Chris Sidwells (A Race for Madmen) and Brendan Gallagher (Corsa Rosa) in terms of his inventiveness. Take this amazing little piece of misinformation that’s so wrong I'm not really sure quite where to begin:
“Indurain retired suddenly in 1995 despite claiming that he was in strong enough shape to win a sixth consecutive Tour. The decision was reportedly prompted by him being unable to find a team willing to pay him a $8million salary.”
Just where was that little factoid reported, the Beano?
Given the quantity and quality of its errors, the people who deserve the most credit for Velopedia are the graphic designers. Because if nothing else Velopedia looks nice. Which, sometimes, is all that counts.