the post

book reviews

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rapharapha

if, like me, you have marvelled at the black and white photography accompanying rapha products, now you can have the chance to own your very own print. photographer ben ingham has made a limited number of prints available through rapha's website (unframed) at a somewhat bank manager frightening 300 each. a bit too rich for my blood but stunning photos nonetheless. if you can afford them, they'd look great on any cyclist's sitting room wall.

and if you were wondering about an issue two of rouleur magazine then i am reliably informed that it will appear around end of march 2006 and metamorphose into a quarterly publication. hurrah!

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viva la vuelta - the story of spain's great bike race. lucy fallon & adrian bell. foreword by sean kelly. . mousehold press and sport and publicity. softcover 16.95 334pp illus.

viva la vuelta

i seem to be alone amongst the world's cycling press (if i may, for a brief moment, associate myself with such luminaries) in holding the tour of spain, la vuelta, as my favourite of the 'big three'. yes indeed, i do rather enjoy the tour of italy, particularly the 2005 edition (col de la finestre), and i'm not sure that anyone would dismiss le tour altogether, american domination notwithstanding.

but la vuelta has something extra. maybe it's the wide open arid plains of the central region, or the rather frightening slopes of the angliru (heck, pinarello named a bike after it), and while the lack of roadside spectators doubtless won't find favour with the sponsors, up until the 2005 edition, the shorter, sharper stages had introduced a style of racing not seen for many a long year, if at all.

so the publication of this book is not only more than welcome, but probably long overdue. i'm not sure which of the two authors wrote what, and you can take that as a plus, as previously read books with more than one author have tended to read as if the two never met (or in some cases, even corresponded). strangely enough, much as i try to avoid reading other reviews of books i am still in the process of reading, one i noticed in one of the monthlies, criticised the setting of each decade against the political and social climes of the day. being someone whose knowledge of spain's social and political history would fit on the back of a postage stamp (and not one of those big ones they bring out for special occasions), i found this an immense benefit.

as an example, the 1966 edition of the race was almost cancelled due to economic difficulties experienced by the organising newspaper, el correo espanol-el pueblo vasco. because the franco regime placed great emphasis on sport, the ministry of sport stepped in to guarantee the finance, allowing the race to go ahead. because this last-minute reprieve, it wasn't possible to attract some of the major foreign teams who had already finalised their plans for the season (remember at this time, the tour of spain was still held pre-giro, in april). consequently, the only foreign team capable of influencing the outcome of this 21st edition was the dutch televizier team.

set this to the background of an influx of foreign tourists increasing spain's ties with the outside world, and the receding memory of the spanish civil war and you can begin to realise why the peloton consisted mainly of home riders and why franco's regime was so keen to promote their country through the national cycling race.

as can often be the case with an honours degree in hindsight, there are one or two aspects of the book that will probably remain to haunt the authors. in 1982, the winner Angel Arroyo was stripped of his winner's crown after a drug test showed that he (along with two others) had taken lidepran - a stimulant used to 'dull the pain'. the book records 'it was the first (and only) time that the winner of a major stage race has been dishonoured in such a way' oh how they must have rued writing that. later, in the final chapter celebrating the 2005 race with (then) four time winner roberto heras we read 'although the 2005 vuelta, as a race, was acknowledged to be an undeniable success in spain, a certain disillusion lingers. cycling is under siege, suffering a barrage of doping cases, the latest (sic) scandal involving the content of armstrong's frozen urine, vintage 1999...'

now we know different.

the seventy years of the vuelta are covered in chronological order from the days when the vuelta was the first grand tour of the season (and occasionally overlapped with the giro) through the period when it was moved by the uci to the latter part of the season (at which time i, along with others, think it flourished and continues to do so). aside from sean kelly, who provides the foreword and who was a celebrated winner 1985/86 and 87 give deserved coverage to scotland's robert millar (millar came second in 85 and 86 - see 'the spanish years') and the book is well illustrated both in colour and monochrome. the back pages are full of statistics for us cycling anoraks (many a sunday ride conversation revolves around minutiae such as this).

disappointingly the tour of spain is being undermined by the world championships being held after, with riders using some of the stages for training before opting out, and also by some of the current crop of monthly cycle mags, suggesting that the race may be curtailed to two weeks and that races such as the tour of germany could nudge it out of contention. couple this with an apparent desire to add a pro tour race in north america to satisfy the 'post armstrong' withdrawal symptoms that the usa is expected to suffer.

and just to add insult to injury, the whole 'grand tour' versus 'pro tour' fiasco that has erupted in the past few months, makes it even more imperative that the history of this great spanish race is elevated to the status that it truly deserves.

and this is the very book to do it. buy.

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this website is named after graeme obree's championship winning 'old faithful' built using bits from a defunct washing machine

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as always, if you have any comments on this nonsense, please feel free to e-mail and thanks for reading.

this column appears, as regular as clockwork on this website every two weeks. (ok so i lied) sometimes there are bits added in between times, but it all adds to the excitement.

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