seasonal is, to a certain extent, our watchword. a bit like groundhog day, but without the same results (apart from a seven year period, now discounted). cycling's like that; repetitive to the point of anticipatory enjoyment and embraced by the greater part of the pelotonese. after the tour down under, a race that, i confess barely scrapes in under the garden fence, and those mid-desert escapades, it's not overly long before we reach march and april for a healthy dose of the spring classics.
gosh how i adore those two months.
then in fairly rapid succession we have the three week giro, dauphine libere and the alleged pinnacle of sporting excitement, the tour de france, the vuelta, the worlds etc., etc. as the saying goes, 'you know the drill'. same time, same channel, with only the names being changed to protect the victorious. it would be naive of me to contend that the same is not true of many other sports, and just like aficionados of those, we love every minute of it. however, i often wonder if we pay close enough attention to the disparity contained in the separation between one day classics and three week stage races.
i'd agree that the outcome of the latter depends greatly on what might be termed a war of attrition. it's not only a case of performing well enough over a few stages to take pink, yellow or gold, but having the tenacity and team to retain it all the way to milan, paris or madrid. but that's really only true for a handful of contenders; the remainder of the riders are aiming more modestly for a stage win. or two. their one day classic in the midst of the circus. thus grand tours such as the tour de france are most often written about and appreciated as a singularity. it cannot be denied that yellow in paris is the principal objective; it's the very chase that provides the thrill.
but what if, and up till now, it's been a big if, the tour was broken down into its constituent parts, with at least one stage examined a tad more closely, and without the onus of the following day's stage to wash away the luxury of basking in that victory? that is precisely the premise behind etape, the latest offering from richard moore. through twenty carefully chosen chapters, the author not only examines the events of the day, but augments them by interviewing several of the principal protagonists. quite simply put, etape is not only a well conceived approach to the tour de france, but something of a triumph, the likes of which i haven't come across before.
in a message i received from the author as i approached the book's final chapters, he averred that this was a bit of a departure for him, with no one chapter offering a singular and definable flavour. in that contention he was at least partially correct; other than each stage being excerpted from the tour's recent history, the only other common denominator is that of the author. richard moore is his own secret weapon.
there are several memorable stages included in moore's two score: boardman's first yellow in 1994, chiapucci's lengthy and exhilarating escape from indurain's clutches on the way to sestriere, mark cavendish's stage nineteen victory in the tour of 2009, and marco pantani's substantial distancing of jan ullrich in the quest for yellow in 1998. however, i'm not making a case for any or all of the above to be the most important or exciting amongst the book's 20 chapters. indeed, one of the finer points of moore's choice is not only a total lack of chronology in chapter sequence, but in considering each as a story in and of itself. there really is no need to read start to finish, but in whichever order you choose to read, you will complete every last word.
richard moore is incontestably one of the finest published sports writers of our time, a factor underlined by the researched minutiae revealed in virtually every chapter, in this case via an interview with jorge jaksche.
"...Ullrich's team, Telekom, they had all this technical race food - the Power Bars. But they are shit when it's cold. You can't eat them. They turn into bricks.
"On the Italian teams, we ate small paninis with marmalade or honey or nutella. Not sophisticated maybe. But better in those conditions."
it is moore's reliance on interviews with those involved in the drama that brings each venture to life. rather than writing about a stage, the author has turned a two-dimensional narrative into a three-dimensional experience. granted, even in pixels, that description seems a tad overwrought, but as one who approached etape with certain reservations regarding its basic premise, the end product is nothing less than superb. as interlocutor, richard moore has spoken with cavendish, merckx, boardman, (david) millar, lemond and, believe it or not, lance armstrong.
i have made mention in previous reviews of richard moore's seeming ease and skill at transcending his subject matter. turning a specialist subject into one that could be read and enjoyed by a cycling agnostic. etape is his finest hour. there will be a great number of books about the tour de france published in the next month, but if your appetite for yellow extends to only one, make it this one.
compulsive and compulsory.
harper collins have generously provided a copy of richard moore's etape to give away to the sender for the first correct answer to the following question
what does the french word 'etape' mean in english?
send answers to firstname.lastname@example.org anad make sure you include a full postal address in the certainty that you're going to win. closing date is friday 6 june.
friday 30 may 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................