Tuesday, 6 May 2008

The Rider, by Tim Krabbe (1978)

(trans Sam Garrett)
pub: Bloomsbury (2002) 0 7475 5941 4 148 pages cover price £6.99

A exploration of the experience of racing a bicycle written as an account of a fictional race

The Rider is the best book on the experience of cycle racing ever written. Indeed, by any margin, it is a great book; and an exemplar to any who would set out to imortalise the guts of an experience in such a way that a reader might momentarily inhabit the soul of the protagonist.

First published in Dutch, the book is a fictionalised account of the Tour de Mont Aigoual. It draws heavily on Krabbe’s own career as an amateur cycle racer and is at its best describing the effort required to compete at this level. There is plenty of insight into the preparations that he makes for a race and the curious tactical melange that is mass-start racing.

The race narrative – set out kilometre by kilometre – draws readers along like a peleton with the wind on its back. It is interspersed with an account of the rider’s sporting career, and a more general discourse on professional cycle racing. For a reader unfamiliar with cycle racing, this provides useful context. Anyone immersed in the sport might find it distracting.

Nonetheless, it is not surprising that since its English translation, the book, and its author, has become as lauded among British cyclists as it is on the continent. Indeed, some have even gone so far as to produce cycle jerseys in the colours of the fictional teams against whom Krabbe’s rider races. There can’t be many books whose fans feel so passionately about them that they create tribute t-shirts.

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