Thursday, August 25, 2005

Books on sports

This started out as a response to Victoria over in this Althouse thread. But since that thread is pretty much dead and this was getting a bit long…well, here it is.

Victoria recommendedLance Armstrong’s War by Daniel Coyle. I wrote that Coyle was one of my favorite writers at Outside Magazine and recommended two articles in particular,



I enjoyed It’s Not About the Bike, but that was more about Armstrong’s recovery from cancer than about cycling. While I admire Sally Jenkins’ writing, I think she’s too inside the Armstrong camp to offer an unobjective perspective. So, I look forward to Coyle’s book for that and also because I enjoy how he tells a story.

If you like sports writing, then let me point out The Miracle of Castel di Sangro : A Tale of Passion and Folly in the Heart of Italy. This is the tale of author Joe McGinness. Sick and tired of covering the OJ Simpson trial, he becomes addicted to watching Italian soccer on satellite tv. He returns a book advance and temporarily moves to the middle of bumfsck Italy to cover a 3rd division team. Partly about Joe adapting to a culture he doesn’t understand and the team and town coming to accept him, Joe is also on hand to record a series of events so unlikely that if this was fiction you’d ask for your money back.

Victoria also mentions a baseball book I’d also recommend, Michael Lewis’ Moneyball. Good book, but really more about the business than the game. I’m partial to the short stories of W. P. Kinsella. One I’d read on my radio show years ago was Box Socials. It’s a masterpiece of run-on sentences; though that’s unfair...more like mobius strips of sentences. Just wonderful to read out loud.

For cycling, I haven’t found a lot of interesting books. Which is a shame because many of them have interesting tour reports. Frankie Andreu’s diaries of being a pack rider for Lance and the Posties are fascinating.

July 21, 1998
With lots of rain and fog I couldn't see ten feet in front of me. Coming over the top, the group still together, we started to descend the mountain. I couldn't see anything but I heard the crashes ahead of me, twenty seconds later I would see what had happened. Each corner from the top to half way down there was a crash. The guys couldn't see the corners and would either run off the road or run into each other.

Guys that crashed included some big names such as Olano, Jalabert, and Casagrande. Casagrande crashed twice on the same descent and then quit the race. Marty and Darius from out team also crashed. One corner I saw four or five Telekom riders lying on the ground including Bolts and Riis. They were using the lightweight carbon rims that don't slow you down for shit. Same with a few of the Cofidis guys that were lying on the ground. Bobby woke up this morning with the carbon wheels on his bike but because of the rain he opted to switch, smart move.

After freezing in the wet the next climb was the Tourmalet. Eighteen kilometers straight up into the clouds and rain. I was so cold coming down the hill I couldn't stop my legs or body from shaking. It was hard for me to control my bike to make the corners. The Tourmalet was as blinding as the first climb. Peter told me at the first corner of the descent, of the Tourmalet, he heard someone yelling in panic. As Peter was taking the switchback he put on his brakes right as a Kelme guy came flying past him at 40km/hr straight off the road into a parked car.

Near the bottom the view cleared but it was scary because we were going down the wet road at 90km/hr taking the corners. Every turn I was on the limit of traction. When I reached the bottom I could barely pedal from my legs being like icicles. I was afraid to push on the pedals because it felt like I would break some tendons or something. The next few climbs we did not climb as high and therefore were not as bad. It was a good race in the front, so I'm told. I never see anything that happens unless I watch it on TV.


I’d also think Bob Roll, as one of the first Americans to begin riding in the TdF in the 1980s, could put out a great book. Update: after having the bright idea to search amazon.com, it turns out there is a Bob Roll book. Guess I’ll be reading that and reporting back.

I’m sure there’s shelves of books like this published in Europe and I just haven’t tracked them down.

The book I really want is the soap opera account of Greg LeMond. A winner of three tours, he most likely could have won five or six if not for that pesky hunting accident. Not winning five and seeing all the adulation Armstrong receives has turned him into a bitter man.

To recap, he placed third in his first Tour (1984). In 1985, riding in support of Hinault he finished second; however, he claimed he should have won if the team manager hadn’t lied about how far Hinault had fallen behind on one climb. To thank Lemond for waiting, Hinault publicly stated he would ride in support of Lemond in 1986. Here’s where things get murky. Hinault attacks, later claiming he was just trying to wear down Lemond’s opponents. The team splits with most riding in support of Hinault. Much of Lemond’s support came from othe Americans riding on other teams. That fall, Lemond’s brother-in-law mistakes him for a duck and unloads a shotgun into him. Greg lives, but misses the next two seasons. Returning in 1989, he is behind by 58 seconds going into the final day time trial. Amazingly, he destroys Fignon to win by 8 seconds for the most exciting Tour finish EVER. Wins the next year, then that’s it. He’s later diagnosed with mitochondrial myopathy, possibly related to the accident and the few dozen shotgun pellets still in his body.

That’s the book I want to read. I’d be happy with just the 85-86 duel between Hinault and Lemond.

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