“I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was sleepy, I suffered, I cried.’’ This oft-quoted line by 1903 inaugural Tour de France winner Maurice-Francois Garin might easily describe the Australian cycling fan’s midnight-to-dawn TV-watching experience during the Tour month of July.
This is also the time of year when individual publishers release at least one cycling book to coincide with the Tour. Our pick of the 2012 batch is The Greatest Race, by British-born, US-based sports photographer Mike Powell.
For more than 25 years, Powell has photographed all the world’s great sporting events, including various Olympic Games, the FIFA World Cup and the Super Bowl, for publications such as Sports Illustrated, Newsweek and Time. The images he has selected for this collection – taken over two Tours de France – show him at the height of his artistic powers. It is the Tour de France book for the bike fan in your life and, at just under $50, it is exceptionally good value.
Like their literary counterparts, pictorial essays should be structured with a beginning, middle and an end. They should reach a climax, they should trigger emotions, and they should make a point. Powell’s photographs, which are accompanied by writer Lewis Blackwell’s engaging text and a foreword by cycling commentator Phil Liggett, tell the Tour de France story in a way that will engage and transport you.
Although there are plenty of recognisable faces in Powell’s images, this is not a book about cycling celebrities. Blackwell observes that Powell “is not seduced by the glamour any more – if there is any – but is intrigued by what really makes the experience engage us’’.
There is a real integrity about this century-old race, despite doping scandals and other controversies. It remains a pinnacle of athletic achievement, and continues to be a powerful advertisement for bike riding. (Just watch how many men and women in Lycra hit the cycling track over the next few weeks.) In his photographs, Powell honours the sport and its participants, as well as the country in which this epic battle takes place.
There are many beautiful images of the French countryside but, for me, this book is all about the sport. A pair of cyclist’s knees, skin stretched tightly around protruding muscles; the starting-line tensions as riders jostle for position; a face caked in mud, its eyes flat and exhausted after a day’s racing in the rain; a mechanic’s hands as he repairs a wheel; a bird’s-eye view across a valley as the Tour snakes its way up a mountain pass: These are the images that bring to life the traditions and the discipline of the great race.
“When we look at the Tour, we look at ourselves, or nature – for good and bad,’’ writes Blackwell. The Greatest Race shows us new aspects of the Tour – the good and the bad.
The Song of Achilles
by Madeline Miller
Debut US novelist Madeline Miller defied predictions in May when she took out this year’s Orange Prize for Fiction. Fans of The Song of Achilles were not surprised, however; the ambition and creativity behind Miller’s idea, which tells of the relationship between Achilles and his companion Patroclus, has resulted in a worthy retelling of the Trojan War epic. Orange Prize judge Joanna Trollope declared this a “more than worthy winner – original, passionate inventive and uplifting’’. You be the judge.
France On Two Wheels
by Adam Ruck
$24.99 (Short Books)
A Tour de France of a leisurely kind, this new travel book is aimed at cyclists who are quite happy to take their time but still wish to challenge themselves with a two-wheel adventure. British travel journalist Adam Ruck has road-tested – literally – six long rides through various regions, including Burgundy, the Massif Central area, Normandy and the Loire. Each ride is 700-850 kilometres and includes Ruck’s tactics and suggestions in a diary format. He also includes practical tips on what to see, how to take your bike on a train, stopovers, hotels and B&Bs, cafés and restaurants.
Marrakesh By Design
by Maryam Montague
Maryam Montague’s My Marrakesh blog was voted the best blog in Africa at the 2011 Weblog Awards and is considered by style gurus to be one of the most inspiring online sources for Moroccan interior decorating. This affordable hardcover is a celebration of US-born Montague’s life in Marrakesh, where she and her husband run a boutique guesthouse. Each chapter captures the textures, colours and finishes that make up the increasingly popular Moroccan look while providing insights into a fascinating part of the world.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making
by Catherynne M. Valente
Twelve-year-old September is grumpy. Her father is away at war, her mother works all day in an aircraft factory, and the young Omaha girl is bored – that is, until the Green Wind drops in with an offer too good to refuse: an invitation to visit Fairyland. Valente lacks the sophisticated storytelling techniques and prose of a C.S. Lewis, and her wicked Marquess is no match for Narnia’s White Witch, but eight-to-10-year-olds will enjoy this charming adventure. \