Racing Hard

Racing Hard

Last weekend the Tour de France started in Yorkshire before coming to the Capital on Monday via Cambridgeshire, Essex and Enfield. Now, with the magic combination of mobile phones and social media, you didn’t have to be there to get a great insight, with photos and videos posted from numerous different vantage points on the routes on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. It wasn’t always so. When the Tour came to Tunbridge Wells in 1994 for anyone who wasn’t there newspaper reports gave a rarer glimpse of what it was like being there as bikes came round at pace on local streets. William Fotheringham’s piece at the times tells of the community spirit and excitement on the streets that looking back it now seemed to be a forerunner for the atmosphere that was to sweep the nation when the Olympic Torch came round before London 2012.

The piece is one of many that is in Racing Hard, a collection of Fotheringham’s cycling pieces published by Guardian Books last summer that cover two decades of writing and seem particularly timely now as cycling road racing fills the gap after the daily excitement of a great World Cup occupied mid June. Each piece is accompanied by an italicised paragraph which offers some perspective and hindsight to the writing and characters at the time. And due to the place the sport now how is the greater consciousness of the British nation, due the public scandal of drugs over the years and recent home success, the book carries an interest for even those of us who aren’t obsessed with the sport.

For non-cycling fans there is the interest of how a sport overshadowed by cheating was reported on a daily basis when skeletons were still in their bike lockers, while learning about the working of a sport which is big business and the bonus of finding out the name often heard when Channel 4 News was on in the background, Miguel Andurain, was not the name of a EU commissioner but a five-time tour champion.

And for everyone, in these short piece split into sections, there is the writer’s personal insight. He suggests, further to a re-published telephone interview with Lance Armstrong from 1997, where the rider felt compelled to call Fotherinham at his own expense to rail against the injustice of being poorly treated cycling teams after recovering from cancer, the Armstrong became embittered against the sport.

As always with these type of books, there are interesting nuggets along the way, such as the driving force behind the Tour’s long route in Ireland in 1998 was the organizers’ belief that the Irish football team wouldn’t have a successful time in France ’98, while the host nation would naturally have their main focus diverted away from the Tour. And there is the French copper who causes an accident by taking a photo to close to the action, something that will surely be repeated in the future by one ambitious selfie too many.

There is also the drama that sport brings, not least the reporting of Greg le Mond’s success after a serious shooting accident before also, like Armstrong later, finding loyalty from teams in short supply. And the pieces of the tour’s issues with drugs, intertwined with reports from the tour, is the material that, shamefully for the sport, stand out as the most interesting.


Mel Gomes is the author of the e-book Glory Nights from Wankdorf to Wembley which documents the escape of travelling to watch sport. It is available to preview for free and download in full from Amazon and Smashwords. More details, including photos and links to reviews, here.

Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley

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