In truth, I've been meaning to get my hands on an edition of The Cycling Anthology since the project was first announced late last year. I didn't, but it was a limited release and I figured I'd see one sooner rather than later. Nearly a year on and finally the third edition found its way to chez Hinds. There's been books in between, Charly Wegelius's Domestique stands out, newspapers, magazines, life. Even with the best of intentions books that I genuinely want to read will gather dust in piles beside my bed, not for their quality, but for my lack of time.
Which is why The Cycling Anthology is a breath of fresh air. The third edition, which I'm told is much like the first two, brings together cycling writers from all over the world in one paperback publication, a rare platform for authors to sink their teeth into a subject, short of actually writing a book themselves. The stories range from three to 10 thousand words, which may sound long, but are more than digestible on your average commute, on a lazy weekend afternoon, or in the 30 minutes before drifting into Z-land.
That's quite attractive. We live in a world where online is king, and the value of a piece longer than 500 words is, well, questionable over a buzzfeed top-10 of GIFs from your favourite RomCom. What the Anthology does, so elegantly, is allows some very talented writers to actually, well, write. To explore a subject more deeply, more insightfully than they might otherwise have been able to do, and still, not demand our attention for the time investment required of a book. A happy middle-ground.
Consider the most regular exposure you're likely to get to names like Richard Moore, Rupert Guinness, Neal Rogers, Owen Slot, Jeremy Whittle is in a newspaper column, a race report, or a tweet. And while all of them have no shortage of talent to put together 140 characters in unendingly imaginative ways, it is an undeniable constraint.
Here in the Anthology we get the full insight, the depth and breadth of analysis or storytelling that the online world so often denies us, and a chance for these quite excellent writers to flex their linguistic muscles. Ranging from personal experience, to well-researched essays, to opinion, to reflective pieces on the sport's current state there is no standard form that any of the pieces take. And that's a good thing, it keeps things fresh and encourages a variety of subject matter and style.
The shortest of the 14 chapters in the third edition for example, that of Samuel Abt, who opines on Laurent Jalabert, is still thought provoking. Times journalist Owen Slot's critique of Corsica as a host to this year's Tour doesn't hold back, and Ned Boulting's meandering recollections of his first encounter with Chris Froome, then of Barloworld is at times light-hearted, but also fascinating (if Boulting's account of him and Matt Rendell tracking down the Kenyan-born Brit at an out of the way hotel at the '08 Tour doesn't make you laugh, nothing will).
But always one to crave depth, unsurprisingly, it's the longest three accounts that I personally found most interesting. The first comes from Anthony Tan who gives the backstory to Andrew Christie-Johnston's success in Australia as a coach and manager which should be mandatory reading to anyone who follows the domestic scene. If you want to know the root of Richie Porte's success, look no further.
Then there's Klaus Bellon GaitÃ¡n's piece on NBC, Quintana, and our struggle with the doping question and the speculation it brings clouding our perception of the spectacular. GaitÃ¡n's piece comes from the heart, a Colombian journalist, he has an intimate knowledge of Quintana and his peers, and is a quite beautiful writer to boot.
And perhaps the most topical, Richard Moore, who as Brian Cookson and Tracey Gaudry look to reinvent women's cycling from the top down, takes us back to the first women's Tour de France, and the first women's cycling event at the Olympics, in 1984. The way Moore contextualises the depth of the sport's gender woes in its origins, which were as he describes "hyper-masculine" is something I'd never thought about.
If there's one thing that The Cycling Anthology loses out on, it's that, and I'm stating the obvious here, it isn't a magazine, and it isn't really a book. It doesn't have the big glossy pictures you might be used to, to match the story-telling of a publication like Rouleur or Ride, nor does it have one overarching narrative. That may perturb some, but it's a special case, and as long as you know that going in, you won't be disappointed.
On the whole, this is a must for anyone who calls themselves a cycling aficionado, successfully bringing together writers from several different publications in one place in a series of excellent reads. It's accessible, interesting, and very hard to put down and I'll have no hesitation ordering the next edition.
The third edition of The Cycling Anthology is available online here. It features work from Samuel Abt, Ellis Bacon, Klaus Bellon GaitÃ¡n, Lionel Birnie, Ned Boulting, Rupert Guinness, Richard Moore, Edward Pickering, Kenny Pryde, Neal Rogers, Owen Slot, Anthony Tan, and Jeremy Whittle.
My copy was paid for on my own coin and for my own enjoyment. If you've read any, or indeed this one, I'd love to hear your thoughts.