Following the global disruptions of 2020, the question in pro bike racing fans’ minds was whether this year would see some kind of return to normality. If “normal” means the same kind of exciting racing we actually did see last year, then 2021 had plenty to offer and the latest edition of the unique cycling almanac, “The Road Book,” brings those memories back in focus, along with plenty of other entertainment.
“The Road Book” is an extraordinary effort covering the whole pro season, this year going from January’s GP Cycliste de Marseillaise (won by Aurélien Paret-Peintre of AGR Citröen, of course) to the late October Ronde van Drenthe, the final race of the Women’s WorldTour, won by hard-charging Lorena Wiebes. Wiebes, the trivia section notes, won 13 races in 2021, but all three of her WorldTour wins came in October.
The core of “The Road Book” is the massively detailed coverage of many, many races. Every race gets its own page, with stage races getting pages for every individual stage. There is a lot of very small print here through the nearly 800 pages and it is fun to just open it and random and rediscover moments, like Mathieu van der Poel’s Strade Bianche win: “The Flying Dutchman went into warp drive to win Dante’s race (The Divine Comedy mentions villages, battlefields, and rivers on the stage route) on Michelangelo’s birthday. How appropriate.” If you need a useful fact, such as who won Stage 4 of Tirreno-Adriatico and what was the weather like (a certain T. Pogačar and it was a sunny day of 15C with wind from the South at 7 kmh), it is all here.
In addition to all of this exhaustive detail, the book also offers some excellent essays by participants. So, speaking of that certain T. Pogačar, the now two-time winner of the Tour de France provides a modest commentary on his win: “Standing on the podium in Paris is really beautiful. Speeches are not my strongest point. I always think that, no matter how you prepare it, you always forget to thank somebody, but I did my best to speak from the heart.” You can actually imagine him writing this kind of thing.
Far more analytical is the lengthier essay by editor Ned Boulting, a masterful summary of a season that began a bit bleakly with cancellations of the Tour Down Under and minor French races but went on to reward us with some great racing and standout performances not only by the new Young Guns of 2020, but also saw some ancient riders (Damiano Caruso, Alejandro Valverde, Romain Bardet, and, most brilliantly, Mark Cavendish) get the spotlight. In spite of putting on a wonderful show for the World Championships in Flanders, there was some heartbreak for the Belgians there but Wout van Aert cannot win everything. Although we should not be surprised if he does.
The winner of the first women’s edition of Paris-Roubaix, Lizzie Deignan, chimes in with a nice essay, and Jasper Stuyven, winner of Milan-San Remo provides a piece about winning that race. We learn that the riders chat about all sorts of things in the peloton when there are quiet moments, just another day at the office somehow. There are plenty more essays sprinkled throughout the book, including one about cyclocross (a new area of coverage for “The Road Book”) by up-and-comer Tom Pidcock and a piece on organizing the Tour of Flanders by Tomas Van Den Spiegel. But while the reader will find these very enjoyable, you will always turn back to those race summaries.
For those who have watched the races, the brief description is often full of little surprises (see Dante, above) but most of the text is simply the list of top finishers, who got what jersey, a profile of the stage or overall race, the weather and, where there was a breakaway who was in that. But some of the short items under “Trivia” are the best. For example, for Stage 4 of the Giro d’Italia on May 11, it is written: “In his ninth Grand Tour—after 728 hours of racing–Joe Dombrowski finally claimed a stage win. That’s enough time to watch US sitcom Friends 8.22 times over.” And some are sobering: that certain Mr. Pogačar has, since turning professional, won 22 races and 15 of those were at the WorldTour level. He has ridden in three Grand Tours and won three stages in each of them.
As befits an almanac, “The Road Book” includes the rosters of every team at the Men’s and Women’s WorldTour and the Men’s Pro Continental Tour, UCI point standings (not a great year for Luis Leon Sanchez, clearly), lists of finishers in major races, some fascinating obituaries and even a few pages covering the British domestic scene. There are some unexpected sections: the waning and waxing popularity of jersey colours in the peloton over the years, the dominance of Dutch women at the WorldTour, the average age of riders for each Men’s WorldTour team and my favourite Wonderful Fact List: the distance from each finish line of every one of Deceunink-Quick-Step’s 66 victories to the nearest Lidl store (one of the team sponsors).
Once upon a time it was difficult for those of us outside of the heartland of pro cycling in Europe to get a grasp of what was happening there but now in the Information Age it is possible to see almost every significant race live through streaming services or cable television. With the pandemic limiting travel, we have been able to enjoy far-flung action in the comfort of our homes and “The Road Book” is a way to rewind and recapture all those hours of racing through 174 (!) competitions. And spend more hours of entertaining browsing. Totally indispensable.
“The Road Book 2021,” edited by Ned Boulting
794 pp., with a section of colour photos, hardbound
The Road Book Ltd., London, 2021
The Road Book 2021 may be ordered from the publishers at https://www.theroadbook.co.uk/