PEZ Bookshelf: Racing in the Year of Covid
Racing in the plague year
In mid-May 2020 a new website, lacourseentete.com, was launched to provide a venue for some well-known cycling journalists to provide quality writing for bike racing fans. An unlikely time to launch a new venture given the strange and precarious state of the sport in this pandemic year, the site has delivered on its promise and the collective efforts of those involved has now become a book: “Racing in the Time of Covid”, a veritable Journal of the Plague Year reviewing the 2020 season and was on the market less than a week after the Vuelta concluded.
There has been so much sensory overload this year as we saw races on and off and on, the Spring Classics in Fall, the Grand Tours overlapping and, in the case of the Vuelta, shortened. We have seen big favourites fail and unknowns (as unknown as you can be on a World Tour pro team) grab the brass ring. There have been extraordinary high points as well as some terrible injuries and those might-have-beens, like a three man sprint for the final at the Flanders, have been nicely balanced by the unexpected. Rohan Dennis—mountain domestique?!
Rohan Dennis – mountain domestique
The collection of writers in the book, which is now just hot off the presses, includes website founder William Fotheringham, whose books have often been reviewed here at PezCyclingNews.com, Peter Cossins, and others with connections primarily to the UK reporting scene. Each chapter of the book focuses on a different aspect of the tumultuous season, but looming over everything is the pandemic. Covid-19 curtailed the early season and then with the relaunch of pro bike racing in July we saw so much racing and so much drama it was hard to keep up. Riders who had only done e-racing on their balconies in Monaco released pent-up energy and because there was a risk of cancellation, stage races turned into serial one day races as you could not be sure there was a tomorrow.
Roglič – The man of the year?
The highlights of 2020 are all here, elegantly described and with an air of such immediacy it is as if the reader was unaware of the outcomes. In addition to each report, there are a series of timelines which are helpful to keep events straight in one’s mind.
There was a lot of excitement about e-racing early in the season as fans were trying to get their fixes somehow but there is no mention in “Racing in the Time of Covid” about this trend—and, frankly, not all of us were very enthused about watching cartoony avatars racing around a virtual course in Electron World. An alternative was to watch old races or read about them and Peter Cossins gives us a nice recounting of the excitement of postwar racing in the Fausto Coppi era with the extraordinary tale of the 1946 Milan-San Remo before we leap into modern times.
Fausto Coppi in Sanremo
So much came so thick and fast at us in 2020! The chapters telling of the Tour de France and the difficulties of rearranging timetables and venues are highlighted by the story of Francois Lemarchand. Who he? When Christian Prudhomme had to go into isolation after testing positive for Covid-19, Lemarchand, as his deputy, became the de facto head of the Tour, the man waving the start flag from the first car. A pro rider who was one of those worker bees you don’t hear about but whose presence allows the stars to shine, his story is here as a result of the pandemic and the need for a stand-in, Can we ever recall when the boss of the Tour was not actually there before?
Pogačar – Stunning
There were so many interesting developments, including the Big Hold-Up, when Tadej Pogačar pulled the rug out from under Jumbo-Visma and took the Yellow Jersey at the Tour—along with the White Jersey and the Polka-Dot Jersey—after the superb Primoz Roglic heartbreakingly faded on the penultimate stage. Jumbo-Visma showed itself to be a powerful machine, capable of taking on Ineos Grenadier, with a band of super duper domestiques. Is Wout van Aert a super domestique? Can we describe someone who won Milan-San Remo, Strade Bianche, two stages of the Tour de France and came second at the Tour of Flanders and at both the road race and time trial events at the World Championships as any kind of domestique? Maybe a hyper domestique? And he was joined by all kinds of big guns at Jumbo-Visma who revealed previously unpublicized strengths, notably American rider Sepp Kuss. And 2020 saw the first shots in what could become a beautiful rivalry on the road between van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel, comparable to the titanic battles of opponents in the past, like Anquetil-Poulidor or Armstrong-Ullrich. Let’s hope!
The Anquetil and Poulidor battle
There are excellent profiles of riders, notably the colourful if sometimes over-eager Julian Alaphillipe, and the never-quite-delivering Fabio Aru. Riders of great success, notably Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana, were not so much in the game this year, while some who had been written off came good—hooray for Mr. Porte! And the Young Guns arrived in force with Tadej Pogacar, Tao Geoghan Hart, Jai Hindley, and João Almeida, to say nothing of Filippo Ganna, whose awesome timetrialling was truly awesomely awesome.
Filippo Ganna – awesome timetrialling
Happily the book also contains some good stuff about women’s racing and the remarkable year of Anna van der Breggen in particular. While men’s racing has been hurt badly by the pandemic, with team financing drying up and races dropped from the calendar, women’s racing has suffered that much more. With less money and fewer races, great accomplishments such as van der Breggen’s, fly under the radar. The Giro Rosa has been dropped from the UCI top level due to lack of television coverage, and the first Paris-Roubaix for women, where former World Champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot was looking to be a real and eagerly-anticipated threat, was cancelled. La Course did take place but readers will particularly enjoy William Fotheringham’s speculation on what a women’s version of the Tour de France might look like as ASO prepares to (finally) get one together.
A remarkable year for Anna van der Breggen
“Racing in the Time of Covid” is a buffet of delights, serving up not only a nice summary of the important races (note particularly Nick Bulls’ three part analysis of race tactics covering La Course, Stage 3 of the Tour de France and the women’s Tour of Flanders) and diverse subjects such as course safety, concussion protocols, why Team Sunweb is so often overlooked, whether time trials have a future at Grand Tours, and how to keep everyone safe from a virus during the world’s biggest annual sporting event. There are ruminations on what it is like for a pro rider to consider retirement and a kind and generous account of the career of Nicolas Portal, the brilliant Directeur Sportif behind much of Team Sky/Ineos’ success who died aged only 40, to the shock of all.
Will we have fans roadside in 2021?
What will racing in 2021 look like? With the pandemic now in its second wave it is too soon to tell what will happen, although the Tour Down Under is already off, but we can only hope that when it does resume it will be as exciting as interesting as “Racing in the Time of Covid” portrays this year.
“Racing in the Time of Covid” by William Fotheringham, Peter Cossins, Jeremy Whittle, et al.)
234 pp., softbound
YouCaxton Publications 2020
Suggested Price: US$17.09/C$22.30/GBP12.99
Available in print and electronic formats
# Photos are not from the book. #
ONLY 48 hours after the Vuelta finished in Madrid, lacourseentete.com is proud to present its “pop-up” paperback book taking a look back at this year’s racing.
Cycling in the Time of Covid, a review of the tumultuous 2020 season is immediately available as a paperback via print on demand through Amazon Kindle Direct, will be available as an ebook shortly, and will be on sale as a limited edition conventional paperback with colour interior which can be bought now, delivery from November 24. Price is £12.99 for the printed book, £9.99 for the ebook.
The perfect stocking filler for any cyclist.
The 230-page book incorporates blogs from the lacourseente.com website, with some additional commissioned material. There are contributions from all the writers who supply content to the website: Nick Bull, Peter Cossins, William Fotheringham, Sadhbh O’Shea, Sophie Smith and Jeremy Whittle, with “guest appearances” from Owen Rogers and Barry Ryan.
“You can order your book today through Amazon and have it just a few days after the last race of the year,” said Fotheringham. “It’s been an amusing editorial challenge. We can’t claim to be comprehensive but there’s a lot of lovely reading in there about all the stuff that has happened since we launched in May.”
“I’d like to thank all my fellow writers on the site for the content, our sponsors for this, Prendas Ciclismo – who are also stocking the book – our podcast specialist OJ Borg, our designer Matt Morris, SWPix.com who have provided us with fantastic pictures including the cover by Alex Whitehead, and Robert Branton at YouCaxton who pulled out all the stops so that we could make this happen.”
lacourseente.com is a website set up in May by a group of cycling media workers to produce long form journalism about bike racing. The group most recently worked with the US magazine Peloton to supply content in the form of blogs and podcasts during the Tour, Giro and Vuelta.
Cycling in the Time of Covid is available at: