Friday, 5 September 2014

On The Road Bike- The Search for a Nation's Cycling Soul

If you live in England, you may have noticed something over the last five years or so. There are cyclist everywhere. Ned Boulting, ITV's main Tour de France reporter has made it his mission to discover why it is now so common to get about on just two wheels.

Boulting (below) makes it clear from the start that he is no cycling expert. Instead of potentially putting off the reader with his opening remarks, Boulting endears himself with his honesty. There is no sense of the author dictating to the reader what it is they are about to be learn but rather that both the author and the reader are going on the same journey, at the same time.

There is an overwhelming sense throughout the book that Boulting is incredibly proud of the subject matter. At times, the English cycling scene is at best nutty, from the amateur races on a cold, rainy day in front of a man and his dog to the nearly pointless Sunday afternoon rides that amount to very little about from sweat and the odd loose chain.

Yet despite this rather grim outlook, Boulting endeavours to find the quirky soul of British cycling. He succeeds. A bit like Boulting, I must admit, that there are many names in this book, the likes of the two Tommy Godwins and Graham Webb, that I had not heard of before I picked up "On The Road Bike". Boulting has a brilliant knack of making the reader feel like they are there is the living room of English's sport unsung heroes, sipping a cup of homemade tea and enjoying sandwiches and tales alike.

There are also some brilliant anecdotes that could only come from a man who has been privileged to be able to be at the centre of the British cycling revolution of the past decade. From fetching champagne for the Team Sky lads after their historic Tour De France triumph in 2012 to conducting a rather bizarre interview with the former major of London Ken Livingstone. Boulting details extraordinary stories of this fast growing sport.

Boulting admits himself that this book is not a comprehensive account of British cycling. Yet what it is, is a fascinating description of the romantic tales and unlikely heroes that give cycling in Britain a certain je ne sais quoi.

Hinman Rating- 88/100

Author- Ned Boulting

Publisher- Yellow Jersey Press

ISBN- 9780224092098

Price- Cheap, no more than £8

Availability- Wide, available at most book shops and websites

Monday, 18 August 2014

A Life Too Short- The Tragedy of Robert Enke

Ronald Reng's powerful account of the tragic tale of former German goalkeeper Robert Enke who committed suicide five years ago, transcends the world of football and sport, exposing the reality of depression.

Product Details

Translated from the original German, the book chronicles the rise of Enke starting with his youthful days at minnows Carl Zeiss Jena to moving to Portuguese giants Benfica and beyond.

Yet Enke was struggling. He could not escape the memories of his in-game mistakes. The role of a goalkeeping is an isolated one and this took its toll.

Despite this, the natural talent of Enke (below) was seeing him receive praise from the footballing world, culminating in his transfer to Barcelona.

What should have been the highlight of the German's club career proved to be a nightmare. In his debut for the club away at the third tier side Novelda, which ended in a 3-2 defeat and the subject of a whole chapter of the book, Enke was later blamed for two of the goals by captain Frank De Boer.

It would be too simplistic to state that Enke's depression started at this point, especially considering his ever present anxieties since becoming a professional footballer, but it was a turning point in the career and life of the German.

A similarly troubled time in Istanbul followed for Enke, which is brilliantly described by Reng (below) who among other things uses extracts from Enke's personal notebook throughout the book.

Yet Enke bounced back both on and off the field. A move back to Germany was followed by a resurgence. However with knowing in hindsight the fate of Enke, there are always sharp reminders of the troubles of those with Enke's have to endure, even when things seem to be going well.

Reng not only portrays the life of Robert himself, but also those around him. He makes a conscious effort to detail the struggles and the length to which those close to Robert went to help him.

It is also importantly noted the many happy times that Robert and his wife Teresa shared (below). There are many funny stories of their lives together and Robert's interactions with his fellow players.

The death of Teresa and Robert's daughter Lara greatly upset the pair and was in part the cause of the second spell of depression that Robert could not overcome. He was Germany's number one goalkeeper and the captain of his new team Hannover 96 but Enke could hardly get out of bed.

The last two chapters of the book reach the climax of Robert's struggles in a compelling and heart wrenching fashion. There is no over dramatic ending, just the simple passage "He knew the timetable off by heart. He knew, for instance, that the regional express from Bremen came speeding through Elivese at 6:15pm.

Enke and Reng had always stated that they hoped to one day write a book together. Unfortunately the latter had to do it on his own. However he has done Robert proud and all those who suffer from his illness.

Hinman Rating- 89/100

Authors- Ronald Reng

Publisher- Yellow Jersey Press

ISBN- 9780224091664

Price- Cheap, no more than £7

Availability- Wide, most bookshops and websites

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Tackling Life (Striving for my Type of Perfection)

This is no ordinary sports autobiography. Written by Jonny Wilkinson and his mentor (and self titled father figure) Steve Black, the book chronicles what being at the top of the sporting world can do to a person and those around them, and how to reverse the dangerous trend that it can lead to.  

Jonny admits on the first page of the book that he is not an expressive person. Yet this book explores, how he ticked, what made him one of the most recognisable sportsmen on the planet and what nearly ended his career while he was at his prime. The first few chapters set the scene. Jonny talks at length about his routine in the years prior to the 2003 World Cup. Hours and hours would be spent on the training field, but life was passing Jonny by. After his heroic exploits in that final against Australia, Jonny felt at his lowest. Nerves were getting the better of him and his was not enjoying the game that he loved. In the years that followed a string of injuries and his constant obsession with perfection, nearly bought to an end a glittering career.
This is where Blackie (below with Jonny) comes in. Together they reassessed Jonny's life between 2003 and 2007, what was working and what was not. However this was not about the rugby. As the title of the book suggests, this was all about life.

As the chapters go on, progress is made. Although the book does switch from Jonny's world pre 2003 to his life in the four years after the World Cup, there is a general flow towards the end game in 2007. Taking on the style of a conversation, Jonny assesses what was sending him to the brink and Blackie is there to share his wisdom, with the use of several motivation techniques and quotes. An example and personal favourite of mine is Blackie's notion of not simply treating people how you would want to be treated but take the time to find out how people want to be treated. There are plenty of antidotes too from both men, memories to express the ideas put forward in the book. At times it borders on self help, but it truly gives a great insight into the mindset of one of English sport's most iconic figures of modern times.
The lessons learnt and the ideas shared can be applied to any walk of life. Blackie in-particular highlights how business can learn from sport and vice versa. Together Jonny and Blackie lift the reader. Simple guidelines are suggested with clarity and humour, which makes reading the book a truly enjoyable experience.

If you are looking for a timeline of Jonny's finest hours, then Tackling Life is not for you. I would suggested Jonny: My Autobiography. However it is very rare that a sporting star is so open and honest about his life. Therefore, Tackling Life is not only for sports fans, but anyone searching for themselves.
Hinman Rating- 87/100

Authors- Jonny Wilkinson and Steve Black

Publisher- Headline

ISBN- 9780755318452

Price- Cheap, no more than £8

Availability- Wide, most bookshops and websites

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Le Tour- A History of the Tour de France

Geoffrey Wheatcroft journeys through the one hundred editions of the world biggest bike race, to produce a neat and concise history of the Tour de France. 

Starting from pre-tour times at the turn of the 20th century, Wheatcroft analysing the invention of the bicycle and its effect on society not just in France but across the world.

The author proceeds to detail the events that led to the inauguration of the first tour and the importance of Henri Desgrange, the editor of the French paper Auto, who went on to run the race until he took ill in the mid 1930's.

The impact of the Tour on competitive bike racing is thoroughly examined as it transformed the sport from a day event to a gruelling spectacle which lasted weeks.

Wheatcroft makes a point of mentioning each staging of the race, which could have made the book repetitive. However the book is set nicely into the context of events in the wider world. From world wars to political upheaval in France itself, the book truly feels like a history of the last 110 years.

There are also literary aspects to the book, aswell as additional chapters that focus on individual regions of France which the race runs through, notable Brittany and Savoy. The book is therefore clearly designed to appeal to the wider public as well as to cyclists. However the frequent use of the French language without, in most cases, a translation into English does become slightly irritating.
The evolution of the tour is the main theme of the book, from Desgrange (below) and his leadership of the race, where stages would often take over 30 hours to complete, to the post world two era where teams became the norm and the various jerseys took their modern form up to the present running of the event where every small detail is analysed in finite detail, a far cry from the cavalier approach of the early tour.

Great rivalries of the Tour are explored from Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali to Greg Le Mond and Bernard Hinault aswell as the great champions from the legendary Eddy Merckx to the understated Miguel Indurain. 

As the book reaches the mid 1990's the book loses its edge. The last three chapters deal with the biggest scandal of the Tour's history- doping. 

Doping is mentioned throughout the book, imparticular when exploring the tragic death of British cyclist Tom Simpson (below) on the ascent on the Mont Ventoux while he was taking performance enhancing drugs. Yet at this stage in the Tour's history doping control were non-existent. 

When the book was first released in 2003 to make the 100th anniversary of the first staging of the Tour, Lance Armstrong was the true legend of the sport. Yet since then it has emerged that it was all a big lie, this leaves the author in a incredibly difficult position.

The latest edition of the book is updated for the 2013 tour and the chapter on Armstrong's (below) seven "victories" is heavily re-edited. The chapter does not flow as those that proceed it do but this can be said for the Tour de France itself.

However in the final chapter Wheatcroft reignites the book, with the triumph of the British. From London hosting the opening stage in 2007 to the victories of Mark Cavendish (below) in the green Jersey and Bradley Wiggins in the famous maillot jaune (yellow jersey), the book finds its joie de vivre back at the last.

Wheatcroft, in this history of the tour, has brilliantly paid homage to each edition of the race without the result being a long and tedious account of the world biggest annually sporting event. For this I say bravo!

Hinman rating 84/100
Author- Geoffrey Wheatcroft

Publisher-  Simon & Schuster UK

ISBN- 978141128943

Price- Very cheap, (no more than £7/8)

Availability- fairly wide (major bookshops and websites plus specialist retailers