Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review / A Significant Other

When I bought A Significant Other by Matt Rendell at the great local bookstore The Amazing Alonzo, I thought it was going to be a blow by blow account of daily life in the 2003 Tour de France from the point of view of a domestique (hence the title).  I was only about 1/3 correct because this book not only covers some of the more tense and triumphant moments of the 2003 Tour but also delves into the history of the Tour in great detail and explains the role of the domestique or servant throughout that history.

A Significant Other

Lance Armstrong won the 2003 Tour but it takes a team to win.  The Tour portion of the book is from the perspective of teammate Victor Hugo Pena, a domestique for the team leader.  It’s inspiring and heartbreaking to read about Pena who was a big name in his native Columbia but in the world class arena of the Tour, he is just a servant.  However, he was able to gain the leader’s yellow jersey for three days because of his great prologue effort and his team’s impressive team time trial performance that finally catapulted him into the maillot jaune.  So his tour started with a rush of being the leader, being the first Colombian to wear the leader’s yellow jersey but ended with helping Lance win.  Quite the string of accomplishments but it must be hard knowing that you will NEVER win the Tour.  Even though Pena was instrumental with Lance achieving greatness, Pena will never be remembered as one of the greats.

Victor Hugo Pena - Credit to BBC

Rendell also explains the history of the Tour de France from its inception as a means to sell more newspapers but ended up as a uniting force for France and then a catalyst for uniting many nation into the sport of cycling.  Extremely interesting details and for me, this really served as a primer for any further Tour research that I might do.

Finally and almost breathtakingly, Rendell greatly expands on the Tour as a catalyst for uniting nations and uses it as an opportunity to talk about how the core exploits the periphery relating to world-systems theory.  Much like a developed nation exploits the cheap labor or resources of a developing nation a leader of a cycling team exploits the efforts of the domestiques.  Consider the amount of effort to ride first in a pack, it’s a lot.  Consider the amount of effort to ride or draft behind someone, it’s far less.  The domestique will let the leader draft until the domestique physically can’t lead anymore.  The domestique will will place the leader in a position to win.  Rendell compares it to a master Renaissance artist who has a legion of apprentices.  The apprentices paint the outlines, the background, the cartoons of the characters so that the artist can finish the detail with his genius.  Finally, Rendell uses Pena as an example of how the cycling world draws talent from new to cycling countries for the benefit of established cycling countries.  Truly amazing to use cycling as a foil to consider capitalism, nation development and international relations.

This book is truly great sports writing on a few different levels and I highly recommend it.

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The best investment I’ve ever made – Greg LeMond’s Complete Book of Bicycling

Back when I was first getting into long distance cycling around the age of 12, my dad bought me a cheap but decent Raleigh 12 speed from a garage sale.   I rode that bike the whole summer and luckily never had a flat or a mechanical issue because I didn’t ride with a spare or tools.  I was too young to think ahead or even think of safety, I typically didn’t wear a helmet.  But I lived in the country and rolling country roads with little traffic were plentiful.

That long Minnesota winter after my first summer of riding, I bought Greg LeMond’s Complete Book of Bicycling and read it all the way through.  I learned so much about biking history, racing, training, diet, maintenance and most importantly, buying a bike.

The following summer, I bought a Bianchi Forza from Twin Ports Cyclery in Duluth, MN and had a great summer of riding due in large part to learning so much from this great book.  I had a seat bag, rode with a spare and tools, had clipless pedals and yes, wore spandex.  I rode solo for the most part and I didn’t care that this wasn’t what other kids were doing.  I was content to watch Miguel Indurain and Tony Rominger duel in the 1993 Tour de France (good effort Tony, you are still my favorite) and imagine myself racing alongside.  I no longer fit into the replica Mapei-Clas (Tony’s team) jersey that I wore for the next couple years but I still have it.

I’m sure there are newer books and some information is a little out of date but if you are thinking of entering the sport and of buying a new  performance bike, you could do a lot worse. This book should be the foundation of your cycling knowledge.


Yes, this book has been well read.


Action!


Love those stripes, Greg!


Time trial with non-aero brakes, toe clips and a cycling cap instead of an aero helmet.  Old school effort!


Check the hair net.


How to disassemble a 5 speed cassette.  Not relevant today but back then, I was fascinated.