- Taking hairpins in the left lane. Flipping off idiot drivers. Running red lights. Refusing to opt out of the crit-ending field sprint. Inside every bike racing lifer is a deep vein of rage. And with that comes a tolerance -- no, an embrace -- of ill-considered behavior.
And in the shadow of Mother’s Day, it’s proper to acknowledge that, indeed, it’s the woman who pays. It’s the mothers and wives who tolerate our absence from home, nevertheless sow the seeds of joy, and then welcome us back as if we haven’t just spent the morning doing very bad things. The risk is all theirs because they’re the ones who’ll be left putting the pieces back together if, some day, our rage causes things to go tragic.
Where the book shines brightest is in the pages devoted to Eddy’s youth. The retaliation against the Merckx family for its links to the Nazi occupiers of Belgium provides a fascinating and terrifying start to the book. From there, Fotheringham is masterful at narrating Eddy’s teenage negotiation with his parents to quit school in order to race full time. Then comes the cajoling done by Eddy’s mother to persuade a reluctant Belgian federation to include him on the amateur road squad for the 1964 World Championship in Sallanches, France. Eddy repaid her efforts by winning the race and earning his first arc en ciel jersey.
The strength of the story continues through the peak years of Eddy’s career. Fotheringham vividly portrays the exhausting nature of Eddy’s schedule. From February to November he was obsessed with winning each of the 150 races he entered. The storytelling reaches its crescendo in the chapter devoted to the World Hour Record in Mexico City.
But Fotheringham’s momentum slows in the chapters devoted to the decline of Eddy’s career. His characterization of Eddy’s physical and emotional erosion lacks in the convincing depth of thought of earlier pages. It’s a great shame because the dissection of how empires fall is, by its nature, more fascinating than the story of their rise. The book does little to explain how The Cannibal lost his hunger, leading to an anti-climactic ending. My disappointment at the final 50 pages makes me nudge Half-Man, Half-Bike into second place in Fotheringham’s trio of cycling biographies. Atop the podium stands his classic Fallen Angel: The Passion of Fausto Coppi, while a distant third is Put Me Back on My Bike: In Search of Tom Simpson.
- One final note pertaining to The Cannibal. I’ve recently gotten turned on to the weekly ‘Merckx Mondays’ phenomenon on the blog Prolly Is Not Probably. It’s less a tribute to Eddy himself, and more a celebration of the art, the kitsch, and the pure relentlessness of new stuff made in honor of Merckx (some bike related, some not.) This is bike culture at its best. Chapeau to the Prolly posse.
- Did anyone else notice Alejandro Valverde’s wristwatch at Liege-Bastogne-Liege? Upon seeing this photo from La Redoute snapped by Klaus of Cycling Inquisition, I initially hoped that it was analog. Might it be? Sadly, it appears to more likely be a customized Team Movistar Suunto Core or something similar. Does anyone have the story?
Also from LBL, did you happen to see Oscar Friere wearing Assos Zegho glasses? Given that Assos doesn’t sponsor pro teams or riders, this was a shocker since a rider of Friere’s quality is capable of scoring a near-six-figure eyewear contract. Yes, Zeghos are expensive. But speaking from experience, they’re fabulous in all light conditions and we sell a mind-blowing number of them.
- As expected, the excitement of this year’s Giro d’Italia is proving to be an immense personal and professional distraction. Compounding my lack of productivity is the fact that the host broadcaster, RAI, is demonstrating world-class media savvy by making the race available on all devices imaginable.
RAI race coverage on its app for the iPhone and iPad has proven flawless. The footage is live, yet the picture quality has shocking clarity. And, as you’d expect from Italian TV, the play-by-play, while unintelligible to an English speaker, is a mellifluous soundtrack for the racing action. And suffering through only one minute of commercials per hour is a delight. This flawless mobile coverage plus neon, neon everywhere is making May my favorite month.