They’ll Never Catch You Now, Ralph Hurne (2007)

The randy roadman makes an ill-advised comeback

Van Der Plas Publications 9781892495563 14 x 21.5 cm 198pp $14.95

It is nearly 40 years since Hurne’s first cycling novel, The Yellow Jersey. That book applied the pulp-fiction method to professional cycling and, as a period piece has an unexpected charm.

Its protagonist, Terry Davenport is a hard-living, shagtastic, rule-bending rogue at the end of his pro-riding career. Like the best of this genre, the book affects to lift the lid on some of cycling’s seamier practices, via a knockabout plot that is sprinkled with secret deals, stimulants and sex.

As a bargain-bucket page-turner, it provides an enjoyable means to while away a few hours. As a franchise that merits revival, however, it is a distinctly odd choice.

The action resumes a year later. While Yellow Jersey got away with depicting a slightly hazy historical moment – probably the late 1960s – here the incongruous details really creak. There are mobile phones, but snail mail does not appear to have displaced the formal letter. Russian gangsters make an improbably appearance but modern doping techniques don’t get a mention. And the control of personnel in team cars on the Tour de France appears to be rather more relaxed than the organisation of a typical club 10.

The book’s theme is the transition from young adulthood to mature middle age – a phase though which all its main characters, male and female are passing. Potential legovers remain just that and what insights there are into the world of professional cycling are slight and underplayed. Davenport is pressured to ride a final Tour, as is his mate, an Italian climber named Vito. Both manage the kind of glorious swansong that every rider deserves, but few attain.

Sadly the same cannot be said for this novel. Hurne is patently a skilled writer, with a love for and a knowledge of cycling – both of which he is keen to pass on. Sadly in this book he ends up as his characters would more probably have done – embarrassing himself in pursuit of past glories.

PS Oct 10

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