Inside The Peloton, Nicolas Roche with Gerard Cromwell (2012)

Inside The Peloton, Nicolas Roche with Gerard Cromwell (2012)

Transworld Ireland 781848271104
382 pp plus index quarto £14.99

As might be expected, discipline and single-minded determination are up there with natural talent, stamina and endurance as essential requirements. But there is something else: jaw-dropping resilience and bravery.

It’s the crashes. The thought of unprotected flesh on arms, elbows and knees coming into violent impact with a roadside wall or gritty road surface has a horrible resonance with anyone who ever took a tumble at speed. Yet for the professional cyclist, it is a hazard faced in every road race, the injuries endured with astonishing stoicism.

In the chapter Dangerous Game, Roche records the circumstances of all his numerous crashes – and their consequences.

He writes that when training, safety is something he always bears in mind – “but you never think about it in a race. You have to put it out of your mind.”

On stage five of the eight-day Critérium du Dauphiné, he was riding on Seb Minard’s wheel, tucked into an “aero position” with hands on top of the handlebars when his front wheel found a hole and suddenly bounced up in the air. “Covered in sweat, my right hand lost its grip and slipped off the bars…and I just flew off the bike.

“I hit the deck…and whacked my head off a concrete road divider.”

He was stunned, disorientated, but got back on his bike. Then “(the) last climb was pure pain. I’d opened all my old wounds from the previous two crashes…and also added some new ones. I was raw from my ankle to my chin. All up my shin, my ribs, chest, even under my armpit was cut, all the way to my fingers on one side.

“Although I didn’t really know what I was doing, and most likely concussed, I just went into autopilot and kept pedalling until someone told me to stop.”

Mostly, the book is arranged chronologically, beginning with the meeting in France of Nicolas’s father, the (yet-to-be) great Stephen Roche, and his mother, Lydia, then just 15.
We follow the author’s childhood in Ireland and introduction to competitive cycling, and thus far, the book has little to commend it to anyone but a devoted fan of father and son.
Readers with a greater interest in the world of professional cycling ought not to be discouraged, however, because the account becomes meatier the deeper one delves, and of course, a book about professional cyclists with any pretence of honesty is bound to mention doping.

In 2005 Nicolas joined the Cofidis team, nine of whose members had been investigated the previous year by the French police for doping. As a result, Confidis instituted a rigorous anti-doping regime, and Nicolas writes: “For me, to be dope tested on one of my very first days with Cofidis was very reassuring. I had already made up my mind…that I would be racing clean.”

So, that’s out of the way.

At the heart of Inside the Peleton are the race diaries that the author kept of his campaigns in the 2010 Tour de France and Vuelta a España (Tour of Spain) and the 2011 Tour de France which were published, day by day, in The Irish Independent.

They are an important record, and make for compelling reading, but it is the details given here of practically every race Nicolas Roche has ridden that make this memoir especially astonishing.

STB Apr 12

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *