It’s All Downhill, David Ward (2011)
An enjoyable novel based on a mass-participation, endurance cycle ride
New Generation Publishing 1908775327 232 pp paperback, or Kindle edition £7.99/£5.14
This is the story of Mark, a thirty-something leisure cyclist, and the cast of characters he encounters on an organised cycle ride from John O’Groats to Lands End. The event’s promoters have promised participants that they ‘face the challenge of a lifetime’ on which they can expect to ‘find yourself – there’s more there’. And although our hero crosses the start line a reluctant sceptic, by the time he reachs Cornwall’s tip, he has encountered a kind of magic – although not quite the kind that the corporate sponsors of the ride had in mind.
Strangers at outset, the lives of Mark, Bob, Gillian and Lawrence become entwined – as do those of the sinister, Russian Trans-Global cycling team, and the enigmatic Sionaid. There are drugs, desperation, love and at least one car chase en route in a plot that had enough to keep me turning the pages. And Ward’s dissection of the curious way in which such events are organised makes for a worthwhile slice of reportage.
With two Deloitte Ride Across Britain’s under his belt, Ward clearly found characters and story-lines in spadefulls as he pedalled his way the length of the country. And, as he has observed, if Dick Francis could use horse racing as the backdrop to his novels, why could not cycling serve the same purpose?
He is right, as this book ably demonstrates. And in focussing on mass-start sportif-style events, he may be on to something. In a month when Cycling Weekly reported, on the merger of two of the largest organisers of this kind of event, in the manner of some major corporate takeover, it is clear that such events are a significant social movement.
Whether the public’s interest in such events is sufficient to sustain a series of novels, I am less sure. Nevertheless, for a distracting entertainment, with at least a little to say about our world, Ward’s first published outing is worth a spin.
TD May 12