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The Road Book 2020 Review

1 Mar 2021
Verdict:

Cycling’s journal of the plague year is a perfect look back at one of the sport’s most exciting seasons

Cyclist Rating: 
For 
Exhaustive • Well written • Nicely presented
Against 
More suited to obsessives than dilettantes • Expensive

I’m not going to claim 2020 was the best year of cycling I’ve ever witnessed, but it was the one I enjoyed watching the most. That’s despite the fact that the nearest I came to the action in person was getting my nose really close up to the telly.

Starting with a cracking early season that was stopped unexpectedly in its tracks, the radically back-loaded 2020 calendar saw conventions turned upside down, plans switched and unlikely champions crowned.

Of course, the reason for this upheaval was the Covid pandemic. It was also the reason that once racing was allowed to reconvene, the vicarious thrill of watching people racing their bikes was all the more exciting.

Now onto its third year, The Road Book bills itself as cycling’s definitive almanack. At almost 650 pages this hardback volume contains month-by-month stats and results from every important race of the season, along with essays and profiles from many of the key players.

It’s hard not to think that at three years old it’s already chronicling some pretty radical cycling history.

Reliving a very strange year

Compiled by commentator and uber-nerd Ned Boulting, it’s kind of what I imagine the inside of Cyclist’s Joseph Robinson's head to be like. While I have Wikipedia and ProCyclingStats, both he and Ned share the unnerving ability to recall facts and results from races like some kind of human filing system.

However, as I learned during the lockdown, forgetting has its benefits. For while it does render me a poor addition to a pub quiz team, I do get to experience increased joy in reliving things I’ve already forgotten. The Road Book majors on this kind of rapid-turnaround nostalgia.

Arranged chronologically, smaller races get a page per stage, while bigger events like the Grand Tours get two. Creating a narrative out of stats and results so thorough as to include both temperature and wind speed on the day, The Road Book also includes writing from some of the best keyboards in cycling journalism.

Further fleshed out by essays any magazine would jump at the chance to publish, the result is a holistic account of the season from multiple perspectives.

So in between race reports you get Nicholas Dlamini on growing up in a South African township and making it to the WorldTour, only to have his arm broken by a ranger while out on a training ride; Anna van der Breggen on a season she took the Giro Rosa along with two World Championship jerseys; and Tao Geoghegan Hart on finding a way through the late-season snow to a stunning first Grand Tour Victory.

Cyclist readers can get an exclusive Road Book bookmark with each new copy of the 2020 edition purchased, simply enter code 20RBCYCLIST at checkout. You can buy your copy here

Small print, big themes

Despite being high in word count and low in font size, the book is also broken up by the kind of trivia and fantasy match-ups that made similar encyclopedias such essential rainy day reading for the pre-internet generation.

Of course, you could always flick straight to the glossy middle section to soak up the 32 pages of equally lovely photo reportage, although taste dictates you should really save them as a treat for making it to the halfway mark.

Contextualising what was at times an odd season the extended essays by cycling journalists will appeal to readers who like their reportage long-form. For example Cycling News editor Laura Weislo gets 2,500 words to cover how cycling adapted to Covid, both in terms of the faltering season along with the turbo-charged adoption of virtual racing, while author Max Leonard gets a similar space to cover cycling’s history of war, pandemic and not racing.

At the races

Besides all this worthy and very well written stuff is the season itself. It’s a bit mean to criticise The Road Book for something beyond its control, but with less racing, this edition is the slimmest so far. However, what it loses in page count it makes up for in drama.

Covid notwithstanding, Tadej Pogačar’s stunning final stage overthrowing of presumptive Tour de France winner Primož Roglič was a huge moment for cycling. Ditto Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert’s psychodrama in Flanders, or Chloe Dygert crashing out at the World Champs.

Already seeming like a long time ago, I’d bet good money on the 2020 season being viewed as a particularly vintage year the further we make it into the future. Assuming you have a bookcase large enough to store it and don’t mind the hefty £50 price-tag, The Road Book is also likely to improve with age.

I’ll definitely be hanging on to my copy. For one thing, flicking through it is about the only way I can remember what I was doing during any given month of the past year – even if I already know the answer is just watching the bike racing on TV.

Cyclist readers can get an exclusive Road Book bookmark with each new copy of the 2020 edition purchased, simply enter code 20RBCYCLIST at checkout. You can buy your copy here

Price: 
£50

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