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With all the revelations about the systemised doping culture surrounding Lance Armstrong's team in the 1990s, it was interesting to read a story of a time before cycling was embroiled in one drugs scandal after another. Although perhaps not as memorable as Armstrong's career, Stephen Roche's will hold a place in cycling history for 1987, when he became only the second man to win the Tour de France, the Giro D'Italia and the World Championships in the same season. A quarter of a century after that remarkable feat, Roche has produced his autobiography, ''Born to Ride''.
The title seems apt, as it appears that Stephen Roche was destined for a life on two wheels from quite early on in his life. His father cycled and a neighbour spotted Stephen on his bike while he was a teenager and dragged him away from football in the park to try racing and Roche's course was set. From here on in, the book is a personal view of his career, with brief glimpses of his personal life and a little at the end about his life after cycling.
Recently, I described the writing style in Leo McKinstry's "Jack Hobbs: England's Greatest Cricketer" as perfectly fitting for the man and the actions it described. ''Born to Ride'' is exactly the same, in that the almost breathless and fast moving narrative when describing Roche's racing career fits the speed and demands of the sport perfectly. Cycling is a sport where a lot of activity takes place on consecutive days and Roche describes an awful lot of those days in the saddle, especially when he's competing in the major cycling events.
This does give the book a slightly one dimensional feel, as with Roche's life being entirely devoted to his sport, there is little time for anything else. This is reflected in the content of the book in that there are only brief mentions of his family in between the cycling and the parts of his life before and after cycling are really only touched upon. Whilst I can appreciate that Roche was a cyclist first, I would have liked a little more about the man, rather than just the cyclist he was. However, I can imagine that this single-minded devotion to his cycling is what allowed him to be as successful as he was and what is here is certainly good enough that you don't really notice what is missing.
On the plus side, the narrow focus does mean that Roche never strays into the areas of sensationalism that many autobiographies can do. Although he does dispute what others have said about him taking drugs, which is very topical at present, there is very little here about how he feels about things. This means that there is no airing of dirty laundry and, when you consider he's been through a divorce, it comes across as quite gentlemanly by comparison to many autobiographies.
The other thing that comes across is that Roche writes very well. Many sports autobiographies suffer from their authors being so dedicated to sport that things like education fell by the wayside. But this is no monosyllabic ''Match of the Day'' post-match interview style book. Roche recalls much of what he did even all those years ago and manages to write about it in such a way that you can almost feel every turn of the pedal up the steepest of mountain as well as the exhilaration of speeding downhill on the way to winning a major stage race.
For any cycling fan, this is essential reading, particularly for the more recent devotee of the sport who has seen nothing but it tainted by scandal. This is a story of how hard work and determination can be enough to succeed in competitive sport and it's told so well, you can feel a part of it. For these reasons, any fan of sports autobiographies in general will also soon become immersed in the fast pace Roche both writes and rides at. Given that the book is currently only available in hardback, it's quite expensive at £6.89 from the Amazon Marketplace, although the Kindle version is slightly cheaper at £6.17, but this is still reasonable value for anyone who has followed cycling for as long as I have and will become even more an essential read when the paperback edition is released.
This is a slightly amended version of a review previously published under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk