The Most Exciting Race You’ll Ever Read


I shall start by saying that I am an avid reader. I’m pretty sure this stems from the lack of TV in our house growing up – there wasn’t anything else to do except read! However, I am not used to reading books which require me to think too hard. I’m pretty sure this stems from wanting to read as fast as possible. I viewed every library/school reading incentive program as a competition with the winner (me) crushing the enemy under the sheer size of their reading list. (I was not unique in this respect – all of my siblings approached these incentive programs with the same no-mercy attitude.) Once I started reading The Rider by Tim Krabbé, I wasn’t sure how this “thinking” book would go down. However, the further I got into the book, the slower I read. I became more willing to take my time, as I realized it was a book best enjoyed at a slow pace.

For those who are unfamiliar with this book, Krabbé tells the story of a 137 km race over 140 pages. Krabbé (the author) recounts how Krabbé (the racer) really wants to win Tour de Mont Aigoual and spends the next 150 pages detailing every attack, every pedal stroke, every painful breath. While telling the story of the race, he deftly weaves in tales from his early career and the careers of champions past. I won’t dream of ruining the ending, but I will say I spent the last 100m as tense as I do while watching a sprint on TV!

For me, what Krabbé really illustrates in his book is what cyclists are willing to push through to win- how the need to win can push one beyond what anyone thought possible. Again and again and again Krabbé pushes himself out of the saddle to catch that wheel and stay with the leaders or avoid getting dropped. Just when he thinks he can’t go any harder, just when we think he can’t, he does. It’s just how I imagine a racer does it.

The other thing I found enjoyable about the book was the writing itself. I spent most of the book smiling to myself, not because it was overly funny but because the prose was so clever! It is like a piece of candy waiting to be unwrapped and those to take the time to discover what is underneath the wrapper are rewarded by the sweetness within. Take these tidbets:

“I’m gone, I shift, I lean on it, this is the jump you can always make, the pain is a march by protesters who’ve forgotten to paint their signs.”

“It looks like I could reach out and grab it…but between us lies a few million years of erosion. One wall of the house rises up as an extension of a chasm to deep to grasp. A rip in the earth with no conceivable bottom; the grand past of the swimming creek we came by.”

That one I had to read a few times to get. And this one, when he’s trying to decide to shift down, just made me laugh at it’s cleverness:

“The rhythm is no longer enough to muffle the pain…what’s forty-three divided by nineteen? Jesus Christ. The nineteen walks over to the glass of forty-three, takes two slugs, wipes its mouth, rubs its chin thoughtfully, stands there like that for a few minutes and then turns to the audience with furrowed brow, arms raised in surrender. Forty-three divided by twenty, that would be a lot easier, wouldn’t it?”

While I quite liked the book, I’m not sure how much it would appeal to either casual readers or non cycling fan. Even as a non racer, I enjoyed reading it, as it was an interesting insight into racing. And, as a non racer and a newbie to the sport, I read it and reviewed it from that perspective. For those who are racers, the Cycling Tips blog wrote a review of the same book, but from a racer’s perspective. I found it very interesting to see the differences between how he read and enjoyed the book and how I read and enjoyed the book!

But, in the end, Krabbé insists racing is just as much a mental feat as it is a physical feat and his book illustrates this beautifully.

(side note: the title of this blog comes from this book :-))

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  1. Re-finding Greatness « Mastering the Uphill Shift

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