In High Gear

Samuel Abt

Read July 2007

Abt's book, published in 1989 and updated in 1990, is a fascinating look back at a different era of professional road-bicycle racing.

Or is it?

This collection of essays is both enjoyable and depressingly familiar. Written before the EPO era (that is, when EPO was being discovered but before its dangers had become widely known), this book is oddly reminiscent of the post-EPO era (i.e., now). In light of Landis's controversial 2006 ride, and Vinokourov's in 2007, I was startled and saddened—but ultimately not shocked—to read about riders being tossed for their testosterone level, or about controversies about leaked drug tests (here, Delgado, but fill in about a dozen contemporary riders and the story is depressingly identical). It is perhaps perfectly appropriate that in a sport based on rotation, what goes around eventually comes right back around at high momentum.

But I do the book a disservice by dwelling on these matters. Abt offers a wonderful description of a heroic ride (a description suitably disavowed by the rider himself) by Paul Sherwen; gives us a finessed, poetic description of Milan-San Remo that made me see it through new eyes, as a kind of one-day Paris-Nice; brings alive Belgian kermesses such as the GP Rudy Dhaenens and Nokere Koerse, classic Flemish races whose courses I hung around last year; presents, ironically, Laurent Fignon as an innovator in the time-trial; and shows us Merckx's cynical side by describing his support for aero bars. The book only slips when it offers one-sided presentations of LeMond and Hampsten by filling the articles with long quoted passages.