The Yellow Jersey

Ralph Hurne

Read October-November 2003

As the title should suggest to some of you, this is a book about road bicycle racing. Hurne's lead character, Terry Davenport, is a has-been bicyclist nurturing a rising star. Terry is a sort of characteristically British sexist pig, the kind Benny Hill made a career impersonating. The Brits even seem to have a phrase for such a person: "a cad and a bounder". That's Terry Davenport.

Sporting novels must be frightfully difficult to write. When you write about a person's life, you have some choice about where to begin, where to end, and at what speed to go through the middle. Sports, in contrast, is difficult. There are any number of reasons for why we might enjoy (observing) sports, from definite outcomes (tell that to a Test cricket fan...) to the regimented passage of time. At any rate, writing about sports is pretty constraining: if you invent a sporting encounter, you have to decide whom to play, how they'll do it, where they'll be at crucial junctures... and how it'll end.

Hurne's book is enjoyable in spots, though it's also distinctly dated (in very much the same way as Benny Hill is). To confuse matters more, there are updated references to newer times, such as mentions of Le Pen and Margaret Thatcher. Hurne takes a shot at presenting cycling as the microcosm of life -- or even, How Life Resembles the Tour de France -- but (fortunately) makes only a weak attempt and doesn't especially pursue it. He does sometimes nicely capture the feel of competitive cycling. He has funny moments. But he lacks the literary touch to really convey his sport -- for example, the drama of a mountain climb. He also populates the book with characters who are hard to care about.

But then, ah yes, there's the matter of the ending. Hurne doesn't know how to end it, and in a very real sense the book keels over and dies. This book simply doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same breadth as The Rider.