on 24 June 2012
The highlight of Roche's autobiography unsurprisingly lies in the highlight of his career - 1987 when he won touched greatness and joined Eddy Merckx as the only winners of cycling's Triple Crown (Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and World Championship Road Race). Sensibly the book grabs your attention by beginning at the heart of the action in 1987. It then switches back to Roche's early life and progresses chronologically to today.
His account of 1987 is particularly detailed and insightful. The book also provides a glimpse at events surrounding his career generally and developments since his retirement. Particularly emotional and striking is his young son's battle against Leukemia.
In this reviewer's opinion, however, in contrast to his career, Roche's autobiography fails to touch greatness in a number of respects.
Firstly, to my surprise (as someone who found Stephen particularly engaging on his TV screen back in the 1980s and early 1990s), Roche doesn't come across as the most sympathetic of characters. He is, by his own admission, opinionated and assertive in his views - perhaps too much so at times. His treatment of a lot of events also comes across as somewhat superficial - to my surprise I found myself warming much more to Bjarne Riis when I read his own recent autobiography.
Also by his own admission, Roche is very hard on his son, the cyclist, Nicholas. He wastes no time in criticising his son's approach to cycling and castigating him for not adopting his views on cycling. To me this was somewhat troubling in light of the next point.
Whilst Roche does discuss doping in his book, the treatment came across to me as somewhat superficial. He does however categorically deny that he was ever involved in any doping and says he was naive about the practice when he was a rider. What did trouble me however was Roche's apparent argument that his son should have furthered his career by riding for the likes of Johan Bruyneel. Whilst Bruyneel has only recently (and therefore after Roche wrote this) been charged by the US anti-drugs authorities of being involved in a massive performance enhancing drugs conspiracy (and does not admit the charges which have yet to be proved one way or the other), the allegations (and in the case of some riders, admissions) of cheating within teams that he directed at various teams have been around for some time. Whether they prove to be true or not, I personally would not be pushing my son to be riding with him. While this is a subjective view, rather than criticising, personally I would be shouting from the rooftops how proud I was of what Nicholas has achieved in cycling - all whilst apparently entirely clean and resisting the temptations that others in the peleton have clearly succumbed to.
All in all, in this reviewer's opinion, Roche probably was born to ride and his achievements in 1987 were stunning. Like us all, however, he is far from perfect. His book is good (and appreciated) - but no cigar.
on 8 June 2012
Have you ever dreamt about sitting down with a relaxing glass of wine and spending an evening just chatting cycling with a former World Champion? What if you could spend time with a Triple Crown winner? Well, that's how reading the new book by Stephen Roche `Born to Ride' felt to me. It gave me the distinct impression that I was having an intimate conversation with one of the all-time greats in the world of cycling.
The stories and the thoughts behind the action in the book are fascinating. Stephen's personal views of the nature and culture of cycling in the 1980s-the teams, the Directors Sportif, the teammates and the rivals are the needed details. They fill in gaps in the urban legends and the well-documented stories that have become the lore of cycling. To be allowed into the depths of that world, just a bit, is a compelling read and well worth the price of admission.
Setting the stage with the details and drama of the World Championships of 1987, Stephen Roche narrates the tale of that fateful day, bone-numbingly wet, riding the circuit course at Villach, Austria. "During these early laps I am just staying in the wheels, sheltering from the wind behind other riders, freewheeling almost. That's obviously an exaggeration, but that's how easy I want it to feel, so that I can save everything I can for the end." The winning strategy, the gear choices, the details of the day are the simple things, like putting on three rain jackets layered upon each other, that make for a build up that seems so very personal and intriguing. It also makes a fascinating read for fans of cycling and of sports psychology.
Mixed in with the racing are touching details of Stephen's early days trying to gather up money to make the trip over to race in France as an amateur, as well as, engaging stories of the many people who helped make it possible. Stephen openly lets us in to his personal life in a genuine and straight forward manner. It is this glimpse into the triumphs and failures of the man that make you feel closer, that make you want to read more. It also makes you realize that a Triple Crown in cycling doesn't insulate you from being human, from being a parent, or the devastation of having a child who develops leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant. Within these pages are the joys of winning and the sorrows of life.
One of the most intriguing takes I have from the book `Born to Ride' is the strong undercurrent of confidence that comes through when Stephen Roche talks about being on the bike. He didn't just think he could win, he knew the race was his to win, and he belonged on the top step of the podium. Interestingly, he is quite honest about the price he paid for it, within his own team and with others, cyclists and fans, who thought his tactics were not "pure" team spirit.
For me, these insights into the mindset of a champion come through between lines, chocked full of the images of iconic cyclists who are brought to life through Stephen's reminiscences. The legends of cycling from Miguel Indurain, Laurent Fignon, Roberto Visentini, Sean Kelly to Robert Millar play prominently throughout Stephen's career. The book runs the gamut from glimpses of the boy, who collected clippings of Sean Kelly and was told at school he "wasn't likely to get anywhere", to the triumphant 1987 World Champion and winner of the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France.
Like most conversations, which zig and zag and take you to unexpected, but not unwelcome places, Stephen also addresses the climate of doping in cycling that existed at the time, his opinions of the present-day UCI and its concerns about "cheating" and improving the image of the sport, and his role in each. It left me ever more hopeful for the future of cycling, that there is still a sense of direction for the sport which comes from people like Stephen Roche who have been there and lived it.
As I came to the end, finally putting the book down, there was a sense of joy and a sense of loss. The interlude with the past, like a fine wine or a lovely evening, was over all too soon, but I was left with a profound sense of place and a newfound appreciation for the real challenges and sacrifices it takes to be a cyclist. Overall, `Born to Ride' is an absorbing and interesting new book, Stephen Roche's first full autobiography, and I highly recommend spending a few enjoyable evenings savoring the conversation.
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on 17 July 2012
I bought this book because I am a massive cycling fan and keen cyclist. Now granted I am not an admirer of Roche firstly my first tour was 1989 so I don't really have a grasp on how amazing a year 87 must of been for those who actually saw the events unfold. What amazed me the most about this book is the lack of a personal journey the man seems to have had, he comes across as harsh, abrasive and in his minds eye never wrong, His toughness on his son is very telling, Im sure young Roche has enough Daddy issues as it is being in the same line of work but destined never to achieve as much but to put your own son down in writing was shoddy to say the least. Makes you wonder what he would rather have you not knowing about him.
Unlike the Riis and Fignon biographies where you actually came out with a far better perspective and understanding of cyclists who were not overly popular in their day I was left feeling no better towards Roche.
As for all the doping this will follow Roche until he dies, my harsh opinion is he probably did know about doping how could he not, its like top bankers saying I had no idea this was going on, we are talking about elite operators here, people at the roof of their professions and as a team leader of course he knew. Did he do it? We will never know and he will never tell.
He come across as very ungenerous.