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on 28 May 2004
A couple of weeks ago I bumped into a couple of German girls cycling up to l'Alpe d'Huez. We finished our 'stage' and stopped for a chat. Why were they here? To ride in the tire tracks of Lance Armstrong they said. Where next? Mont Ventoux of course, they were making a pilgrimage to the Simpson memorial.
The ghostly newsreel footage of Simpson zig-zaging close to the summit of the Ventoux on that fateful July day in 1967 haunt many a cyclist and the memorial has become as much a place of worship as the grave of Jim Morrison in Paris. Simpson's story has a great allure, plucky but flawed Brit battling against the odds in an ultimately tragic endeavor.
Fotheringham's book does much to capture the essence of the man but finally it seems too distant. Although well researched, and who better to do the job, there are ultimately not enough revelations to satisfy. Short of pulling a smoking gun out of the archives of the Avignon prefecture the book isn't going to have the shocking general impact of Sophie Anquetil's recently published biography of her father Jacques (Pour l'amour de Jacques, ISBN:2246669618), a rival of Simpson's.
A couple of points which Fotheringham seemed to miss. He discusses (and rejects) the possibility that transporting Simpson in the helicopter killed him as he was lifted high into the air. The incident occured at around 2000 meters, not a great height and it is doubtful if the helicoper gained much more height transporting Simpson. It is standard practise for mountain rescues to keep close to the ground and lose height and the newsreel seems to show the helicopter doing exactly this. It also appears in one of the photos in the book that Simpson's right thigh is coated in Iodine possibly after an injection of what... adrenalin? It would have been a scoop if Fotheringham had uncovered the medical report detailing the treatment.
As a Simpson fan I gave the book 4/5 but someone not familiar with the story may find the book less satisfying. Ultimately it seems that Simpson will remain the ghost on the grainy newsreel.
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on 28 June 2007
Having been a fan of cycling since I can remember, the story of the alleged drug taking British cyclist who died in 1967 has always fascinated me. This book was a recommended read by a fellow cycling enthusiast who assured me it was not a book that made assumptions. I am so glad I've read it as the author is fair in every aspect of the history of this amazing man, Tom Simpson. Yes he did take drugs but so did all the other cyclists. It was almost part of the way of competitive life then that one was left with no doubts that in order to complete the Tour it would be impossible to achieve without 'enhancing' drugs. I have visited the memorial stone where Tom died on Ventoux and have seen for myself how fans young and old feel a need to leave something there as a gesture yet the book describes this in such a wonderfully descriptive way that if fans never have the chance to go, the book will be a very good substitute. My admiration goes to William Fotheringham who has covered a delicate subject so well - I only wish and hope that the bad press that has surrounded this great man's death is one day put completely behind so that we can then celebrate what Tom achieved by being Britain's greatest ever cyclist.
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on 8 September 2002
Although only twelve years old at the time, I still vividly remember seeing the news of Tom Simpson's death on TV. This is strange because I wasn't a cycling fan and I can't remember seeing the TV news of any of the other historic events of the time like JFK being shot (and we're all suppossed to remember where we were when this happened), Luther King's death, Perfumo, or even the man on the moon. So why did Tom Simpson stick in my mind like nothing else? I didn't really know but this book seemed to be to a must read to try and find out. I now know. Fotheringham's excellent account of the life (and most importantly - the times) of Tom Simpson is an excellent account. It is incredibly well researched, engrossing, entertaining and yet onbjective and dispassionate. This books captures the strengths and the flaws in Simpson's character but left me with a fascination of the man and answered my question as to why his death has stuck in my mind for so long. This is probably the best biography I have ever read.
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on 18 June 2009
It is hard to be triumphant about a book which is centered on a tragedy - the death of Tom Simpson while struggling up Mont Ventoux in the Tour de France. However you look at the accident - naiveté or ignorance, drug abuse, a willful disregard of personal safety, someone who refused to give up or someone attempting to do what was expected and demanded, the need to succeed at all costs or the fear of failure; his death remains a tragedy.

As with Princess Diana, it was his death which defined the life of Simpson, and leaves behind big questions - what price the spectacle (the media/) we demand from our sporting heroes, and drug-use in sport.

Like a detective, the author has pieced together the life of Simpson from records and eye-witness accounts. It is done with respect, but unlike others who would prefer to gloss over certain facts this feels like a well-balanced account. There is no denying the truth is uncomfortable (and there is something ghoulish in how the cameras keep rolling), but then the lies and cover-ups have fueled a controversy less than dignified.

The events of the day are first covered in detail in Chapter 2, so I am not sure what sequence the book follows, if any. In fact the chapters could be read at random without any great loss. (I am not sure if this amounts to a criticism or not, certainly not a major one!) Between chapters are short press extracts recording some of Simpson's better days - they give a sense of just how extraordinary an athlete Simpson was and the kind of hero-worship he engendered.

However, the important work of the author was in what he could capture of Simpson's personality and his world. He allows the story to emerge, and the story is bigger than the book - as raw feelings 40 years on and a memorial turning into a shrine clearly demonstrate.
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on 23 November 2009
The world of professional cycling has been synonymously linked with drugs and alcohol.

Few people can appreciate what it takes to ride 2-3 thousand miles over a 3 week period and keep going, yet alone be competitive. Now, you can argue there are no excuses for getting into drugs in the first place. But if you read the book you'll come to appreciate that its not as simple at that.

Riding through rain, snow and blistering heat is enough to keep you firmly planted in your cosy chair, yet alone get the dust off the bike and pump the tyres up.

These types of drugs then were not illegal at the time; frowned upon yes, but wildly used none the less.

Simpson got caught up in this crazy world of stimulants to keep you pumped during the day, then dugs of a different sort to make you sleep at night - repeat for 3 weeks on a grand tour. Repeat again and again over the months and years, until the body has no clue what to do.

A fire for fame and fortune burnt large in Simpson's heart, but with this cocktail.. (or time bomb), something had to give.

A lot has happened since 1967 when Simpson died on Mt. Ventoux, but look through the record books and see how else succumbed to the astral heights and the spiral of death.

Read it.
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on 23 March 2012
I really admired Fotheringham's balanced approach to his subject. It's sometimes too easy to give in and be defensive when you genuinely like the person you're writing about, and Simpson clearly was a likeable man.

Fotheringham kept enough distance to write about where Simpson went wrong, and how Simpson's death was a tragedy brought on not only by the amphetamines in his system, but by his determination to ride himself into oblivion, which cost him his life a short distance from the summit of Mont Ventoux.

This reader was left with a pervasive sense of loss upon finishing the book. I'd found the book remarkably moving, the prose exceptionally profound in places, and like the author himself, I found myself wishing I could spend more time in Simpson's company. Sadly, tragically, this is of course impossible.

As a result of Fotheringham's descriptive writing, his in-depth approach to his subject, and his frank honesty, I can genuinely say I will never look at Tom Simpson - or even Mont Ventoux - the same way again.
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on 1 August 2010
always good to read the epics that Tom Simpson attained in his hard cycling life....a pioneer from the early days when soiltary cyclists ventured to try their chances in the bike racing game in Europe...
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on 29 January 2010
Sad and realistic. The author depicts TS as he really was and does not attempt to blur fact with fiction.His obsessions with diet and putting his family last speak of a driven character. Simpson was a flawed man, and he probably knew this better than any. But he was also an inspiration to those of us who grew up in the 60's with aspirations to emulate him. His demise was almost predictable, as he became more fixated and desperate to succeed - whatever the odds.
Simpson probably represented all that is good and bad in the world of cycling and this still holds true today. There is still the need to win whatever the cost...nothing changes.
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on 12 February 2013
After reading the book you realise how important Tom Simpson was in developing professional cycling in the UK. Without him there might not have been any of the recent UK success on the track or road. It is a shame his death is all most people know of the man. Greatness is not necessarily a measure of your results but how you are remembered. It is clear that great riders retain a magical power over their peers and public - however long ago they rode (or died). I am only sad that I was not aware of the exploits of Tom Simpson while he was alive. This book brings you as close as you possibly could to meeting Tom Simpson today.
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on 20 November 2012
I really only became interested in cycling as my son elected to cycle up Mont Ventoux. It is impossible not to be sympathetic to such a charismatic and driven human being as Tom Simpson, even in the light of the current drug problems. The practice being driven by the trainers and promoters (nothing new there then) the way the book switched from the story being told by the writer and the clips from the diary build the drama of the eventual demise of Tom Simpson on the Ventoux. I appreciate that he is kept at a low profile in sport because of the drug issues but he was a remarkable man. I think he looks a bit like Bradley Wiggins!
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