Yes, that’s really the name of a book. It was ranked #50 by Cycle Sport magazine in a listing of the greatest cycling books of all time.
I don’t know about you, but “great” is a pretty big word. The most interesting cycling books of all time? Okay. The 50 cycling books I’ve been given for Christmas/birthday because no one knew what else to get me? That’s fine. The best cycling books of all time? Uh, okay, maybe. But “great”? Great cycling books? Is there even one? Has there ever been a page, or a paragraph, or a sentence that was ever written about cycling that qualifies as “great”?
Great is a heavy word when attached to “book.” I’m thinking Joyce. Dickens. The complete words of Shakespeare. Idyssey. Oliad. The Socratic dialogues. Goodnight Moon. You know, the shit that’s going to still be read long after Romney gets elected and we all have to wear magic Mormon underpants.
So, I can save you some effort, some heavy lifting, and some spare change.
“Sex, Lies, and Handlebar Tape” by Paul Howard is not a great book. It’s not even a good book. If the standard is “great,” we’d have to dig down pretty deep into the “crappy shit thrown together by a fanboy posing as a writer” pile in order to properly peg this one. Still, if you happen to be a jocksniffer or a fanboy posing as a writer, this book is worth a read. Which is another way of saying I, who am both, enjoyed it.
The perhaps next to greatest cyclist of all time
The greatest is Merckx, followed by Fausto Coppi and/or Jacques Anquetil. This book is about Anquetil.
Jacques Anquetil was French. I told George Pomel that I was reading about Anquetil and he immediately corrected my pronunciation. It’s not “an” like in “flan,” but rather “an” as in “angioplasty.” So, as Knoll would say, there’s that.
Anquetil was from Normandy, where, we learn at the end of the book, it was pretty common for fathers to fuck their stepchildren and raise the child/grandchild as their legitimate offspring. Who knew? I thought we invaded the goddamned place to lock up all the Camembert cheese and kick out the fucking Nazis, but apparently it was also to preserve the rights of the father, kind of like in Tennessee, where “My pa’s my grandpa.”
Anquetil was a lusty old dude. He fornicated a lot before settling down to the quiet life of a child rapist. He fornicated with a married gal named Jeanine who already had two kids. She divorced her husband, married Pere Jacques, and took her two kids to live with him. Their names are Alain and Annie. Time comes and goes and Annie starts looking kind of pert to goaty ol’ Jacques. So, with Jeanine’s agreement, he starts fucking little Annie. She’s eighteen, and he’s raised her from childhood. They have a kid.
After twelve years, Annie decides that having ol’ Turdy France come wallop her in the bed before going into the next room to sleep the rest of the night with her mom isn’t working out for her. So she splits. Pere Jacques gets pissed. In order to make her come back and start fucking him again, he starts fucking the wife of Annie’s brother, Alain. Alain’s not cool with that, so he splits. Amazingly, Anquetil’s tactic of fucking the runaway bride’s sister in-law doesn’t coerce Annie to come back. Women.
Pere Jacques humps Dominique for a while then croaks. It’s not often that someone will fuck off and die quite so literally. But he did.
Happily, Anquetil’s sordid bedroom arrangements and child raping are left til the end of the story, and make up only a small part of the book. Unhappily, the title promises “Sex, Lies” first, and “Handlebar Tape” last, so we think we’re getting, like, two-thirds 50 Shades of Grey fuckpiece and one-third boring cycling shit, but wind up instead with three-fourths dreary recounting of Anquetil’s cycling career and one-fourth of his lurid evilty.
Like every champion before pro cyclists became coddled pussies, Anquetil’s story is interchangeable. He was born a peasant. He got a bike. He ripped everyone’s fucking legs off. He took more drugs than a Palmdale tweaker. He whupped ass in a bunch of famous races. He time trialed off the charts. He suffered like a dog. He raced in freezing rain. He had horrific crashes. He raced in blinding heat. He climbed. He sprinted. He was a weird dude.
Things that made him different
Fanboys and jocksniffers love to make their boy out to be different, point to his early upbringing, or his huge VO2 max, or some anomalous characteristic or physical quality that made him the champ. Fact is, they’re all freak motherfuckers who can keep suffering after everyone else quits. Pretty simple.
The real distinctions have squat to do with athleticism, and Anquetil was no different. He ate freaky shit during, before, and after races. He drank beer during races. He was a complete alcoholic. He partied like a madman until the wee hours, and still would get up and kick the snot out of Poulidor. He liked farming and animal husbandry and fucking his children and their spouses.
Great cycling book? Nope. Quick read about one twisted bastard? Yep.
Enjoy. Or not. By Paul Howard, available on Amazon as a Kindle download.