[Book Review] Cycle Racing: Riding to Win by Les Woodland

Recently, while looking through some places Primrose might be hiding her Christmas presents for me, I happened upon her Christmas presents for me: David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries, and the Bike Snob NYC book. My first thought of course was for you, my dear rusted on reader, and how I might pad my blog for you with ideas not of my own. Book reviews there shall be, starting right now, because you should not have to wait until after Christmas. Herewith, the only review in existence of Les Woodland’s magnum opus, a masterpiece of sports writing: Cycle Racing: Riding to Win, from 1989. While I admit I have not actually laid eyes on this book since returning it to Wallsend public library in 1992, I can nonetheless faithfully recall Les’s key planks, those full bowls of warm fatherly advice that when rendered down via two decades of application to my actual racing, stand as energy bars of pure goodness. 

Piece of pure goodness 1: Just enjoy riding your bike. Here here. Having a racing bike doesn’t mean you must start right away with the training diary, special diet and drugs. Les and I both, would rather you spent a few weeks just checking out lookouts or realestate, or riding past your secretary’s house logging her movements. If the freedom and stealth of a fine racing bike is not alone a great source of joy, bicycle racing may not be for you. Okay, then you can advance to stalking with a head full of roids — ah, perhaps better not.  

Piece of pure goodness 2: Train alone. Les was a maverik, and who could blame him! Listening to some clod moaning beside you in a bunch ride, only to be dragged into his doomed team strategy next time you race, and ultimately finding yourself obliged never to chase down his half-hearted attacks: utter popikok! They will hold you back in every respect: have you buying parts from their friend’s floundering bike store, instead of online for a third of the price; say you’re going well, so you don’t try to go better; lower your IQ by osmosis. Train alone. Race alone. Take all the winnings home in your pocket.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

                       — Robert Frost

Thank you Les, for pointing me toward that less traveled road.

Piece of pure goodness 3. Build your heart’s size before building its strength. I do not need reminding that cardiologists were referring still to Hippocrates and Plato’s Timaeus when Woodland wrote in 1989, but the simple fact holds, that strength is easier to add to endurance, than endurance is to build upon strength. According to Les, long rides make the heart bigger. Interval training thickens its walls.

Did you know, Cycle Racing: Riding to Win by Les Woodland features specially commissioned anatomical drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, the last prior to his untimely death in 1989, age 537? You do now.

Piece of pure goodness 4. Know that most of your opponents don’t care about winning. If they train in groups, this truth should be obvious. Each in fact is racing to win the approval of their group’s Alpha male, for whom they have an unconfessed man-crush. After Alpha-boy’s breakaway has beat the main bunch home by 10 minutes, Beta boy will boast at the club house how he did not contribute to chasing it down. He is Georgia to Alpha male’s Russia, Portugal to Alpha male’s Spain, Austria to Alpha male’s Germany. As New Zealand is to Australia, or as Australia is to the US or China, he is a good little bitch. Be North Korea.

Once more Georgia blocking for Russia, Portugal blocking for Spain, in fact everyone being some bully’s pet dog. 

Race to make enemies of those who just race for male bonding, and you are far more likely to win. That is the lasting message for which I’m most grateful to Woodland. If anyone knows where Les is today, do relay my sincerest gratitude. I note 8 used copies of his book are available via Amazon for the criminally low price of $8.48. A great Christmas idea for the dark horse in your life. 

From left: Spartans stretching pre race; Spartan bicycle helmet; Spartans pulling together and giving each other a spurt on.

Further reading on Les: A Les Woodland bio, showing him to be a true gentleman. Writing samples from Les on the web, telling of the man’s deep existentialist angst.  

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