The 5 things I learnt compiling The Road Book 2019- Cillian Kelly
December 11, 2019
1. I know nothing about cycling
Every race has hundreds of stories. There are about 200 people racing in each one of them and their whole day is made up of stuff that happens to them that people like you and I find interesting. The stuff that happens before the race, the race itself of course and then all the stuff that goes on afterward. A lot of it is mundane but so much of it is not. And every single race there are 200 of these guys creating stories, most of which will never get told and the end result of the few stories we do hear is that I just want to hear more.
In compiling all of the results for all of the races within The Road Book I was made painfully aware of just how many of the cyclists I don’t know. In any given race, even the big ones, there will nearly always be a rider who finishes in the top 20 who I don’t know anything about. Nothing. No thing. There will probably be a few for whom I could tell you their nationality and the team they ride for. But after that, more nothing.
I read a lot about cycling. Sometimes it feels like it’s all I read about. Sometimes it is all I read about. And still there are giant gaps in my knowledge of who’s who in the sport. But there are ways to fill these gaps. Google the guy who finished 12th in a random Belgian one-day race whose name sounds vaguely familiar and you’ll find websites you never knew existed, Facebook fan pages full of well wishes and old tales or blog posts quite possibly written by that very rider.
Seeing the names of riders who I think I know but don’t, those who I should know but have never wondered about and those who I simply have never heard of has inspired me to go digging. I can dig and dig for days or years, and I will. And I’ll still know nothing. Isn’t that wonderful?
2. Working for a printed publication is scary
“Oh look, I’ve made several mistakes in that thing I just wrote and published” say all the online journalists and bloggers, “I’ll just quickly correct them before anybody notices. And I’ll just click the little ‘publish’ button again. Done. Lovely”
3. The cycling calendar is absurd
If you sat down now to design professional cycling from scratch there is no part of the modern cycling calendar which you would decide is a good idea.
Why is the Tour Down Under on in the middle of the Australian summer with temperatures so hot they have to shorten stages? Why is the Giro d’Italia on at a time of year when the snow on the mountain tops can be so bad they have to cancel stages altogether? Why is the Tour de France on in July instead of at the end of the year where it could act as the climax to the season?
Then there are the crazy names we’ve ended up with. Paris-Roubaix which doesn’t start anywhere near Paris. The Tour de France which this year began in Belgium. The Three Days of De Panne which is one day. The Four Days of Dunkirk which is six. What is a classic and what isn’t? Nobody really knows but they’re definitely not any of the races that dare to put the word ‘classic’ in their name. Why are four of the five Monument classics within a few weeks of each other and the fifth takes place six months later? How did the term ‘Monument classic’ come to be used to describe those five races? Nobody knows. Where did the term ‘Grand Tour’ come from? Nobody knows that either.
The calendar is mad. It’s daft. It makes no sense. No wonder the UCI have never succeeded in creating a ‘narrative’ for us. The narrative is like one of those ‘choose your own adventure’ books where we all start on the same page but all end up all over the place presented with different endings.
It’s a product of history, geography, politics, war, business and tradition. It’s a wild tapestry, but a rich one, a glorious one, beautiful in its ridiculousness.
4. I’ll never get bored of cycling
Compiling The Road Book is something I did in my spare time. I had to fit in the work involved around my full time job as a software developer and around my family, which grew in number in the early summer of 2018, just when the workload started getting serious. It wasn’t easy. I basically did it in the middle of the night. It was the only time I had to myself anymore.
Some nights I would be up until 3am working through some tedious corrections or fretting about how accurate was the weather data that I had for the Tropicale Amisss Bongo and where could I get better data from, all the while knowing I would be up at 6am, woken by my two organic alarm clocks whether I liked it or not.
And still after spending the wee hours doing that, I would crawl into bed and watch the highlights of whatever race had been on that day and love every minute of it.
5. 2019 really was something else
It’s only when you get to the end of it all and look back that you realise just how amazing it all was. There are times when I thought to myself that I’ve never seen anything like this before. But I always try to temper that because how many times have we been told that the race that has just ended was ‘the greatest edition in recent memory’, when really it probably wasn’t. Recency bias is pervasive. I’m not going to run through the whole season, (Ned has done a fantastic job of that in his opening chapter of The Road Book, which he has released as a podcast) but this year we really were treated to racing the likes of which I had literally never seen. I’m thinking specifically of Amstel Gold and the Tour de France.
None of us should take the experience of watching those races for granted. They were truly magnificent.