Review: Inside the Peloton by Nicolas Roche

Published by Lyn on 6 June 2012

Nicolas Roche dishes the dirt on life Inside the Peloton in this honest and engaging read.

Nicolas Roche in action during the time trial of the 2011 Tour de Romandie. Photo: Georges Ménager

Nicolas Roche in action during the time trial of the 2011 Tour de Romandie. Photo: Georges Ménager

I'm usually quite critical of athletes (or singers, or any other celebrities, for that matter) who release autobiographies mid-career. Don't get me wrong - I love a good autobiography. One of my favourites is Tomorrow, We Ride by Jean Bobet. It's modest and it's insightful, and it's the story of a life (or, in this case, the story of two lives) spent cycling. A fine story, written well and told properly just once. There was a time when most autobiographies were like this – documents of reflection, written after long and illustrious careers. Not any more.

Cricketers (Graham Swann is a recent cultprit; at least Flintoff, Pieterson and Cook were honest about their books being only half the story) are serial offenders. Likewise footballers (Wayne Rooney and Theo Walcott released their first books when barely out of their teens; Steven Gerrard and the rest of his Liverpool team, to be fair, waited until they had won something worth writing about) and tennis players (see Nadal, Andy Murray). All books written before even the author (yes, yes, I know they're mostly all ghost-written but you know what I mean) knows how the story is supposed to end.

And cyclists are not immune, either – how many people spent their hard-earned cash buying the original Bradley Wiggins autobiography following the 2008 Olympics, only to find it outdated a year later when he powered to a top four finish in the Tour de France? (An updated version of the biography was subsequently released, followed by a Tour diary in 2010.)

Cadel Evans' Close to Flying, was marketed as the story of a "champion in the making", which was probably a good thing given it came out a few years before the most important chapter in his career – his 2011 Tour win.

So it was against this backdrop of cynicism (and bitterness that I'd paid good money for the 'original' Wiggins book) that that I picked up Inside the Peloton: My Life as a Professional Cyclist by Nicolas Roche, a man only partway through a promising career.

French-born Roche is a two-time Irish national champion whose other career highlights so far include seventh place in 2010 Vuelta a España and 13th at the Tour de France that same year. For better or worse, he is more famous for his cycling pedigree, a fact of life he tackles head on in the book. Nicolas Roche is the son of Irish cycling superstar Stephen Roche, winner of the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and the World Championships all in one year (1987); it would take a momumental performance for Nicolas to ride forever out of his father's shadow.

In Inside the Peloton, however, the younger Roche carves out an identity of his own, much as he has done as a regular contributor to the cycling pages of the Irish Independent. It is, after all, his Grand Tour columns for that newspaper that form the backbone of the book. Cushioned around them is an introduction to Roche and some personal insights into his life as a cyclist, including how he started cycling, discussion of his father's triumphant career, and the inside track on training routines and injuries. It also talks a lot about his life in France and his attachment to Ireland, the latter winning out when he had to choose which country to represent.

Roche will no doubt be hoping there will be a need for an updated version some time soon, as was the case with  Wiggins and Evans. For the moment, this is a highly readable insight into Roche's life, and one can't help thinking that it's actually more interesting and honest because it's told from the middle of the peloton than from the front.

Inside the Peloton: My Life as a Professional Cyclist by Nicolas Roche is published by Transworld Ireland. Born to Ride: The Autobiography of Stephen Roche is also out now.

Anyone interested in Irish cyclists or cycling should also see Shay Elliott: The Life and Death of Ireland's First Yellow Jersey by Graham Healy and Richard Allchin, published by Mousehold Press. 

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