5 out of 5 stars
I have been a follower of the Tour de France for three decades now. It never ceases to amaze me the limits that these guys can push themselves to, just to complete the course. Some have used artificial aids, but even with that, it is still a mammoth achievement to complete the 3000 or so kilometres.
There is another cycle race across Europe though that is twice the length of the Tour. The race is called the Transcontinental and rather than having the luxury of team members and lots of support, the entrants must cycle their way without support in the fastest time possible. Whilst the Tour takes place over three weeks and is a very fast race, the Transcontinental has one stage and four checkpoints. You’d think that they would struggle to find people to take part in this, but they do find people and those that do must be utterly mad.
Emily Chappell is one of those. She began as a cycle courier in London, but her taste for adventure transformed her into an ultra cyclist and she decided to enter this. To get across a continent in the fastest time on a bike means that you have to ignore things like sleep and sensible diets, push so far through the pain barrier that you are on the limit of doing permanent damage to your body. She made it halfway before bailing the first year that she entered. Undaunted by this, she trained hard with the guy who founded the race, Mike Hall and entered the next year.
It took her 13 days and 10 hours to cycle the 4000 miles and she won the women’s prize. She consumed countless calories every day, existed on little or no sleep and pushed her body beyond any sensible limits. As staggering as that sounds, she was still five days behind the overall winner, Kristof Allegaert. A substantial part of the book is about the platonic relationship that she had with the founder of the race, Mike Hall and the rides that they used to go out on. It is a tribute to him too and the disciple that he founded as he was tragically killed on another race in Australia.
This is one of the best cycling books that I have read in a long while. Not only is it lyrical with a strong narrative, but Chappell is searingly honest about the few highs and many lows of pushing her body well beyond any limits in this most extreme of sports. Superb book and possibly one of the best cycling books I have ever read.