• Patrick Gabrion

Pillow talk (part 1)

Now I lay me down to sleep is when I do most of my reading. But to be honest, when my head hits the pillow, I rarely turn many pages of a book. Not because it's boring, as I truly enjoy the lion's share of the publications I obtain on cycling. It's just that I'm tired, so I can't keep my eyes open for very long.


That said, over the next two postings I'll offer some insights on two of the latest titles I've acquired for my expanding library.



"Tom Simpson: Bird on the Wire" by Andy McGrath (Rapha, 2017)


Unfortunately, British cyclist Tom Simpson is largely known just for the fact that he died during the 13th stage of the 1967 Tour de France, at age 29, while climbing Mont Ventoux. However, he was an outstanding professional bike racer whose exploits paved the way to success for many of his fellow countrymen and women in future years, including Tour champions Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome.


Simpson realized early on that in order to fulfill his cycling dreams he had to leave his homeland and head to the Continent, basically striking out on his own. And, indeed, he made it ... big time. Some of his accomplishments included the following: winner of the Tour of Flanders in 1961, first British rider ever to wear the yellow jersey in the 1962 Tour de France, winner of Bordeaux-Paris in 1963, winner of Milan-San Remo in 1964, World Road Race Champion in 1965, winner of two stages in the 1967 Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain), and general classification winner of the Paris-Nice stage race in 1967.


A lot of factors — having been sick and dehydrated, the use of stimulants and alcohol, the hot weather, and, not to mention, the pressure to win, etc. — led to his untimely death. It's worth noting that back in the day, and even in the 1960s, riders were limited to the number of water bottles they could use. Hence, frequent stops were made — right in the middle of a race — to quench one's thirst at village fountains and the local bar.


One of my favorite quotes in the book has Simpson saying, "I love to see how far I can go, what risks I can get away with, which is why I always try the unexpected. But I'm never surprised when I win, I'm only surprised when I lose." He ended up doing whatever it took to be competitive in bike races, but paid the ultimate price in the end.


"Bird on the Wire" follows his stellar career and goes into great detail on what happened leading up to and during his last day on the saddle. A wide variety of historic photographs — a key component for me in any book — are among its 224 pages. It's a great read.


Curious to learn more about this mostly forgotten individual, I managed to locate and purchase his autobiography, "Cycling is my Life" (Stanley Paul, 1966). I'm looking forward to reading it and will give you my impressions sometime down the road. Stay safe!

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