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"Forcenés" by Philippe Bordas (Fayard 2008)
« on: May 14, 2014, 17:37 »
A thread about one of my favourite books about cycling

(Van Steenbergen after winning the 1948 Paris-Roubaix)

I don't think there exists an English version unfortunately, so I'd recommend it to every reader who has some good command of French.  ;)

Bordas pays tribute to the great champions of the 20th century cycling (to more anonymous riders) and criticizes modern doping practices.

"Forcenés" means something like "Fanatic" or "Madman"

The book starts with a quote by Pier Paolo Pasolini: "I have been living inside a lyric poem, like every madman."

He argued that cycling history only lasted for one century! "What is still called cycling [...] is but a farce."

In an interview available on the net he argued that cycling stopped in 1984:

In 1984, Moser "break" Merckx's hour while past his prime, weird renaissance, Fignon a "middle class" man beat Hinault in the Tour of France, mocked him, seemed twice as strong as he was in 1983, the year Bernard Tapie entered cycling, depressing marketing ...

Bordas saw cycling as a sport for common people, getting away from the farm or the workshop to carry on their dream.

But more than 1984, doping practices from the 90's finished it off killing the sport. A whole chapter of the book is called "La véritable histoire du dopage" (The True Story of Doping) in which Bordas distinguishes between the "intensifying doping" (stimulants which are related to the nerves, mental) and the "transmutating doping" (which is based on visceral changes, organ perversions).

Some chapters I particularly liked:

"Les aristos du populo": Risticrats of the People (title easy to translate I think) particularly shows how closely related the cycling world and the world of cinema was in the 60's in France, more particularly focused around the figures of Jean Gabin, actor and former commentator for the radio in the 30's, Michel Audiard, dialogue writer and former track rider in the 40's (perhaps the only one to make a name for himself as dialogue writer) and Antoine Blondin, novel writer and journalist for L'Équipe.

I already mentioned those characters in the Cycling & Pop Culture Thread based on this chapter from Bordas' book.

"L'art de descendre": Bordas covers some of the best descenders in history but strangely he did not mention Rolf Wolfshohl who made most of his best achievements in descents: as we saw: . Even Mariano Canardo, Spaniard of the 30's got a mention, for his wins at the Tour of Morocco.

"L'art de sprinter": Bordas reviewed some of the best sprinters in history, since Arthur August Zimmermann to Sean Kelly, with some of whom he liked (Darrigade, Van Looy), some he disliked (Van Linden, Guimard). However Bordas also dedicated two pages to show his visceral hatred towards Cipollini. I tried to translate it:

"Freddy Maertens only took Demeyer's wheel, Cipollini procured several identical cupboards who ground down the atmosphere for himself. Taller, larger and more "rouleur" than him - Maciste from the Italian countryside -, who better than a locomotive followed by wagons, form a delirious agregate of linked motors. When the squadrist get going nobody dare overtake them. When Cipollini get out of it nobody dare defy him. The sprinters without squadrons, the balkanized mercenaries are pirating between axles, like hobos.
[...] Cipollini destroys the sprint that Maertens denied. [...] Darrigade forced luck, Cipollini suppressed uncertainty. He institutes kinematics. He sprints backwards. The first is not the one who accelerates the more but the one who slows down the least.

Twelve stages in the Tour of France, 42 at the Tour of Italy, Cipollini wins a Milan-Sanremo, a World Championship. Nobody remembers any of his feats. But his teeth. Cipollini is of the era of helmets, glasses and cruel getup ! He vainquishes in a Spiderman outfit. In a tormented soul tunics, incisors on the outside. [...] He's all showing off, looking his best. He's got bad taste. [...] He's a stage win stealer lacking courage on the approach of the Alps.

[...] Cipollini is the celeripede of the democratized blood era. He leaves the scepter to a clone: Petacchi - employed by another soap brand. [...]

I even miss Guimard and his broken knees and little Rik III [Van Linden], their electrocuted faces.

We might just as well add: Petacchi left the scepter to a clone: Cavendish.

"L'art de grimper": Bordas covers again some of the best climbers of the century, finishing with a note on Pantani being a "satanical species" "who passes the Galibier and the Mortirolo like a smuggler loaded with too heavy red cells".

"Perspectives cavalières": Chapter dedicated to all attempts by cyclists to defy horses from Girardengo to Maertens and many more.

"L'ultrafin célinien": An anecdote given to Bordas of a bike offered by Charles Pélissier to novel writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline, whom he was a fan of.

"Mystère des écritures" : Bordas argues that middle-class sociologists hate cycling because they are only writing for their class and they can't derive a theory out of cycling. But some novel writers did like Céline naming the "beautiful Faber" in his Death on Credit", but that's all.

"Alfred Jarry" : Chapter dedicated to the early 20th century novelist who wrote about cycling. I referred to him in the Cycling & Pop Culture thread, thanks to Bordas:
A lesser known novel of his was Le surmâle (translated into English as The Supermale) in 1902, in which he imagined a race Paris-Irkutsk. An important character in the story was the chemist William Elson who made a new invention: the perpetual-motion food (in English in the original text), which enabled the regeneration of muscles during the effort. All the contenders of the race would die. 

Bordas also dedicated a chapter to Anquetil, De Vlaeminck (whom he compared to Keith Richards, lol), Freddy Maertens (+ his two mates Pollentier & Demeyer), the Pélissier brothers, Geminiani and Hinault. One called "Les Flamands" and one dedicated to the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix.

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  • "Paris-Roubaix is the biggest cycling race in the world, bigger than the Tour de France, bigger than any other bike race" (Sir Bradley Wiggins)


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