Saturday, February 13, 2010

Review: Inside the Postal Bus by Michael Barry

I saw this book at the local charity shop when I went to drop off 9(!) paper grocery bags full of books and thought of a friend for whom I wanted to buy it. And because I am one of those kinds of friends, I read it first, of course. Written by a member of the US Postal professional cycling team, this is a combination memoir of the 2004 season (when Lance Armstrong won his record sixth Tour de France) and a bit of insight into what it's like to be on one of, if not the premier, cycling teams in the world.

I know next to nothing about cycling as a sport. I think the last time I went out for a ride on a bike, it had a banana seat. Not that that dates me or anything. But when I clip my cycling shoes into the pedals of the spin bikes (it's been months since I even did that), it makes me feel all fancy and professional. Ha! But I was curious about the life of a professional cyclist and thought this book would be a great opportunity to learn more. Barry discusses daily life on the team and talks about his team mates' accomplishments. He shares the grueling training regimen of a professional cyclist and the tactics and adrenaline-fueled race efforts that are such a major portion of their lives. The heady races around Europe (where the majority of the races take place) both powered by their own legs and the races on flights and by bus just to get to the races are described in detail. And each of the bigger races is broken down and analyzed in great depth.

If a reader is a cyclist, this attention to detail is probably fascinating. On the other hand, for those of us who only don bike shorts to go workout at the Y, the detail is exhaustive and a bit excessive. I think the book is intended to reach a non-specialist audience but it doesn't quite make it. The writing is often choppy and jumps from topic to topic. It founders a bit organizationally. There's little information about the author himself, which perhaps led to my feeling unconnected to the book. More personal information both about Barry and about any or all of his teammates would have been nice. And I don't mean of the expose sort. Entertaining anecdotes about things that happened on the bus, between roommates, at meals, etc. which told a bit about the personalities of the friends and competitors would have added immeasurably to the enjoyment factor here. There was some interesting information about the way that each team works, their strategies, and what it takes to ensure that a team's leader will win a big race. But the interesting information was overshadowed by a blow by blow recitation from each big race. By the time we reached the end, I had no doubts that the overall actions of the peloton and the groupetto would be much the same in each race and I didn't need to read about it repetitively. This book had the potential for so much more. I know Barry is a world class cyclist, riding with the best of the best, and in love with his sport. But who he and his teammates are in terms of human interest? Well, that's not in here and I for one wish it had been. Recommended for the hard core cyclist only.

1 comment:

  1. I am rather enjoying it, although of course I am reading at a snail's pace these days compared to you!

    Does that mean I'm a "hard core" cyclist? Heaven forbid!

    Thank you for the gift, and for the review. ;-)


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