P is for Peloton

Last week Ride Velo profiled Mark Fairhurst who, as well as being one of the most fascinating cycling artists of the moment, also illustrated one of last year’s best cycling books: P is for Peloton. 

P is for Peloton

Billed as an A-Z of cycling from Arrivee to Zoetmelk, it’s packed with fun facts about, let’s face it, probably the greatest invention the world has ever seen, as well as profiles of some of the greatest riders in the sport. It’s neatly written by Suze Clemitson, known as @festinagirl on Twitter, with lots of fascinating aspects from the cycling world and she’s able to show off a remarkable depth of subject knowledge in a light but insightful style. 

P for Peloton has class stamped all over it. Right at the start there’s a foreword from Sir Dave Brailsford who comments on Fairhurst’s inspiring contribution: “Humorous, thought-provoking, encouraging; his work in this book is a joy to see and have.” And we couldn’t be in more agreement with our Dave on that point. 

  The iconic Citroen DS

The iconic Citroen DS

Fairhurst’s artwork is nostalgic and harks back to a glamorous age when the bikes, the riders, their kit and even the support cars had a mystique and elegance all of their own. In fact one suspects that he loves his vintage cars almost as much as his retro bikes, whether it’s the view of a rider struggling in front of an old Citroen van, the Voiture Balai (broom wagon), the image of a Directeur Sportif leaning out of the window of a VW combi screaming, “Allez, allez!” or a rider dragging an old Landrover Discovery behind him.

P is for Peloton

He also loves the iconic cycling brands and the imagery that goes with them: Bianchi and Peugeot, for instance. Meanwhile Wiggo’s Mod symbol that has become associated with him features, as do the World Champion Rainbow Stripes, cleverly transplanted onto the centre of a steep road that a lonely cyclist toils up. He has a fantastic eye for the colours and patterns that the Peloton brings us and some of his pictures of riders en masse are stunning.

This is real poster art reminiscent of the Deco style of the Olympics of old and, with his background in advertising photography, he has created some wonderfully powerful images for Paris Roubaix, Milan San Remo, the Giro and the Vuelta that would grace any trendy new cycling Café. 

  Fairhurst captures the romance of the sport

Fairhurst captures the romance of the sport

But it’s the romance of the sport that Fairhurst captures so well: the grit and determination of the lonely rider, the baroudeur making a breakaway or Chris Froome’s heroic victory at  the summit of Ventoux. Any fans jaded by the blandness of the modern era will find themselves falling back in love with this beautiful sport and pastime all over again, such is the passion that Fairhurst splashes onto every page. 

He describes how he came to make this book with Suze Clemitson as “pure kismet”, when she became a follower of his on Twitter. “I saw her tweeting about wanting to do an A to Z of cycling, a book with illustrations. I chipped in saying I’ll do the pics. The rest, as they say, is history. A few days later we were in talks with publishers, Bloomsbury in London!” Fairhust and Clemitson do seem to be made for each other in Publishing terms as each one’s work complements the other’s beautifully in this book. Fate indeed.

  C is for Climbing

C is for Climbing

She seems to have covered an awful lot in this compendium. The choice of rider profiles, while never going to be exhaustive, reflects the glories of the past era with the likes of Simpson, Merckx, Indurain, Hinault and Zoetemelk (Dutch rider from 1970-1987, if you didn’t know!) to the modern greats of our time like Contador and Wiggins. Those forbidding climbs such as the Tourmalet, Mortirolo and Ventoux get mentions among many other brutal mountain passes, while some of the cycling lingo that you may have heard but been too afraid to ask about in fear of betraying your ignorance are explained like ‘pedalling squares’. I also now know that ‘fringale’ is basically the same as a bonk and that a ‘Flahute’ is the hardest of the hard men. Think of the great Classics winners of Roger de Vlaeminck, Rik Van Looy and Rik Van Steenburgen and you have the Flahute incarnate. Perhaps Sean Kelly should be added to the list!

It must have been hard trying to decide what to leave in or out but Clemitson has balanced this well and, despite trying, I couldn’t find any glaring omissions. Gear ratios, great riders, terrible climbs, cycling lingo, track racing events, nicknames: it’s packed full of fascinating facts and information and nice touches such as including the names of all 21 riders featured on the signs of each hairpin of Alpe d’Huez. Her knowledge of the cycling world is impressive and detailed, but written in an easy and accessible style that makes the book a delight to dip into.

I’ve been poring over this since it arrived, immersing myself in the beautiful images, and lapping up the text excitedly. Its creators clearly have a passion which they’ve expertly put into the leaves of a book. Every time I see its cover it brings a little smile to the corners of my mouth. This is a must have!