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Cycling Is My Life by Tommy Simpson

Release date: 04th June, 2009
Publisher: Yellow Jersey Press

List Price: £9.99
Our Price: £5.99
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Cycling is my Life
Tommy Simpson
Yellow Jersey Press price: £5.99, saving 33% on rrp

On 13th July, it will be 42 years since Simpson, died just a kilometre short of the summit of Mont Ventoux while riding in Le Tour; he became professional cycling's highest-profile victim of doping, for it was illegal drugs that asphyxiated him during that notoriously exhausting ride at the age of 29.

The second half of this comparatively short autobiography is littered with a sufficient quantity of evidence, anecdote and euphemism to suggest that Simpson was doping well before his untimely death, although it is difficult to identify when he started.

Prior to the arrival of Sir Chris Hoy, Simpson was Britain's greatest cyclist, a remarkable athlete who, like Sir Chris, won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award (in 1965) and who became the first Briton to wear the coveted yellow jersey in the Tour de France. Tommy Simpson also won four of cycling's seven 'classic' races; the man continues to be held in such high esteem that every year, hundreds of bike fans make the pilgrimage to Mont Ventoux to pay their respects at a small memorial erected in his honour.

But this book, completed a year before he died, tells more than a tragic story of an athlete's death. Simpson's dedication to cycling is apparent from the start and the reader is whisked off on an exhilarating ride as he progresses through the amateur ranks, saving hard to buy second hand bikes, competing in club races and eventually receiving amateur recognition, representing Britain in the 1956 Olympics. He was to become a world champion and charting his progress makes for a fascinating read.

Simpson was not a vain man - he knew he was good and he speaks of 'mental toughness' several decades before the phrase became an integral part of the sporting vocabulary - and it's refreshing to see him acknowledge those occasions when he was wrong. He was, however, remarkably sensitive for a hard-edged sportsman, often bursting into tears following races, a consequence of the effort he put into winning them.

Indeed, he probably would have won even more races had he not been the victim of some extraordinary bad luck that dogged his career.

This may have accounted for his early demise, for in the original introduction, David Saunders, who helped write the book, suggests that money concerns may have driven Simpson to his death. Having broken a leg in 1966, Simpson forfeited what Saunders believes was around £30,000 in guaranteed earnings, enough to push him back onto his bike and drive him to within an ace of Mont Ventoux's bleak summit.

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