July 2012 – Monthly Wrap Up

So July has been dominated by our vacation and watching various sports – especially Tour de France (and the Olympics now, of course). This has also influenced my reading – three books about professional cycling and Tour de France this month. Vacation time also meant a bit more time to read – in one of our three weeks of vacation at least – so I devoured Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth. This means that I read 4 books this month. As always, I’m not completely satisfied with this.

So as it can be seen, I’m still on track for reading 52 books this year – especially since I have read 70 % of Clarissa as well. I’ve read 2054 pages which means that I’m back reading 2000+ pages/month like in the early months of this year and Im very happy about that.

As mentioned above I made it through 4 books this month:

  1. Jørgen Leth: Den gule trøje i de høje bjerge. Denmark’s best cycling commentator writes about what he loves the most – Tour de France. Beautiful writing – but went a bit far back in history for me. 3 stars.
  2. Lance Armstrong: It’s Not About the Bike. Interesting account of Lance Armstrong’s battle with cancer and his way back to professional cycling. 4 stars.
  3. David Millar: Racing Through the Dark. Very interesting account of a young, rather idealistic rider’s descent into the dark side of professional cycling – and his way back out. 4 stars.
  4. Ken Follett: The Pillars of the Earth. Excellent book about the building of a cathedral in the Middle Ages. Well-drawn characters that will stay with you. 4 stars.

I have almost finished the Mount TBR Reading Challenge. I challenged myself to read 25 books bought before January 1st, 2012 – and so far, I’ve read 24 so I will probably finish this one next month. I’m more or less on target with Clarissa and I am definitely going to get this done. I need to read at least one book by Neil Gaiman – but I have one book by him on my own challenge list so that will get done too. The challenge I’m struggling the most with, is the one I’ve set for myself (together with two friends – the one where my boyfriend has bet me a book because he don’t think I’ll finish it…).

This month, I only read one book from the list of books I’ve challenged myself to read this year. This means, that I still have 12 books to go – and 5 months to go. So in August, I have to get some of these read. I hope to read at least two from this list – hopefully three. This doesn’t sound like much – and it isn’t. Except that all the books – almost – I have left on the list are very long books – books like Les MisérablesUnderworld and The Kindly Ones. So you don’t just fly through them in an afternoon. The other thing is that I have bought so many new books this year that I just want to sit down with and dive into. So I have to keep focus, get some of the challenge books read – and reward myself with some of my pretty new books!

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David Millar: Racing Through The Dark. The Fall and Rise of David Millar (review)

Reading Jørgen Leth’s book about professional cycling Den gule trøje i de høje bjerge and Lance Armstrong’s book about the beginning of his career, his battle with cancer and his way back to the sport, made me even more appreciative of cycling and the Tour de France. However, Millar’s book is exactly the opposite. It makes me even more aware of the dark side of cycling.

Coincidentally, I began reading this book on July 13th, 2012. I had timed my reading of books about Tour de France and cycling to coincide with this year’s Tour de France – but I hadn’t expected that I would start reading this book on the same day as David Millar won yet another stage in the Tour.

Source: The Telegraph

Millar is racing again. As everyone who follows cycling knows, he’s back in the peloton after his fall from grace – he is one of the contenders. But how did this young Scott fall so deep?

What Millar describes, is a sport where doping is the rule more than anything else. From describing his childhood and how he got started with professional cycling, doping is something he’s quickly aware of – but staying away from. He doesn’t want anything to do with it but eventually he succumbs to the pressure and starts injecting, first just with various supplements, later with the real stuff.

Millar’s story is a typical example of how ‘what’s normal’ changes. When you’re constantly living in a world where it is normal to dope and to have various tactics to avoid the doping controls, you are gradually changing your perception of normality. Slowly, Millar’s aversion towards doping lessens until his defenses against it, is completely gone.

Still, throughout it all he claims that he never viewed the victories won when doped, as real. ‘If I won doped then it meant nothing, I was very clear on that.’ (p. 174). But his changed perception of normality as well as his curiosity get the better of him: ‘I’d proved what I could do clean – how much more could I do if I was doped?’ (p. 177). With all his struggle against it, you would have thought his first time doing EPO would have been a huge deal – instead it turned out to be something of an anticlimax. He describes it as the easiest injection he ever had and the whole procedure as very tiny process, over in a couple of minutes. Of course, he had been slowly conditioned to this through a long period and was completely used to self-injections of various supplements.

Millar comes out of it all as a crusader against doping. He wants to save his sports, he wants to make it clean and show that you are actually able to win even if you’re racing clean. And this is how he comes across in his book. As a very honest Scot who loves to race and ride his bike clean and who wants everyone else to do the same. However, I did check out a few things online while reading this book and apparently Millar has changed his story from he testified till he wrote this book. So he might be a bit of an unreliable author, there are names he doesn’t share and there might be things he doesn’t tell us. It’s hard do tell. But he does come across as very honest and the book is very interesting to read.

One of the dominating riders in this period, has of course been Lance Armstrong. Millar does say that the riders winning the big races like the Tour, the Giro and the Vuelta, were the ones using doping. However, he doesn’t say Lance doped: ‘I can’t say definitively if Lance doped or not. Yes, there are all the stories and rumours, but I never saw him dope with my own eyes. If he did dope, then, after all that he has said and done, it would be unforgivable. Certainly, his performances in the Tour were extraordinary, unprecedented, but then he’s unlike anybody I have ever met, a force of nature. /…/ He is a phenomenal human being – I would never argue against that. He lives life on a different level, controlling his world in omnipotent manner, leading by example but also be fear. His ability to motivate, based on his absolute self-belief and complete fearlessness of failure, is legendary. His own lack of fear brainwashes those around him to believe in everything he does.’ (p. 297-298). He also says that the riders riding alongside Lance, were for the most part taken for doping when no longer riding with Lance – and several of these are the ones now accusing Lance of doping. I guess we’ll know eventually if he did dope or not what with the current investigation going on – although I rather doubt that anti-doping will ever get this period of professional cycling completely under control.

Still, this is not a book about Lance. It’s a book about one man’s love of the sport of cycling, and luckily, this shines through throughout the book – except for these instances where doping has cast such a dark shadow over the sport that Millar plans on never riding again.

For a lover of professional cycling and the Tour de France, there’s plenty of good stuff in this book. In fact, it’s a really interesting book and definitely worth reading to get an inside look on the doped years of professional cycling as well as David Millar’s career and the portraits he gives of other riders. I’ll leave you with this beautiful quote about wearing the yellow jersey in the Tour de France: ‘I wasn’t wearing the yellow jersey; the yellow jersey was gracing me.’ (p. 127).

  • Title: Racing Through The Dark. The Fall and Rise of David Millar
  • Author: David Millar
  • Publisher: Orion Books
  • Year: 2011
  • Pages: 354 pages
  • Source: Own Collection
  • Stars:  4 stars out of 5

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New Theme: Tour de France

So one thing you probably don’t know about me is, that I love Tour de France. I follow it – almost religiously – every year. Now, this is a book blog, so maybe you’re not all familiar with what Tour de France is. It’s an (amazing) annual bicycle race held in France with riders from around the world participating. They cover more than 3000 kilometers in 3 weeks – riding up and down mountains, through the rain and the sun, past beautiful castles and small villages. It always end in Paris where the winner is crowned – after an amazing race round Champs-Élysées.

In Denmark, we have a wonderful commentator called Jørgen Leth. Leth is a movie director, a poet, a writer and formerly, Denmark’s consul in Haiti. On top of that, he’s a bicycle enthusiast and knows everything about France, professional cycling and Tour de France. Leth is part of the reason why I love watching Tour de France. He has a poet’s eye for the landscape and the cities, the race goes through and he’s just able to talk for hours about anything and nothing at all – and he knows everything worth knowing about the Tour.

So in order to celebrate that the race is starting today, I wanted to post about the Tour de France themed reading I plan to do while the race is going on.


Three different books about professional cycling and the Tour. Two professional riders – and one fan.

David Millar: Racing Through the Dark. The Fall and Rise of David Millar.

This is the story of what was – and maybe still is – the true face of professional cycling. The highs and the lows – the amazing wins and the time spent in jail, being investigated for doping. This is Millar’s personal history of his life as a professional bike rider.

Jørgen Leth: Den gule trøje i de høje bjerge (English title: The Yellow Jersey in the Tall Mountains).

A poet’s introduction to a bicycle race. Leth celebrate the daring and the ones who have the ability to go all out and writes about the history of the Tour with his all personal highlights.

Lance Armstrong: It’s Not About the Bike. My Journey Back to Life.

Lance Armstrong. The man who has won the Tour de France more times than anyone else. 7 times! But also a man constantly being investigated for illegal doping. This is a book about his battle with cancer and how he triumphed over the disease and went on to win the Tour. Armstrong, Indurain – and of course Bjarne Riis – are my favorite Tour winners (although I also really liked how ‘the angry Australian’ Cadel Evans won it last year).

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