With the nights beginning to draw in and the road cycling season drawing towards its climax, it’s time to look once again at some of the latest cycling titles published with the return of our popular cycling book reviews.

There are several reviews of new and upcoming titles on the way, but kicking us off is Brendan Gallagher’s look at The Yellow Jersey Club.

Don’t forget you can check out further details of the SweetSpot Cycling Book of the Year Award here and find more reviews of cycling books from the past two years here.

The Yellow Jersey Club – Inside the minds of the Tour de France winners by Ed Pickering
Out Now, Published by Bantam Press, £20
Review by Brendan Gallagher
Available from all good book stores and online from Amazon here.

""I have always been told over the years, by people whose views on sport and literature I respect, that multi-subject sports books rarely work.  To succeed you need to chew the cud remorselessly on just one dominant personality or issue and examine the story therein from every angle and make it the definitive work on the subject.
 
That advice is largely well founded but Ed Pickering has proved that there are exceptions with this fascinating poo-pourri of a book in which he takes a close, yet at times refreshingly detached, view of the 21 riders who have won the Tour de France since 1975, yes including you know who. 
 
The cut-off date is possibly a tad arbitrary to be honest and denies Pickering the tempting opportunity of delving into the mind of Eddy Merckx but he wanted to keep it fairly contemporary and also give himself the opportunity of interviewing, where possible the riders or camp followers. 
 
In many ways that is massive task and you suspect this book could easily have run to 600 pages or more but the author reins himself, distils the information and gives you both edited highlights and informed comment and assessment.
 
In many ways this book is best read as a companion, unwitting or otherwise, to Richard Moore's Etape, which revisits some of the most memorable, infamous and incident packed stages of the modern day Tour de France. 
 
Pickering is intrigued by the classic journalistic trinity of what, when and most importantly why and applies it to his chosen yellow jersey winners.  In some cases he has needed to pull off the difficult trick of marrying their performances vis-à-vis their main contemporary opponents with what we have subsequently learned of a cyclist's doping activities during a series of exposes and high profile admissions. 
 
Do you disregard everything a Tour de France champion achieved because they doped or do you set it against a background in which the majority of riders were probably doing exactly the same? Was the spectacle of Bjarne Riis shredding the field and destroying Miguel Indurain on Hautcam in 1996 any less because he later admitted to doping. Ditto do we try and deny the drama of Armstrong recovering from his crash on Luz Ardiden in 2003 to deliver a hammer blow to Jan Ullrich? 
 
It’s a dilemma the sports historians are grappling with but de facto they are part of the sport's mythology. Writing afresh without losing pace and focus with a long litany of caveats, lectures and public health warnings about doping is difficult in the extreme
 
Pickering scores heavily in at least two respects. In a non-judgemental way he really does makes a real effort to get into the mindset and psychology of those concerned, a fiendishly difficult task given that top cyclists are surely among the most complicated individuals on the planet. The book does what it says on the front cover.
 
On a number of occasions Pickering succeeds gloriously in this showing an insight that would not disgrace Dr Anthony Clare, that master psychiatrist who’s gentle grilling of his subjects made for compulsive listening a decade ago on Radio Four for the best part of 20-years. 
 
The other joy of this book is when Pickering lets loose and just indulges himself – and us – with a number of bon mots, beautifully succinct characterisations and word pictures. These are liberally littered around the chapters but often come as he draws his thoughts together on a particular subject 
 
This on Marco Pantani and his lonely drugs fuelled death: "Pantani's psychological complexity and addictive personality got him hooked on the adulation and the withdrawal symptoms eventually killed him.  He made people happy but was not happy." A couple of terrific books have been written on the tragic Pantani but there in 27 words you have the kernel of his story.
 
This on the enigma that was Andy Schleck, a particularly nice guy and pleasant human being in my experience but an elusive character to capture nonetheless:  "They say that great champions have an aura. My experience is that some do and some don't. Andy Schleck whether he is champion or not doesn't. Schleck was a born cyclist and he was good at cycling when it was easy but, maybe relying on is natural class, he missed out on the knockbacks, challenges and adversity which might have made him good when it was hard.  Andy Schleck was good at being the best. He wasn't so good at being mediocre." Absolutely bang on in my estimation.
 
Then there is Stephen Roche who pedalled nearly as smoothly as he talked and vice versa. "Stephen Roche is the nicest guy who will ever stab you in the back. Roche's ability to charm people, either consciously or not, either with the best intentions or not, also explains Stephen Roche the cyclist. As he works people, so he could also bend a race to his will, manipulate it to further his chances. 
 
“Of all the Tour winners I've ever met or read about he appears the least likely champion on the surface. His power lay elsewhere, in a supple and bewitching pedalling style and his instinctive politician's understanding of bike racing. And it must be acknowledged an ability to silently slip an assassin's stiletto into his rivals' ambitions."

 
Overwhelmingly Pickering hits the bull’s eye although I wonder if perhaps Joop Zoetemelk might not have been a close miss. It strikes me that his recent admission that he was coping with an alcoholic wife throughout much of his career is hugely relevant in the way it might have impacted on an already introspective and taciturn individual
 
Pickering doesn’t necessarily go looking for themes, each rider and chapter stands alone but you soon pick up on some traits, the most prevalent being the escape from a slightly dysfunctional childhoods and families.
 
Bernard Hinault defied his Father and ran away from home to establish his right to cycle; Riis had a very odd close/distant relationship with his Father, who had divorced his Mother when young; Lance Armstrong was deserted by his natural father; Marco Pantani is said to have suffered corporal punishment at the hands of his disciplinarian father;  Bradley Wiggins scarcely knew his cyclist father for most of his life and it caused huge confusion and upset when they did finally meet. 
 
A difficult background is not a prerequisite to being a great cycling champion – others have flourished off a seemingly normal backstory – but it occurs much too often not to be a factor.