Here’s the latest cycling book review from Brendan Gallagher, reviewing the new autobiography of Barry Hoban, who still holds the record for the most Tour de France completed by a British rider.

The eight-time Tour de France stage winner’s new book – named after the cry he often heard during his racing career in France, ‘Go on Barry’ – has been published by Pedal Press, a new venture from long-time cycling journalist Chris Sidwells.

Read on fro the full review by Brendan Gallagher, and don’t forget to check out his other cycling book reviews here.

Vas-y-Barry! My Cycling story by Barry Hoban
Out now published by The Pedal Press, £16.95
Review by Brendan Gallagher 
Available direct from The Pedal Press here.

In this unprecedented time of plenty for British cyclists blazing a winning trail across the globe it’s probably right we pause awhile to re-assess the very considerable career of Barry Hoban, the doughty Yorkshireman who did more than most to keep the flag flying in leaner times.
 
""Certainly that is what cycling journalist Chris Sidwells believes and he has encouraged Hoban to produce an illuminating autobiography of a rider who was right in the thick of it for 15-years or more, mixing it with many of the legendary names of the sport. 
 
It is important to note by the way that this is not a ghosted book. Sidwells has pointed Hoban in the right direction and I suspect ensured the digital tape recorder is fully operative and that a nice bottle of red is breathing nicely nearby but he hasn't attempted to impose any sort of literary style or artificial edifice. 
 
The result is unusual and slightly disconcerting to start with as Hoban occasionally repeats himself or jumps with a bit of clunk from subject to subject but ultimately that lack of literary polish gives his story real authenticity and veracity.  Very quickly you begin to his hear his unedited voice loud and clear and the tone remains constant and believable like a testament or document being handed down for posterity.
 
It is some career that Hoban recounts which even to this day is rather strangely underrated. This is the man who won eight Tour de France stages and was scandalously denied a ninth – more of which anon – and although nominally a sprinter this is also the cyclist who became the first British rider to a Tour stage in the high mountains with a glorious long solo break across four big climbs to Sallanches-Cordon in 1968.
 
Bear in mind that all this was achieved while riding in the service of Mercier's GC Kingpins Raymond Poulidor and then Joop Zoetemelk. Very rarely in his career did he enjoy the luxury of a team dedicated to his ambitions.
 
This is also the man who won Ghent-Wevelgem in 1974, beating Eddy Merckx and Roger De Vlaeminck in the sprint, and at other times in his career finished on the podium at Paris-Roubaix and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Many of Britain’s highly touted current young guns would kill for that one day record alone. 
 
Hoban, who moved to France in 1962 to race as an amateur and turned professional two years later, wasn't just a fine rider in his own right he was a witness to extraordinary riders and their deeds and foibles. 
 
He was there at the sharp end. His Tour de France career encompassed the last of Jacques Anquetil’s five Tour wins in 1964, the entire Merckx phenomena and his quintet of Tour victories and finally the first of Bernard Hinault's five Tournwins.
 
He was a great admirer of Anquetil,  the man’s style and class, and was much impressed when during his first year as a professional he bumped into the great man and his wife at a motorway service station and was immediately invited over to their table to share a glass and to swap cycling gossip.
 
Mind you sport is sport and a few months later Hoban played a cameo role in the famous Puy de Dome stage when Anquetil and Poulidor went head to head. As the bunch approached the climb Anquetil opted to stop and change bikes and Hoban was immediately ordered to the front by Poulidor tasked with piling on the pace. 
 
The British rider, as he recalls, was the first to hit the climb that day and the last to finish. Anquetil had to work like a dog to re-join he bunch and suffered a little at the end as Poulidor won their personal battle  but he also managed to limit his losses and with a final day Time Trial to fall back on Puy de Dome was effectively where he won the Tour.
 
The following year Hoban played a small cameo role in the rain of San Sebastian where he was Tom Simpson's representative in the break at the 1965 World Championships. His reassuring presence there in British colours meant Simpson – super strong that day in any case – could play a cool tactical hand en route to a historic World Road Race Championship.
 
And of course Hoban was racing for the GB team they day that Simpson died on Mont Ventoux about which he has surprisingly little to say, perhaps feeling too much has been written and conjectured already. Hoban doesn't deny that Simpson had taken amphetamines that day – along, in all probability, with many others in the peloton – but insists that what he actually died of was a cardiac attack along the lines of what footballer Fabrice Muamba suffered, and survived, in 2012. 
 
It’s an episode that retains its poignancy nearly 50-years on and not for the first time you look at that famous picture of a relaxed Simpson posing for a picture on a speedboat with Hoban in Marseille old port that very morning and wonder how such an incredible elite athlete could be lying dead on the slopes of Mont Ventoux a few hours later. Hoban is very critical of the Tour medical support that day and in fact throughout the book has no time for the imperious and random attitudes of those who organised the Tour at the time. 
 
He wouldn’t be alone there although of course some of that anger might stem from his very first Tour back in 1964 when he was robbed blind of a certain stage win in Bordeaux.  On that occasion French sprint legend Andre Darrigade pipped him on the line courtesy of a blatant, and no doubt handsomely rewarded, hand sling from Jean Grazcyk. The young Hoban broke down in tears and the memory of the unfairness of it all haunted him for many years.

Below – Barry (right) with Sid Barras as last year's Tour of Britain stage start in Newtown, close to his home in Mid-Wales.
 
""It was a reality check though. Hoban's world was far removed from the modern day young tyro. Your team wages basically covered board and lodging, you made a living by winning races and primes and earning a place in the lucrative post-Tour criteriums where you could accumulate 70-80% of your season's earning in one mad 20-day splurge of manic racing and travelling. Your winning in other races went into the pot but at criteriums everything you earned was yours less travelling expenses.
 
It was a tough, eminently, practical money driven world with a constant economic imperative to provide for yourself and family. And within that close nit world Hoban soon grew accustomed to the bigger teams or riders 'buying' up support of other teams or doing deals that would require repaying at some future date, a sort of moral IOU.
 
Veering towards the generous, it was the exception rather than the norm and mostly what went on was distinct from actually buying or fixing a race although that certainly happened as well on occasions. But even if you didn't succumb yourself you had to be aware of the deals that had been struck, who was ‘riding’ and for whom.  It was the real warts and all world of continental bike racing and Hogan, starting from scratch as a lone British rider, had to either sink or swim. 
 
A racer by instinct Hoban at one time turned down a very tempting offer from Merckx to come and ride for him. The Belgian legend rated Hoban and admired his cussedness and doggedness, a very good and resourceful man to have on your side in a fight. The guaranteed workers cut of the Merckx earnings would have put Hoban on a much more solid financial footing but there would be no opportunity whatsoever to race for himself and he could never countenance that. 
 
At least at Mercier there was a little scope to pursue personal goals away from the Grand Tours but Merckx of course wanted to win every race he ever entered. Hoban continued to back himself to make a living by ‘racing’ rather than merely ‘riding’ and his tale is a worthy one. 

Don’t forget you can find links to other cycling book reviews from the past two year’s by clicking here, including details of the annual SweetSpot Cycling Book of the Year Award.