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“To review this hugely rewarding book is to attempt the impossible. So I urge you to buy it and discover for yourself how French author Paul Fournel has expressed so beautifully and with such humour what many of us struggle to articulate when attempting to explain our love of cycling. The title, Need for the Bike, is so apt.”—Cycling Weekly
"Few sportswriters fancy themselves members of the literary avant-garde, but Frenchman Paul Fournel is the real deal. In his carefully cadenced prose poem Need for the Bike, translated by Allan Stoekl, he shares a passion for the sport matched only by his love of language."—Bicycling
I remember the dog very well. It was a yellow dog, a boxer. I remember I was the last to see him alive because I was the one who hit him.
At the same moment, I felt my front wheel give way and my handlebars twist against my left arm. I felt the breeze from the peloton, opening up and yelling all around me, and then I woke up, sitting on the Longchamp sidewalk, trying to scratch my phone number in the sand, in case I passed out again.
There was the first hospital, where they found my arm too messed up for them; there was the badly sprung ambulance that shook me up; there was Boucicaut hospital and the emergency service.
It was three o'clock, and my morning ride was already taking a big bite out of the afternoon.
My arm by now was calm in its splint.
The surgeon had told me: 'You've lost some bone; we're going to have to screw plates on and do a graft with bone from your hip,' and he went off to lunch. I was just about to finish digesting the cereal bar I had had during my circuit before coming to the surgery unit.
At exactly this point there were five of them riding at the front, and I had the sense that the great Demeyer was taking cover. On the cobbles he was circumspect; he was riding strongly, as always, but at the back. Moser and De Vlaeminck weren't doing much better. Hinault, for his part, was pulling the train with his teeth clenched, as on any other hard day. Paris-Roubaix isn't a race where you joke around; his world champion's jersey was filthy, the kind of filth you frame under glass. The closeups on TV showed him tight-faced, concentrating hard. He wasn't trying to make a break, and nothing was more exasperating than watching him carrying everybody in his panniers on the way to Roubaix.
They were ten Ks from the finish line when the surgeon came back:
'Let's go - the operating room's ready.'
'Five minutes ... I want to see the end of the race.'
'You'll find out about it later.'
'I won't be able to sleep if I don't know.'
'With what they're going to give you that would surprise me.'
He made the mistake of glancing at the TV, and he had to sit down on the edge of my bed. The race's tension was so extreme that he didn't say a word.
Kuiper entered the velodrome first, with De Vlaeminck, pallid, on his wheel. Four hundred meters from the line, the Badger (Hinault) took the lead and upped the pressure. Demeyer tried to whip past him but couldn't get beyond his pedals. Nobody else had the strength to try.
The Badger picked up his bouquet and publicly restated that the race was, indeed, bullshit. Now he knew exactly what he was talking about.
Then there was my first shot, the gurney, the green smock, the second shot. Sitting on the operating table, in a contented haze, I did an inventory of the tools that were gleaming next to my bed: nails, screws, casts, pliers, a saw ...
There was a Black and Decker drill, and I went under sorry that it wasn't a Peugeot ... Great team, Peugeot.
Excerpted from Need for the Bike by Paul Fournel Copyright © 2003 by University of Nebraska Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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