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The Road Book 1989 Edited by Matt Rendell



Comprehensive and beautifully made edition that captures the famous season through both comment and fact
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With the team behind The Road Book having just released its fifth edition for the 2022 season, Ned Boulting has passed the editorial reins to renowned author, journalist and presenter Matt Rendell for The Road Book 1989, a shorter edition that – no surprises – covers the famous 1989 season. This was a year most famous for its incredibly tight, contentious, and dramatic Tour de France finale – the likes of which we almost saw again in 2023.

The almanack, Wisden-esque formula is clearly working (based on the excellent reviews of the existing editions) and hopefully this blue cover edition – rather than red for the modern books – will be the first of many forays into the more distant past.

> Buy now: The Road Book for £40 from The Road Book

We've covered a few of the red-covered editions, the most recent being the 2021 season. The main difference with the 1989 edition is in length: it's half as chunky as its modern cousins, and yet there are still almost 400 pages to carve through. But as Matt Rendell points out in the introduction, the further you dig into the past, the murkier the stats and results become. Compiling data for a season 34 years in the past must have required an onerous amount of detective work, and occasionally a detective magnifying glass symbol replaces any results that are simply too hard to locate.

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The format remains the same as in previous editions, as detailed in our reviews. The book is broken up into monthly sections of varying length, running from February to October, with every stage of every Grand Tour given an entire page – including some comment, oddities, and nuggets of idiosyncratic information – while Classics, Monuments, and one-day races are allocated space on a more haphazard basis: Gent-Wevelgem gets three sentences and a record of the top 25, while Liège-Bastogne-Liège fills two pages and includes full times of all 118 riders.

There is a visual treat awaiting readers towards the back of the volume: Stefano Sirotti spent the pandemic digitising and uploading almost a million photos taken by his father, Emanuele, in the 1970s of both the Tour and the Giro, and 16 pages of these photos, which capture the grittier edges of the pro peloton, are included, providing a usefully separate perspective to the statistics that precede them.

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Enjoyable as the vignettes and peccadilloes accompanying stages and day races are, I found myself always flicking through to the extended articles and comments. We hear from Pippa York, Ned Boulting, Kathy LeMond, Jeff Quénet, Lisa Brambani, Phil Liggett, Sean Kelly, Dag Otto Lauritzen and Edwig Van Hooydonck – with some of the names very much more household than others.

Rendell contributes an excellent introduction that justifies the choice of 1989 as The Road Book's first historical season, gestures to the annoyances and vagaries of researching an often under-publicised sport, and outlines his own editorial credo: in the multifaceted world of a bike race, there is never just one truth.

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Often, The Road Book's charm lies in highlighting quite how haphazardly this sport of ours has evolved. Left in the hands of as many mavericks and (mostly) well-meaning visionaries as pragmatists, even the biggest stage races in the world have undergone flashes in the logistical pan that simply would not fly ever again. For example, 1989’s edition of the Vuelta opened with three groups of 63 riders pelting around a 6.7km circuit three times, with the winner of the fastest stage awarded what was then still a yellow jersey. Younger readers might also be bemused by references to stages with two parts: these would be named, say, 15a and 15b. It was common practice to have a race in the morning and then another in the afternoon so spectators would really get some bang for their buck.

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Alongside reading about cyclists who we now see as TV presenters, like Sean Kelly, or bike brand owners, like Greg LeMond, other oh-so-familiar faces rear their heads in The Road Book 1989. The Tour de [Donald] Trump stage race started life in 1989 and lasted nearly the equivalent of two full presidential terms, criss-crossing across North America. As you might expect for a race started by capitalism’s poster boy, there was budget sloshing around everywhere, with money, hotels and first-class flights available for anyone with a bike or a press pass. The Road Book details all of the grisly details of this race, as stage-winning riders were received on the yachts of arms dealers to drink champagne and admire walls lined with the skins of elephants. And it was in this race that Greg LeMond’s famous tri-bars really made their debut for the 7-Eleven team.

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The nine pages of women's results are somewhat sobering in their brevity, especially when the editorial comment assures the reader that this side of the sport 'was on a high in the 1980s'. However, it can perhaps provide a heartening contrast with the current state of play, and how a 400-page volume in 2023 could feasibly be filled exclusively by women's races.

> 42 of the best cycling books – check out the books every cyclist should own

The writing is consistently accessible with just enough humour and irreverence from both The Road Book writers and the contributors to keep things interesting. There is certainly an element of everything changes and everything stays the same. We hear about riders striking against unsafe conditions, something called the World Cup which bundled up Classics into point-scoring exercises, wins for Adri van der Poel, the attacking heft of Jos van Aert, and them both joining Patrick Evenepoel's team a few years later in an unknowingly prescient nod to the future greats.

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It would have been useful to see a few elevation profiles, where available, but perhaps this was a bridge too far for the research team. Regardless, this is still a unique and rewarding book which is very interesting for the unschooled millennial like myself, and must be riveting and beautifully nostalgic for proper students of the sport who lived through the era.


Comprehensive and beautifully made edition that captures the famous season through both comment and fact test report

Make and model: The Road Book 1989 Edited by Matt Rendell

Size tested: Hardback

Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?

From the publisher:

The Road Book 1989 is the inaugural cycling almanack in the Blue Series celebrating one of the most exciting years in the sport, the year of the closest Tour de France finish and the year the Berlin Wall fell.

This publication brings together race statistics alongside essays and personal insights from experts and riders who experienced the year that was 1989.

With an introduction by our editor Matt Rendell, commentaries and essays by Sean Kelly, Edwig Van Hooydonck, Ned Boulting, Pippa York, and Jeff Quenet and an intimate memoir by Kathy Lemond.

This is a limited first edition and will sell out.

Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?

Title: The Road Book 1989

Author/Editor: Matt Rendell

Publisher: The Road Book Ltd

Date: 2023

Format: Hardback

Pages: 368

ISBN: 9781916484955

Price: £40

Rate the product for quality of construction:

It's a beautiful hardback edition in a purplish blue.

Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose

As has been mentioned in our reviews of the modern Road Book editions, these volumes provide a fantastic service for readers looking for Wisden levels of detail and statistical deep diving.

Tell us what you particularly liked about the product

The essays that intersperse the data provide some welcome relief and an interesting range of comment.

Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product

I'd like to have seen some stage profiles.

Did you enjoy using the product? Yes

Would you consider buying the product? Yes

Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes

Use this box to explain your overall score

An excellent foray into the 1989 season that will have existing fans of The Road Book rubbing their hands together as it skilfully weaves together objective fact with nuanced and interesting perspectives.

Overall rating: 9/10

About the tester

Age: 34  Height: 187cm  Weight: 80kg

I usually ride: Pearson Hammerandtongs  My best bike is:

I've been riding for: Over 20 years  I ride: Every day  I would class myself as: Expert

I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, Ultra endurance

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ubercurmudgeon | 11 months ago

Venturing into professional cycling's past seems like a fraught enterprise for a sports almanac. I hope they notified their printer to stock up on spare asterisk types.

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