Monday, October 27, 2014

Campy Only Reviews "Goggles and Dust: Images from Cycling's Glory Days"

Ask many Americans who won the World Series in 1969, and they'll know that was the year the "Miracle Mets" overcame the favored Baltimore Orioles. And the same could be said for most major sports. Baseball, of course, is the ultimate American sport when it comes to history and stats, but the same could be said of most mainstream sports. Winner of Super Bowl I? Easy. Number of times the Lakers have won the NBA championship? C'mon, give me a harder one.

Given the American penchant for sports history, it's surprising to see how little we know of the history of one of the nation's biggest participant sports: Cycling. While many Americans can expound at length on the infield lineups of professional baseball teams from the 1940s, their knowledge of professional cycling is likely limited to the fact that Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France. Push them, and they may know that he won it seven times, until his admission of doping stripped him of those titles.

Even American cyclists generally have a limited knowledge of the rich history of the sport. Focused on the winner of last year's Tour, or the latest carbon fiber wheelset, American cyclists by and large have no awareness of the sport's storied past ... for instance, that professional cycling was once the premiere sports attraction in the US, with six-day races attracting packed crowds and handing out huge salaries and cash prizes that only decades later would be matched by the then-upstart, Baseball.

Velo Press' new release, Goggles and Dust: Images from Cycling's Glory Days, is the latest in a series of books from Velo Press and others that seek to fill this knowledge void, and it's well worth the time you will want to spend poring over the 100-plus photos of professional cycling in Europe in the 1920s and 30s.

The photos, carefully curated from the more than 350,000 images in the storied Horton Collection, tell a story that's seldom heard nowadays. Flip through the photos, and you'll see sweat-soaked men laboring to propel their bicycles over the same mountain passes that are still climbed in the Tour de France of today--but the bicycles were fixed gears, the roads were unpaved and choked with rocks, and the riders carried their own spares tires on their backs. These were the days when Tour stages approached 300 miles in length and lasted well into the night.

The photos in Goggles and Dust are amazing in their quality and clarity, and in the stories they tell. Here is René Vietto, climbing the Col du Galibier in stage 15 of the 1938 Tour de France. Even in the high mountains, spectators were on hand to cheer him up the slopes. It's likely that many of them walked up, since this was Depression-era Europe. Look closely, and you'll see that Vietto's front wheel is turned slightly to the right--was he traversing up the steep slope? Fatigued to the point of not being able to ride straight? Who can say, but the race officials in the open car behind him were there to closely watch it all.

Photo credit: The Horton Collection

And this photo, one of many showing Tour rides struggling against time and fatigue to fix their own machines (in this case, Maurice De Waele) in the 1929 Tour de France. Try to imagine today's Tour riders having to deal with their own mechanical issues, and you'll see how far the sport has come from these rough, bare-knuckled beginnings.

Photo credit: The Horton Collection

Easily flipped through in a short time, Goggles and Dust rewards a deeper examination with hundreds  of details: The look in the eyes of a young boy seeing his hero at the start of a stage, the strain of legs cresting a pass in the Alps, the wing nuts that held wheels on before the quick release. This is a book every cyclist should read, if only to realize the strength of the shoulders upon which modern racing stands. Highly recommended.

In addition Velo Press was kind enough to release several additional photos from Goggles and Dust, which we will be posting here in the coming days. Check back for more amazing images from cycling's glory days.

Photos republished with permission of VeloPress from Goggles & Dust: Images of Cycling's Glory Days courtesy of The Horton Collection. Preview the book at

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