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Tom Simpson: Bird On A Wire By Andy McGrath

Release date: 12th June, 2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury Sport

List Price: £28.8
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On 13th July, it will be half a century since Tom Simpson died just a kilometre short of the summit of Mont Ventoux while riding in the Tour de France. He became professional cycling's highest-profile victim of doping, for it was illegal drugs that asphyxiated him during that notoriously exhausting ride at the age of 29.

His short autobiography, re-published eight years’ ago, is littered with a sufficient quantity of evidence to suggest that Simpson was doping well before his untimely death, although it is difficult to identify when he started.

Prior to the arrival of Sir Chris Hoy, Simpson was Britain's greatest cyclist, a remarkable athlete who, like Sir Chris, won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award (in 1965) and who became the first Briton to wear the coveted yellow jersey in the Tour de France. Tom Simpson also won four of cycling's seven 'classic' races; he continues to be held in such high esteem that every year, hundreds of bike fans make the pilgrimage to Mont Ventoux to pay their respects at a small memorial erected in his honour.

The cause of his death has tarnished his legacy, but as the marvellous collection of photographs in Bird On A Wire shows, Simpson was so completely dedicated to his sport, he was head and shoulders above his domestic rivals.

Progressing through the amateur ranks, often on second hand bikes, Simpson represented Great Britain in the 1956 Olympics. He would become a world champion and was amongst the first professional sportsmen to speak of 'mental toughness', several decades before the phrase became an integral part of the sporting vocabulary.

Had he not been the victim of some extraordinary bad luck that dogged his career, he would undoubtedly have won many more races.

After breaking his leg in 1966, Simpson forfeited around £30,000 in guaranteed earnings, a shortfall which many believe was enough to push him back onto his bike and drive him to within an ace of Mont Ventoux's bleak summit.

He clearly enjoyed life and being a celebrity, rubbing shoulders with Prime Ministers and attractive women, yet this book’s principal focus is, as it should be, on his riding, the photography supplementing an extraordinary tale.


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