Book review: How Cav Won The Green Jersey: Dispatches from the 2011 Tour de France (Ned Boulting)

February 10, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Posted in books, cycling | 5 Comments
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This ‘digital short’ consists of (at least, according to Brian of the washing machine post) the final chapters that never made it into How I Won The Yellow Jumper. If you’ve read Yellow Jumper, then the style is familiar, and so is the general approach: events from the race are woven together with sideways observations on the mundane, behind-the-scenes life of the Tour. The text is punctuated with pictures, as in Yellow Jumper: happily, you can actually see them clearly this time, thanks to the ebook format.

This isn’t Yellow Jumper part 2, though. Yellow Jumper covers eight years of reporting on the Tour de France: what changed (Ned’s development from a neophyte into an obsessive), and what didn’t (laundry, hotels, food, toilets). How Cav Won The Green Jersey, by contrast, is a detailed description of highlights of the 2011 Tour. Yellow Jumper’s pretty structured, given that it’s a set of anecdotes organised around themes, without much chronology to support it. It has a narrative arc; a beginning, middle and end. It feels measured, and conscious, and planned. Green Jersey feels looser, wilder and woollier; more like a breathless phone call from a friend who just got to go backstage and met the band and OH my ACTUAL GOSH!

There’s a lot of lively discussion of the riders and teams, from Ned’s perspective as a reporter and (sometimes) as a fan. His portrayal of the Vacansoleil team, with their maverick, aggressive approach to the race, is tied into a vision of ‘real’ Vacansoleil holidays:

The beating heart of Hoogerland Holidays is very different. There is, if you listen hard, Lou Reed blaring from a distorting beatbox across the road, where the parents have collapsed on half-deflated lilos in the pool with a bottle of Jack Daniels, a bong and a bargain bucket of fried chicken.

Ned does write very well. It’s like listening to him talk – particularly like his scripted segments on the telly, where you can be misled by his jokey, blokey approach into assuming he isn’t saying anything very complex. There’s a lot packed into the observations here, and Ned has a way of bringing in his considerable knowledge and insight without coming across as pompous, or lecturing anyone. Quite a feat.

There are plenty of proper laughs (like a beautiful description of Chris Boardman’s superhuman ability to be simultaneously awake and asleep, and a lovely account of mutual incomprehension in an interview with Samuel Sanchez), and characters like Chris, Liam, Matt and the infamous Carno are succinctly and affectionately drawn. It’s not just a romp, though. Room is made for reflection, as it was in Yellow Jumper, although the self-deprecating voice is never quite suppressed, so there is nothing in this book that quite matches Yellow Jumper’s surprising and moving chapter on Glenn Wilkinson.

More than anything, Green Jersey is a celebration of the heroes and characters of the 2011 Tour. It’s needed more than ever now, in the midst of incredible betrayals, crashing disappointments and bare-faced cheek. I’d started to feel that the Tour was that flamboyant, sexy exchange student who whisked me off my feet, promised me an exotic new life in the sun, sweet-talked me into a quick knee-trembler and ran off with my handbag. This book reminds me why it’s still worth being a cycling fan.

P.S. Like Ned Boulting? You might like Gosh, yes! Ned Boulting… then. From those lovely people at the @INBFC (International Ned Boulting Fan Club).


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  1. Lovely mini-review of a digital short! Have pre-ordered same. Cheers!

    • Haha, thank you! That means a lot from you, actually 🙂

  2. nice review, sounds similar in vein to the Yellow Jumper which I totally loved so I’m definitely going to move on to the green jumper.

    Also like your cyclocross diary. I’ve been thinking of giving it a go at some point (if I can summon the bottle) but don’t really know where to start.

    • Thank you! I have no idea about cross as you’ll have gathered – best thing is just hold your nose and leap in! Everyone is really friendly and it’s a great buzz. Maybe there is some summer cross near you, to dip your toe in the water? Good luck!

      • thanks, I’m thinking of trying to get fitter and then as you say jumping in next winter. Good to here it’s a friendly crowd.

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