We all love a celebrity cycling fan.
For the better part of a century the Tour de France has been associating itself with celebrities: Josephine Baker in the 1930s, Orson Welles in the 1950s, Dustin Hoffman in the 1980s, Robin Williams in the 2000s, Cameron Diaz in the 2010s, they have all dusted the Tour with a sprinkling of their stardust.
Cycling’s literary fans, though, linger longest in the memory. James Thurber and Damon Runyon wrote about Sixes in American publications during the heyday of the sport over there. Dino Buzzati wrote about the Giro d’Italia. Antoine Blondin wrote about the Tour de France. Gabriel García Márquez wrote about cycling in Colombia.
We especially love our association with the Father of Science Fiction HG Wells, even if it is through one of his least-futuristic – and least-read – novels. And few can get enough of the diminutive dipsomaniac Alfred Jarry, who, I’m sorry to have to tell you, can in no way be credited with being the inspiration for what would become the Dada movement.
But one man stands head and shoulders above all of these: the six-foot tall giant of American literature, the novelist, Nobel laureate and all-round symbol of a particular form of manliness, Ernest Hemingway. Among cycling fans he is revered as the literary cycling fan who was incapable of writing about cycling.
“I have started many stories about bicycle racing,” Hemingway wrote in his posthumously-published memoir A Movable Feast, “but have never written one that is as good as the races are both on the indoor tracks and on the roads.” We treat Hemingway, it seems, much the same way as we treat riders like Frank Vandenbroucke: celebrating him less for what he actually did and more for what we like to imagine he might have done, if only he’d been able.
Part One – Hemingway in the Velodrome
Hemingway was introduced to track cycling in Paris by a friend, Mike Ward, sometime in 1924. As he tells it in A Moveable Feast – written three decades later with unbelievably amazing powers of recall – that…