Reading seems to be a cyclist's second favorite pastime. There's a wealth of top cycling books out there and the latest to hit the road.cc desk is Balint Hamvas's photo book, Cyclocross 2011/2012.
For those unfamiliar, Balint is a photographer who follows the off-road side of the sport, with particular attention to 'cross, a discipline he is clearly passionate about. He first came onto my radar a few years ago when he covered the mountain bike World Cup. The way in which he photo blogs each race is second to only having been at the race yourself and my preferred method of following the 'cross season. His website, http://cyclephotos.co.uk, will give you an idea of the quality of his work.
The book is presented as a diary of the previous 'cross season, starting with 'Crossvegas' then covering the World Cup, Superprestige and GVA series with a number of 'cross classics between, and interspersed with feature articles including a rider focus with Bart Wellens, how time keeping is performed, and visits to Bioracer and Ridley.
The articles offer respite from the racing and I used them a bit like chapters to pause between readings. I particularly liked the time keeping piece, where race photos are taken from the time keepers' point of view.
I won't say I'm the biggest 'cross connoisseur but I still thoroughly enjoyed Balint's book. Reviewing the book a year on from the racing enhances the book's qualities as a chronicle of the season and feelings of nostalgia - even for a more marginal fan. As I said, I followed Balint's online documenting and so had already seen many of the photos. On printed page they captivated me once again, with the 220 page book taking a number of days to get through even though only a handful are taken up with text.
The text isn't just a simple caption of the image. Each entry starts with a few paragraphs from Balint and Caroline Cardinaels (a Belgian enthusiast and writing partner with Balint) giving a report of the item. As a team who have good connections within the sport, their take on the race gives real insight into the action that you don't get from the race reports, and I certainly learnt a few things.
The reports are short but sweet so as not to intrude on the photography, the star of the show. The focus on Bart Wellens for example contains a brief anecdote on Balint's day with Bart followed by a number of full page photos in the order of Bart's day: meeting the fans, pinning his numbers, kissing his wife before sending you into the race and finally the cool down (having a moan with a local police man after a bad day!) It's a unique insight into a rider's life, rather than the typical Q&A.
The book opens with a preface from Simon Burney, an ex professional cyclo-cross racer himself and now technical delegate for the UCI. This acts as a summary of the unusual discipline, coming to the conclusion that it can't really be explained with words alone: 'To truly tell the story of this sport it has to be done with pictures and with pictures captured by someone with a true passion and feel for the sport, and in Balint Hamvas you have that very person.'
I have to agree. I would challenge anyone to pick up the book and not become inquisitive or gain a desire to give 'cross a go; a Christmas present for the cyclist in your life and passed around the family on Christmas morning, it would become the talking point.
Coming away from the book, I'm left with a tale of the previous 'cross season in my head, along with the characters and their tribulations. Stybar's struggle with form after a hard road season before finally coming true at the World Cup in Lieven, Nys and Pauwels's feud over a World Cup sprint, Wellens's return to the top step after two years, even Ian Field's first national kit gets a full page showing.
The beauty of it is that these are all portrayed in the photos; Balint really knows the right place to be, with the controversial sprint for example, shown from behind, just as Nys is about to swing right. He is a photographer who knows his tools well and with a great eye for perspective.
Fast shutter speeds are often used to capture the splatters of mud and sand that 'cross is known for and any shot that appears at first to be an ordinary composition you'll quickly notice is hiding a photographic nugget. This book cannot simply be flicked through.
I very much enjoyed Cyclocross 2011/2012. Photography has always played a large part in the sport of cycling and the way that this book is presented as a chronicle of the season gone, makes it something that even the least ardent 'cross fan will enjoy.
Even those who have no interest in the discipline will be captivated (the photos are just straight out interesting) but it probably won't have the same longevity, and I'm not sure it would be worth the £35 asking price.
If you're aching to racing around a grassy school field on a cold November morning though, this book will inspire and provide plenty of coffee table time for your money. I'd get it on your Christmas list now and start hoping you've been good this year.
Fantastic review of the 'cross season from a photographer with a passion for the sport
road.cc test report
Make and model: Cyclephotos Cyclocross 2011-12 Photobook by Balint Hamvas
Size tested: n/a
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
About the tester
Age: 23 Height: 184cm Weight: 66kg
I usually ride: Orbea Onix (Carbon) - Summer, Orbea Asphalt (Alu) - Winter My best bike is: Orbea Alma G10
I've been riding for: Under 5 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Semi pro
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo cross, club rides, mtb,