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In Where There's a Will, her second book, Emily Chappell unearths her ultra-distance skills in a journey that takes us beyond the scenery or practicalities of cycling across a continent, to the depths of human will, spirit and connection.
Because of its great length, self-supporting spirit and non-stop clock, the Transcontinental Race has a special way of firing up the imagination – as evidenced by its devoted and passionate 'dot watching' community. In Where There's a Will, Chappell – London courier turned champion ultra-cyclist – takes on the third edition of the annual road race across Europe, then goes back for more.
Devotion to the saddle to the extent of Chappell's is rare, and comes with a special sort of personality. The sort that is filled with horror – to paraphrase Chappell – at the idea of not racing 4,000km across a continent fuelled only by convenience store fodder and micro-naps. Despite this, in Where There's a Will, we quickly find that Chappell is refreshingly relatable. Not necessarily through her actions (she opens the book at the end of a night-long solo ride, after all) but through her soul-baring honesty.
Through Chappell's struggles with self-belief in the lead up to, and throughout, her racing, you can't help but consider – since she seems awfully mortal – whether you, too, could take on ultra-distance cycling. While this is no race manual, Where There's a Will might just inadvertently recruit more ultra-hopefuls, especially given Chappell's talent for lyrical language and imaginative similes that allow a peek through the other-dimension-like lens of a sleep-deprived cyclist in a foreign land.
But this is as much a story about ultra-racing as it is an opportunity to pause for thought. Cycling is often used as a metaphor for life: of hardship, love, friendship, loss – and in the face of these things, keeping on keeping on. In Where's There's a Will, these themes are all touched upon or explored, especially through her interactions with other ultra-cyclists, and her deepening friendship with Mike Hall, from whom we are privileged to learn some gems about the ultra-racing mind that may leave you pondering long after the acknowledgements.
Whether you're tempted by the world of long-distance racing or not, this is a book for the ultra-cyclist within us all: a reminder that we are capable of more than we may believe, and that with determination (or at least despair at any possible alternative) – there is always a way.
Chappell reveals that it took a bit of prodding from her publisher and agent to produce Where There's a Will, and I for one am grateful to the prodders – this is a 'read it more than once' book, so you'll have to get your own copy.
Beautifully written and thought-provoking journey through the peaks and valleys of ultra-racing, woven together by the realities of life, love and friendship
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Where There's A Will by Emily Chappell
Size tested: Hardback
Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
This book is for anyone who has ever daydreamed about long distance cycling, or for anybody that hasn't (yet).
From the publisher, Profile Books:
Emily Chappell's story of transformation into a cross-continental bike racer, pushing the limits of her endurance.
In 2015 Emily Chappell embarked on a formidable new bike race: The Transcontinental. 4,000km across Europe, unassisted, in the shortest time possible.
On her first attempt she made it only halfway, waking up suddenly on her back in a field, floored by the physical and mental exertion.
A year later she entered the race again - and won.
Where There's a Will takes us into Emily Chappell's race, grinding up mountain passes and charging down the other side; snatching twenty minutes' sleep on the outskirts of a village before jumping back on the bike to surge ahead for another day; feeding in bursts and navigating on the go. We experience the crippling self-doubt of the ultra distance racer, the confusing intensity of winning and the desperation of losing a dear friend who understood all of this.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Title: Where There's a Will
Author: Emily Chappell
Publisher: Profile Books
Chappell's way with words, and learning about her friendship with Mike Hall – it felt a privilege to read about that.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
It made me cry and it made my legs ache in sympathy. Both arguably good points.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes, for sure.
Use this box to explain your overall score
Chappell's openness, met with her gift for writing, makes for an insightful page-turner that delivers on more than one level. Cycling books like this are a rare treat.
About the tester
I usually ride: My Scott Foil My best bike is: Oldie but the goldie, CAAD 8
I've been riding for: 5-10 years I ride: A few times a week I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, mountain biking, triathlon, audax