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The Road Book (TRB) is back for its fourth year, now covering the 2021 season, and it remains true to its aim of being 'the ultimate chronicle' of the sport. For the second time it has faced a pandemic-affected calendar, which will have made a difficult job even harder: as in previous years, it will be good to have this book as a record of events when the memories of an exciting season start to fade.
Therein lies one of the problems when reviewing a book where everything is the same, but at the same time completely different: virtually every point made in previous reviews remains valid, so it makes more sense to refer you back to those previous comments and concentrate on other matters in this one.
That format leads with detailed results for every race that matters (and probably a few that don't), this making up the bulk of the book. Last year's curtailed calendar resulted in a 25 per cent reduction in the book's size, but this year's page count is almost back to pre-pandemic levels.
However, the racing calendar wasn't back to normal in this unrepresentative year, so what else has filled the space? Including the Olympics and Paralympics helped provide some content, this being TRB's first opportunity to do so; another is the addition of cyclo-cross results for the first time (despite the 'Road' part of the title).
More space has been given over to the obituaries, taking up twice as much space as before, which is appropriate when 'perhaps the pandemic has heightened vulnerabilities and made us all cherish our families that bit more'.
Those race summaries and detailed statistics are the core part of the book, and no doubt they are the hardest pages to prepare accurately and on time; however, I suspect that few people will read through them from start to finish (myself included). I do, however, find myself dipping into earlier editions occasionally to check some specific information, which often leads to the discovery of something unexpected.
A good example is the imaginative use to which the team at TRB can put all those statistics, such as those I liken to 'pub quiz facts'. Anyone lucky enough to have heard Ned Boulting run a 'Have I got (Cycling) News for you' contest at the Rouleur Live show will have seen an excellent example: up came a page of riders, grouped into four categories. What was the connection?
If you recognise that all of the riders are sprinters, then you are on the right track; if you were to notice that there were 34 of them you have an even bigger clue. The answer is that these are the riders to have finished second in each of Mark Cavendish's Tour de France victories – with André Greipel and Tyler Farrar each having suffered that fate four times. Simple facts presented in a memorable fashion.
All those statistics are broken up by several essays of the similar high standard seen previously: these come from various writers, such as respected journalists, retiring riders – Dan Martin, for example – and a selection of current riders describing one of their major victories in a chapter called 'In the winners' words'. From Dame Sarah Storey to Tadej Pogačar, it's an impressive roster making some unique contributions.
A special mention should go to the book's introduction by its editor, Ned Boulting. At 18 pages it is now twice the length that it once was, and I doubt you will find a better 'end of year' summary of the season. It puts everything into context, and strikes a good balance between detail and the bigger picture. The true test will be how it reads in the future, but based on how his reviews of earlier years read today, I expect that it will age well.
As in previous years, there is a page for 'Riders of the year', based on the views of an impressive panel of judges. Just focusing on the two main awards, Lizzie Deignan wins the female rider of the year, and Julian Alaphillipe the male equivalent (for the second time). These are subjective judgements and, as before, don't match the points-based awards of the UCI, nor ProCyclingStats, who both chose Annemiek van Vleuten and Tadej Pogačar.
For the second time there is also a readers' award, voted on by The Road Book Society; this went to Mark Cavendish. More on all that here.
There is no doubting the credibility of the awards, with Christian Prudhomme, Sean Kelly and other worthies on the jury, so TRB could make more of them amongst a wider audience – amongst all the other pre-Christmas priorities. Should be a good opportunity for an 'internet pile-on' when they get round to it.
One question that any such annual has to confront is how many to print, and for how long should previous editions be kept available. When do you give up on keeping earlier years in stock? Not yet, according to TRB, which still has all four years available.
The concept of The Road Book is never going to appeal to everybody. Some won't see the point, while others will welcome it. Those in the latter camp will be pleased to know that the team has managed to maintain the high standard that was set at the beginning, and those with previous years' editions will find everything just as it should be in this latest one.
It's that time of year again, when this book expertly encapsulates the racing year for its committed fans – and what a season it was
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road.cc test report
Make and model: The Road Book 2021 First Edition
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?
From the Publisher:
The Road Book 2021
THROUGH HARDSHIP TO THE STARS
Born in 2018, The Road Book is the first of its kind, supplying data from every single World Tour race across the Men's and Women's calendar, exclusive essays, editorial from leading figures within cycling, team profiles, and the kind of considered editorial our readers will dip in and out of for years to come.
In its fourth year, The Road Book 2021 recounts in full the second successive season that the world of cycling was rocked by the destructive nature of COVID-19. Through hardship to the stars, this year's edition shines a light on the riders, races and fans of the sport who through endurance have created some of the most pulsating and emotional moments of racing history.
The Road Book provides any fan of the sport the ultimate chronicle that is truly unique and pays tribute to a year like no other.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Title: The Road Book 2021
Author: Ned Boulting
Publisher: The Road Book Ltd
Date: November 2021
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
It continues to provide a unique service to the sport.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
There is nothing else quite like it for cyclists.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
I wish they had started years ago.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
The Road Book is a unique proposition within cycling, and the team behind it have done a superb job of delivering a proven and successful format for another year.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding,