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One could summarise Vuelta Skelter by simply saying that all of the skills Tim Moore has deployed in his previous travelogues are present and correct. As always, the actual basis of his trips is secondary to his skills as a raconteur in producing another entertaining story, but what has the master of the genre been up to this time?
Moore seems to have a knack for coming up with great ideas for his adventures, and I am sure that many of us often wonder what he will do next. I have a theory that he finds a title that makes sense to his audience, and then creates a journey to suit the name. Furthermore, I suspect he tries to alternate his cycling adventures with those using other modes of transport, just to make sure that when he embarks on a cycling trip he is sufficiently unfit for that to have a role in the narrative.
Just as the Tour de France begat French Revolutions, and the Giro d'Italia gave rise to Gironimo, so the Spanish Grand Tour has been the prop for Vuelta Skelter: it's a logical extension of a proven idea, and it doesn't continue with the non-racing theme that he used last time out.
As is often the case with Moore, there is a bit of historical context embedded in the trip. Actually, there is probably more than we've been used to, but the Spanish Civil War and its associated slaughter needed to be treated with appropriate respect.
The focus is on Julián Berrendero in the 1941 Vuelta. I was not aware of Berrendero before Moore brought him to our attention, and (I suspect) like most people I am unlikely to read a lot more about his life. That is not to belittle his achievements, but simply reflects the fact that his incredible exploits are really only of interest because they provided Moore with an excuse to undertake his trip.
Oh yes, and the fact that he produced an autobiography in 1949 from which Moore could draw inspiration, facts, and quotes was helpful: Mis Glorias y Memorias. Unlikely to be available from Amazon or your local stockist.
There is a better case to be made for choosing 1941, in the context of the other things that were happening both in Spain and on the world stage at the time – but surely the real attraction was that it was a tough race that year, which is exactly the back-story that Moore needs to set up his own adventure.
Then there is the imperative to use a bike that fits with the story. His choice was rudely described as 'a Neanderthal piece of shit' by one unhelpful bike shop – but it was sure to provide Moore with a rich seam of mechanical struggles and mishaps with which to regale us.
Despite the somewhat solemn setting, Vuelta Skelter still has plenty of the wry humour and light-hearted observations that Moore does so well. Here is but one example that I (and anyone who has cycled in Spain) can appreciate: the fact that each roundabout 'came introduced with a strident warning sign suggested a certain native unfamiliarity with rotary traffic management…but it was always just a bit terrifying to see how often they needed reminding not to do unbelievably stupid and dangerous things'.
A combination of not knowing much of the language and frequently trying to communicate with non-English-speaking Spaniards also helps with the comedic value of many interactions.
The planning and execution of this trip was overlaid by a more modern factor: Covid-19. As lockdown struck, 'my first task under house arrest was to settle down and watch a career in travel journalism die before my eyes'. Moore deserves great credit for managing to navigate his way through restrictions and seize suitable opportunities for his trip, and would be fully deserving of a place in the Cycling Through A Pandemic book. Not surprisingly, this was one area where he had to get all his logistics right, and he couldn't rely on his usual cavalier approach.
I noticed that the cover still references Moore as the 'author of the Sunday Times best-selling French Revolutions', as have all of his previous cycling works. Surely it is about time to acknowledge that French Revolutions is a great work, but should no longer be singled out. While it set a high standard, it is one that Moore has consistently and reliably matched in subsequent travelogues.
Another unnecessarily difficult journey on an unsuitable bike by an ill-prepared rider: marvellous
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Vuelta Skelter by Tim Moore
Size tested: 336 pages
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:
Tim Moore completes his epic (and ill-advised) trilogy of cycling's Grand Tours.
Julian Berrendero's victory in the 1941 Vuelta a Espana was an extraordinary exercise in sporting redemption: the Spanish cyclist had just spent 18 months in Franco's concentration camps, punishment for expressing Republican sympathies during the civil war. Seventy nine years later, perennially over-ambitious cyclo-adventurer Tim Moore developed a fascination with Berrendero's story, and having borrowed an old road bike with the great man's name plastered all over it, set off to retrace the 4,409km route of his 1941 triumph - in the midst of a global pandemic.
What follows is a tale of brutal heat and lonely roads, of glory, humiliation, and then a bit more humiliation. Along the way Tim recounts the civil war's still-vivid tragedies, and finds the gregarious but impressively responsible locals torn between welcoming their nation's only foreign visitor, and bundling him and his filthy bike into a vat of antiviral gel.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Title: Vuelta Skelter
Author: Tim Moore
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
It's dependable entertainment.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Lack of pictures.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes, when discounted.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
Some things can be relied upon, and Tim Moore managing to keep us entertained is one of them; the presence of Covid-19 made the trip more challenging, but also provided some extra opportunities for mishap and misunderstanding that may never be available again.
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,