Book Review: Tim Krabbé – The Rider

19 02 2010

Cover art for Tim Krabbé The Rider.

Tim Krabbé’s autobiographical novel The Rider chronicles the mind of a professional cyclist over the course of a 150 km race. The novel covers the 150km in 150 pages and the pacing of the narrative mirrors the profile of the race course. Whether grinding to the top of a mountain pass or flying down, the peaks and valleys of the race relate the psychological mindset of the human body at maximum effort. The author Krabbé, in addition to being a professional cyclist and author, is a Dutch chess champion. The mind of the chess master is deftly incorporated into the story to relay the importance of mental strategy in positioning oneself to have an opportunity for victory. Throughout, Krabbé’s story shifts focus from the race to events and sporting competitions from the author’s past. Each new allegory furthers the unpredictable and random thought process of the cyclists mind as it labors to endure the effort of the race. Yet, each allegory of life also helps to build a pyramid of motivation that pushes Krabbé towards his goal. The author recognizes that bicycle racing is as much a mental game as it is physical and, at any time, the smallest decision can have enormous results.

Publishers synopsis:

“A brisk and breathtaking account of a gruelling race from one of Holland’s finest writers.”
THE RIDER describes one 150-kilometre race in just 150 pages. In the course of the narrative, we get to know the forceful, bumbling Lebusque, the aesthete Barthélemy, the young Turk Reilhan and the mysterious ‘rider from Cycles Goff’. Krabbé battles with and against each of them in turn, failing on the descents, shining on the climbs, suffering on the (false) flats. The outcome of the race is, in fact, merely the last stanza of an exciting and too-brief paean to stamina, suffering and the redeeming power of humour. This is not a history of road racing, a hagiography of the European greats or even a factual account of his own amateur cycling career. Instead, Krabbé allows us to race with him, inside his skull as it were, during a mythical Tour de Mont Aigoual.

I spent few days reading The Rider on my bus commutes to New Haven. It was a very captivating story and I couldn’t wait to pick it back up again. Krabbé really captures the exhilaration, the pain, the elation and the suffering of a bicycle race where the racer is being attacked at one moment and attacking the next. I would recommend this as a must read for any cyclist. It was first published in Holland in 1978 but, has only been available in English translation since 2002. Tim Krabbé is the author of other books available in English translation, such as, The Cave and The Vanishing both have which have been made into feature length films.