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The Rider [Paperback]

Tim Krabbe
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 12 2003
A literary sports classic, finally available in the U.S.

Originally published in Holland in 1978, The Rider became an instant cult classic, selling over 100,000 copies. Brilliantly conceived and written at a break-neck pace, it is a loving, imaginative, and, above all, passionate tribute to the art of bicycle road racing.

Not a dry history of the sport, The Rider is beloved as a bicycle odyssey, a literary masterpiece that describes in painstaking detail one 150-kilometer race in a mere 150 pages. The Rider is the ultimate book for bike lovers as well as the arm-chair sports enthusiast.

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Tim Krabbé is one of Holland's leading writers. He is also a cycling (and chess) enthusiast. In The Rider he has created a book unique in the ranks of sporting literature, and probably elsewhere. Already acclaimed as a cycling classic, this translation from the original Dutch serves not only to evoke the endeavour and exhaustive struggle of road racing, but also inspires as a study into the workings of the human mind, from the context of a racing cyclist. The narrative is driven by an analysis equal parts psychological and philosophical, strategic and surreal. The reader might feel that Krabbé is presenting the race or the rider as a metaphor for life in general, but the author might argue that it is more than that as he brings the ecstasy and the agony of the race, and the descriptions of his fellow competitors, to such a prominent position that all else is somehow of little significance. Perhaps Krabbé's real point is that only the rider can truly understand what makes the feelings engendered by the race so vital. For the rest of us, his description might be the nearest we get. Nevertheless, The Rider stands as a masterpiece, and alone of its kind. The feelings experienced by the actors of endurance sports have never been so well captured, nor the power and the pain of cycle racing captured in such a cerebral yet compelling manner.--Trevor Crowe --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


'A great read and a great ride.' -- Donald Antrim --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Writer April 27 2004
Cycling holds a unique niche in the world of sports. It is a delicate balance between rider and machine, between strength and tactics, between the individual and the team, between man and the elements. Anyone who has ever ridden seriously knows that almost any serious ride is an epic journey, an endless series of choices and possibilities, of suffering and pleasure.
To date, I have read nothing that captures the real essence of that experience nearly as well as Tim Krabbé's The Rider, which was originally published in 1978 in Amsterdam and which appeared in English only in 2002. Like a racing bike that has been relieved off all excess weight and trimmed of anything that could increase resistance against the wind, The Rider is prose in its most basic and stripped down form. There is hardly a wasted or misplaced word here: the writing is crisp, powerful, efficient, and compelling.
The little book weighs in at just 148 pages, just a little more than one for each of the 137 kilometers of the Tour de Mont Aigoual, by all rights a nondescript semi-pro bicycle race through the rolling mountains of Cévennes, in south central France. It may not sound like much, but Mr. Krabbé breathes life into it by describing perfectly what goes on inside a racer's head: everything from relevant glimpses at strategy -- in addition to being a strong rider and an even better writer, Mr. Krabbé may be best known as a chess champion, and his eye for tactics and detail shows -- to interesting thoughts about his own athletic career, about philosophy, fantasy, his competitors, and fascinating memories from cycling history.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Go, Timmy, Go! Feb. 21 2004
An utterly engrossing book, "The Rider" by Tim Krabbé is a first-person account of a competitor in a French amateur cycling race. Kilometer by kilometer, the author describes, economically, but with plausible feeling, the range of emotions he goes through. It is clear that he rides for the love of cycling, but his writing reveals the mental calculations, often not very flattering, that go through the mind of a rider. A chess player, he is out on the road playing a form of chess with his opponents, considering their weaknesses, weighing their histories, examining his own position on the board, so to speak.
In this short book about a 150 km long race, Tim Krabbé also travels back in his mind, recalling legends of bike racing as well as his own dreams of sporting success in Holland. These include some wonderful absurdist episodes, including a brief "Little ABC of Road Racing" where he fantasizes about riding with Merckx and Anquetil and the other greats in a series of bizarre circumstances. And all through this one is conscious of the race going on, the change of scenery and weather and how the cyclist must constantly monitor his situation-now trying to make up for his downhill lack of skills, now attacking as the others weaken, now preparing for a sprint. One is struck by the fundamental cruelty of the sport, how one must endure pain and inflict it as well.
Anyone who has ridden fairly seriously will love this book, as will those who admire strong, clean writing. The author has brilliantly portrayed a concentrated moment. This is a world of intense focus and narrow but exhilarating boundaries.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A tour de force of human neuroses April 8 2003
Cycling fanatics will find great pleasure in this literary cult classic. The author clearly knows what it's like to be a competitive cyclist, and he does an exceptional job of revealing what goes on inside the head of such a person. This book is as much about the athletic psyche as it is about a race. And that's what makes it so interesting. Anyone who has competed in any kind of race, especially a distance race, will be able to relate to the often bizarre, irrational thoughts that one's mind produces. Krabbe's anecdotes about inventing words in his head to keep himself amused during training rides, or telling himself repeatedly that his lowest climbing gear is clean as a whistle, are just two examples of the intimate psychological glimpses that readers will surely enjoy. I think the point of the story is that you have to be just a little bit crazy to be a professional cyclist, but at the same time, the cyclist's neuroses are completely human and natural.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Novella--Even for the Noncyclist Nov. 17 2003
By A. Ross
I'm not a cyclist by any stretch of the imagination, and am only a moderate fan of the sport in general. But Krabbé's novella, originally published in the Netherlands 25 years ago, has got to best one of the best fictional treatments of any sport. The book follows an competitive amateur rider through a half-day, 150 kilometer race over the very real Mont Aigoual in France. Krabbé is himself an avid amateur cyclist, and his ability to capture both the mental and physical aspects of the sport is uncanny. Although I've never raced a bike, I did run cross-country competitively, and many of the elements carry over-mainly the twin battle each individual faces with their brain and their body (There's one excellent moment when the rider wills his bike to get a flat so he can withdraw with honor.).
The stripped-down prose style (common to all Krabbé's work), works especially well in the context of a race where the long distances can lead to almost a trance-like state. The mind wanders all over the place, and that is captured brilliantly in the rider's musings-for example, one part describes how he tries to invent words to keep himself amused during long, boring training rides. At the same time, the race itself is very tense, and Krabbé does quite well at describing the various tactical gambits employed along the way. The main competitors emerge as distinct figures-allies and foes in both a psychological and physical sense (I especially liked the unknown in the blue Cycles Goff jersey). Interwoven with it all are tidbits of cycling history, which are intermittently interesting to the non-racer.
It's not a reach to call this a masterpiece of sports literature. The story does a remarkable job at conveying the tension and flow of a race to the outsider. At the same time, the insights into the psychology of the athlete are so acute as to be universally recognizable across cultures and sports.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The Race
All I can say is that you really seem to be a part of this race as you fly through the pages.
Published 7 months ago by Brian G Atkinson
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting
I like how the book reads. No chapters but in distance. Gets kinda confusing when it puts on a cliffhanger than drops a story about a old race. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Peter
5.0 out of 5 stars cycling is everything
Here how goes the first sentences of this book:

"Hot and overcast. I take my gear out of the car and put my bike together. Read more
Published on Dec 1 2011 by Martin Berthiaume
4.0 out of 5 stars Crisp and focused...
This is an `inside the head of the cyclist' account of a 1970's amateur, 150 kilometer cycle race in France. Read more
Published on Jan. 2 2010 by Lit fiction fan
4.0 out of 5 stars The View From Inside the Racer's Helmet
I think the appeal of this book is primarily the way the author has captured the thoughts and strategies that are zooming through the mind of the racing cyclist like a sprint for... Read more
Published on March 16 2003 by LoraxMan
5.0 out of 5 stars Life is the metaphor for the race.
You needn't be a racer, nor for that matter a cyclist, to revel in this gem of a book:
The exhiliration - "I was in the lead group for one sweep of the cranks, then ... Read more
Published on March 1 2003 by Mordecai Hurwich
5.0 out of 5 stars An engrossing read, superb writing
A very enjoyable reading experience, with plenty of meat on the bone. Krabbe is a supremely intelligent and observant narrator, and a superb writer. Read more
Published on Jan. 5 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Best fictional account of what it is like to be in a race
If you race, you will feel right at home with this book and its description of the Mont Aigoual bicycle race. Read more
Published on Nov. 1 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars Captures the mindset of racing
Anybody who has ever raced a bike will love this book! It doesn't matter that this book takes place in the 70's, the feeling of racing remains timeless. Read more
Published on Oct. 3 2002 by "leesemonsky"
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