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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Rider

Tim Krabbé

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Rider

Title: The Rider
Author: Tim Krabbé
Genre: Novel
Written: 1978 (Eng. 2002)
Length: 148 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: The Rider - US
The Rider - UK
The Rider - Canada
Das Rennen - Deutschland
  • Dutch title: De renner
  • Translated by Sam Garrett

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Our Assessment:

A- : convincing account of the bicycle-racing obsession

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . Summer/2002 Rob Spillman
The Economist . 29/6/2002 .
FAZ A 15/3/2006 Hannes Hintermeier
The New Yorker . 12/8/2002 .
The Spectator . 3/8/2002 Andrew Barrow
Die Welt A 3/6/2006 Oliver Jahn

  Review Consensus:

  Generally think it's very successful

  From the Reviews:
  • "Mr Krabbé's tone is gruffly terse and occasionally a bit pretentious; he is the self-styled Hemingway of the peloton one minute and a goatee-stroking philosophe the next. Nevertheless, he captures the rhythm of the race -- the subtly shifting dynamics, the periods of tension and release, the unexpected developments. (...) (I)f at times The Rider reads like a fisherman's tale of the one that got away, it is all the more enjoyable for its rhetorical flourishes." - The Economist

  • "Seinem unverstellt autobiographischen Roman, der als Ich-Erzählung im historischen Präsens dahertritt, gelingt nun das Kunststück, das dem Fernsehen trotz seiner ausgefeilten Übertragungstechnik mit Kameramännern in Hubschraubern, auf Motorrädern und am Straßenrand nicht gelingt: Er vermittelt einen tiefen Einblick in Taktik und Psyche dieser härtesten aller Qualsportarten" - Hannes Hintermeier, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "(H)e lays bare the athlete's peculiar mixture of arrogance and terror, viciousness and camaraderie, and the result is one of the more convincing love stories of recent memory." - The New Yorker

  • "Yet even without the mention of drugs it would be difficult to imagine a more realistic description of what it is like to take part in a bicycle race. (...) This is the real stuff" - Andrew Barrow, The Spectator

  • "Auch vom Aberglauben der Sportler erzählt dieses wunderbare Buch, von den Legenden und ihren Eigenarten, die man sich so gern immer wieder erzählen läßt. Wundgerieben von den Strapazen und berauscht von der schieren Belastbarkeit seines Körpers, vom Rhythmus der Bewegungen, kommt Krabbé der Magie des Sports auf die Spur, aus der sich die Sehnsucht speist, einmal ein Held sein zu dürfen" - Oliver Jahn, Die Welt

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Bicycle (road-) racing is a seemingly straightforward sport -- all it seems to take is that you ride your bike faster than everyone else -- that, in fact, is full of bizarre subtleties, and even though it is a sport of extreme exertion tactics seem to play as large a role as sheer athletic ability. Aerodynamics mean that riding behind someone is much easier than going it alone, and teamwork -- by actual teams, or adversaries that ally themselves temporarily -- is the only way to get and stay ahead. Yet often a race that takes several hours is decided by a final sprint in which huge bunches of riders can be involved -- and where tactics again play a significant role.
       In The Rider Tim Krabbé tries to convey the participants' passion for the sport. He came to racing relatively late, but took it seriously: as someone tells him, if he had started younger he could have been a decent mid-level pro. As is he wins his share of smaller races, and in The Rider describes his efforts in a bigger one, the 137 km Tour de Mont Aigoual, "the sweetest, toughest race of the season" for him.
        An autobiographical fiction, the whole novel is focussed on the race, from just before it begins to the bitter end. There are some flashbacks and some explanations and descriptions of the bicycling life, but most of the book centres on and comes down to the race itself, broken down into each of the many, many decisive phases. Krabbé is also a crack chess player, and the race in The Rider -- as he describes it -- has the feel of a chess match.
       Early on Krabbé explains:

People are made up of two parts: a mind and a body. Of the two, the mind, of course, is the rider.
       That's what he focusses on: yes, it's all physical, too, but: "Road-racing is all about generating pain", and it's the mind that has to push beyond that. Krabbé admits that one reason he couldn't be a top pro is because he came too late to learn how to go all-out on the downhills, that fearless gliding at ridiculous speeds. (It's the downhill, too, where the cold really gets to him; he much prefers the suffering that's due to physical exertion.)
       Not to cycle -- to give in to something so consuming, physically and mentally -- is not to live for Krabbé. But as for the reasons ...:
In interviews with riders that I've read and in conversations I've had with them, the same thing always comes up: the best part was the suffering.
       Krabbé shows the appeal of that, a form of pushing oneself to the absolute limits, but like any obsession the appeal is far from universal.
       The peculiar racing-tactics involved in bicycle racing also make for some good tension, notably when one racer doesn't do his part, forcing the other(s) to pull him along (expending energy, while he's left with reserves for the later stages of the race) or refuse to play along and potentially let a break-away get too far ahead:
The theme of mutual self-destruction, once again. A beloved theme in bicycle racing; more races are won than lost.
       Krabbé also allows himself a few flights of fancy -- imagining racing with Eddy Merckx, who asks to borrow a fork so as to take bites from the fried mashed potato road they are racing on ... -- and a few glimpses of his past, and these certainly add to the novel, but the racing-account is strong enough by itself to sustain the book.
       The Rider does ignore the doping-question -- perhaps realistically at this level of competition (it's a pro race, but strictly small stakes). Still, given that it is now hard to believe that any world-class road-racer of the past decades didn't rely heavily on performance-enhancing products the purity of the sport as described by Krabbé does look a bit too idyllic to be believable.
       Krabbé's account should certainly appeal to those who lose themselves in mind-over-matter competition of this sort, but it should also hold the interest even of those who find the sport fundamentally silly: the passion, the peculiar culture surrounding it, the single-minded types (with their strengths and weaknesses), and the way he describes the race unfolding here all add up to a compelling story.
       Well worthwhile, and a great example of what a sports-book can be.

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The Rider: Reviews: Tim Krabbé: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Dutch literature

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About the Author:

       Dutch author Tim Krabbé was born 13 April, 1943. He is the author numerous works of fiction (and several books about chess). His novel The Golden Egg was filmed twice (once in Holland, once in Hollywood -- as The Vanishing).

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