Startlingly intimate portrait’ of Britain’s first cycling champion scoops 29th William Hill Sport Book of the Year.
Tom Simpson: Bird on the Wire by Andy McGrath is the fourth cycling title to win the Award
Tom Simpson: Bird on the Wire by Andy McGrath (Rapha Editions) – a new biography of British cycling’s greatest icon – has scooped the 2017 William Hill Sports Book of the Year. The winning book was announced by broadcaster John Inverdale today, Tuesday 28th November, at an afternoon reception at BAFTA in London. As well as receiving a £29,000 cheque, McGrath also receives a free £2,500 William Hill bet, and a day at the races.
Tom Simpson: Bird on the Wire is the fourth cycling title to win the world’s richest and longest-running prize for sports writing in 29 years, and the first win for specialist imprint, Rapha Editions.
Published 50 years after Simpson’s infamous death, Tom Simpson: Bird on the Wire features rare photography and previously untold stories from his family, friends and fellow cyclists. It looks at the man behind the myth: a charismatic and impulsive character who went from humble beginnings in a Nottinghamshire mining town to become a national sporting icon known simply as ‘Mr Tom’, mixing with Prime Minister Harold Wilson and the cream of international cycling. Simpson – winner of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year 1965 – was the first Briton to win the elite men’s World Championships and to wear the Tour de France’s yellow jersey, but it is the tragic and controversial nature of his death at the age of 29, during the 1967 Tour de France, that overshadows an extraordinary career.
Author Andy McGrath, a 29-year-old London-based cycling journalist, sets out to redress this balance, celebrating Simpson’s ‘achievements, rock n’ roll racing style and magnetic character’ and moving away from the ‘complicated immortality’ and ‘dark connotations’ brought about by the discovery of drugs and alcohol in his system following his death. McGrath writes in the introduction to the book: ‘There is a lot more lightness and life to Tom Simpson – and new stories to be told.’
Graham Sharpe, Chairman of the judging panel, comments: “Rarely does a book meet its aim so perfectly. Innovative design, scrupulous research and stunning photography complement each other superbly to produce Andy McGrath's outstanding and startlingly intimate portrait of a British sporting icon. Like another former Bookie Prize winner, Lance Armstrong, Tom Simpson was hugely talented and single-minded, but flawed. Tom Simpson's tragic morality tale inspires awe and respect, yet also unease amongst those who have seen domestic cycling reach international heights he could only have guessed at.”
Fellow judge John Inverdale adds: “This is not only a fantastic read, but also a highly covetable object. With its combination of an extraordinary subject matter paired with beautifully written prose, bold design and imagery, it offers the ultimate reading experience. As such, it may well be a trailblazer in its genre: it is certainly a book that all the judges agreed they’d like to receive for Christmas.”
Sir Bradley Wiggins – who counts a Simpson rainbow jersey and pair of Peugeot shorts among his cycling memorabilia collection – writes in the foreword to Tom Simpson: Bird on the Wire: ‘As a British cyclist, your identity is massively informed by him, so it goes without saying that he was instrumental in my 2012 Tour de France victory… Obviously I never knew him, so to a degree the Tom I know is one I’ve imagined into being. Of course it’s a romanticised version, and of course his death lends him a celestial quality… That said, it’s a fact that Tom shaped the kind of cyclist I aspired to be and later, when I became a professional and a father, the kind of human being I aspired to be.’
McGrath attended the ceremony along with fellow shortlistees David Bolchover (The Greatest Comeback: From Genocide to Football Glory); Jonathan Eig (Ali: A Life); Ian Herbert (Quiet Genius: Bob Paisley, British Football’s Greatest Manager); Jenny Landreth (Swell: A Waterbiography); Declan Murphy and Ami Rao (Centaur), and Neville Gabie, Alan Ward and Jason Wood (Breaking Ground: Art, Archaeology and Mythology). The shortlistees receive a leather-bound copy of the book, and £3,000 cheque and free £1,000 bet, to be split between their authors.
The judging panel for this year’s Award consists of: journalist and broadcaster Mark Lawson; retired professional footballer and former chairman of the Professional Footballer’s Association, Clarke Carlisle; broadcaster and writer John Inverdale; broadcaster Danny Kelly; award-winning journalist Hugh McIlvanney; and The Times columnist and author, Alyson Rudd. The Chair of Judges is Graham Sharpe, co-creator of the Award alongside John Gaustad, founder of the Sportspages bookshop, who retired following the 2015 Award and passed away last year.
Previous winners of the prestigious award include Nick Hornby, Lance Armstrong with Sally Jenkins, and Anna Krien. In addition to four cycling titles, seven winners have been football-themed, three on boxing and one boxing/athletics crossover title (In Black and White: The Untold Story of Joe Louis and Jesse Owens, from double winner Don McRae), two horse-racing, rugby and water sports titles, and one apiece on golf, martial arts and Australian Rules Football. The last cycling title to take the Award was 2012’s winner, The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle.
ABOUT THIS YEAR'S WINNER
Tom Simpson: Bird on the Wire by Andy McGrath (Rapha Editions, £36)
50 years after he conquered the continental sporting scene, cycling icon Tom Simpson still captivates people around the world. After his dramatic death on Mont Ventoux during the 1967 Tour de France, amphetamines and alcohol were found in his system – a fact that often dwarfs his pioneering achievements. Guided by rare photography of Simpson, Tom Simpson: Bird on the Wire explores the Briton’s feats and complexities through untold stories from those closest to him.
ABOUT ANDY McGRATH
Andy McGrath is a London-based cycling journalist and the editor of Rouleur magazine. He has worked at Cycling Weekly and Cycle Sport, and has written for the Guardian, the Financial Times and others. He co-authored the Official Treasures of the Tour de France and edited the Rouleur publication Merckx: The Greatest.
Rapha was established in 2004 to bring more style and performance to cycling clothing. It now provides products for every road cyclist, from urban commuters to world class professional teams and continues to push the boundaries of innovation in cycling apparel and accessories. Alongside this, Rapha has cultivated a global community of passionate cyclists who come together as members of the Rapha Cycling Club (RCC), the largest club of its kind in the world. Rapha’s direct to consumer model and unique brand values come to life in its numerous rides and events around the world, its Rapha Travel offering and in the global network of Clubhouses that combine retail, a cafe and cycling culture under the same roof.
Further comment from Graham Sharpe, Chairman of the judges:
“The exploits of Messrs Boardman, Froome and Hoy have helped accustom us to British male successes on the world cycling scene. However, as Sir Bradley Wiggins writes in his foreword to this book, it’s thanks to the legacy of their earlier compatriots that Britain is now so well-regarded on the continent. Tom Simpson managed to break through the unfamiliar milieu of the continental professional through a combination of outgoing personality, dogged persistence and outstanding individual ability. Wiggins says that, as a British cyclist, your identity is informed by him. Unfortunately, however, Simpson’s career ended prematurely and tragically in still controversial circumstances: he died during the 1967 Tour de France at the age of 29. This book combines a thoroughly researched, detailed and disciplined telling of Tom’s life with revealing photographic imagery and insight.”