Olympic Gangster, by Matt Rendell
Sunday 10 July 2011
Mainstream classify this book as "True Crime/Sport", but even that eye-catching combination doesn't begin to do justice to the many lives of Jose Beyeart.
His Olympic significance is his victory for France, aged 23, in the cycling road race in Windsor Great Park at the 1948 Games, but by the time he died at the age of 79 he had racked up an almost incredible tally of adventures. Always restless, always pugnacious – his first love had been boxing, and he was a keen barroom brawler throughout his life – he chafed at the servile life of a professional cyclist in Europe, and when offered the chance to cash in on his Olympic fame by opening a velodrome in Colombia he leapt at the chance.
Falling in love with the country and its people, he stayed, winning the inaugural Tour of Colombia in 1952, and over the next 50 years worked variously as national coach, bar owner, factory manager, treasure hunter, emerald miner, logger in the rainforest, drug runner (he was involved with the cocaine smugglers known as The French Connection) and, he hinted, at least once as a paid assassin.
Matt Rendell, who knows Colombia intimately, spent many hours interviewing Beyeart before his death, and has brilliantly pieced together a riveting tale that would be unbelievable were it not for his impeccable research. In his role as a Tour de France commentator, Rendell also took a wet-behind-the-ears Ned Boulting under his wing during the latter's first Tour as a TV journalist in 2003.
Boulting's account of the highs and lows of covering the race, How I Won the Yellow Jumper (Yellow Jersey, £12.99), is often very funny, but also illuminating about the pressures both reporters and riders face. "My role is not to be the rider's friend," he states. True, but this book should definitely earn their respect.
Published in paperback by Mainstream, £8.99
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