Books for Christmas: Drugs, lies and generosity: Cycling tales to make the head spin

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The Independent Online
SKULDUGGERY, poisoning and drugs. Freddy Maertens may not be a new Hercules Poirot, but the Belgian has uncovered a lot of dirty doings in cycle racing. Twice world champion and many times the victim of double-dealing, Maertens tells his version in Fall From Grace (Ronde Publications, pounds 12.95).

He is the man who made Eddy Merckx cry and got the legendary sportsman to admit to tricking him in the world professional road race championship in 1973.

'One of the most sordid machinations practised on me,' Maertens says. He finished second to the Italian Felice Gimondi after attempting to give Merckx a winning advantage in the finishing straight. 'He never told me that he had 'blown up' so that I could ride my own race,' Maertens says. 'With his own chance gone he would rather an Italian won on a

Campagnolo-equipped bike than me.' Merckx and Gimondi used Campagnolo equipment and Maertens rode a Shimano-equipped machine, so it came down to a commercial power struggle.

A year later Maertens' drinking bottle was 'spiked' at the world championships, causing intestinal cramp and his retirement. 'The physiotherapist of Merckx admitted later that he had done it,' Maertens says.

In baring such issues, the colourful Belgian is as hard on himself as he is on others in a book that has become a best- seller.

More intrigue emerges in The Foreign Legion (Springfield Books, pounds 16.95), a history of the English-speaking invasion of the European big time stretching from the successes in the 1950s of Brian Robinson to the crowning glories of Ireland's Stephen Roche and the American Greg LeMond 30 years on.

Their era is fading fast, but Rupert Guinness's well-researched book highlights the triumphs, controversies and jealousies produced by the 'arrival' of the Anglos. He recalls how a last-day conspiracy robbed the Scot Robert Millar of victory in the Tour of Spain, and LeMond's refusal to join a team who were easy-going about drugs although he was offered more than three times the salary of Roche and Phil Anderson.

Not all is wickedness, as Noel Truyers shows in delving into the background of 24 of the world's best racers in Kings of Cycling (Coda, Antwerp).

Gianni Bugno became a classical music fan after therapy to clear an ear problem which affected his balance. It entailed listening to Mozart, which helped the Italian relax, and cured an inability to descend mountain passes at speed.

When a woman asked LeMond to sign a book for her son who was ill with cancer, the American personally delivered it to the hospital.

If LeMond was the amiable golden boy of the Eighties, Miguel Indurain is the placid Colossus of the Nineties. The author Sam Abt has wrapped a tribute to the towering Spaniard in his stories behind the story of the 1992 Tour de France in Champion, Bicycle Racing in the Age of Indurain (Bicycle Books, US, pounds 8.95).

'I have known only one other rider able to dominate the way Indurain does,' his manager, Jose-Miguel Echavarri, tells Abt. 'That was Merckx, but he was a robot and his force humiliated his opponents. Miguel is a lord. He is generous and respects his rivals.'

Indurain's shy, retiring manner is as notable as his triumphs. The only time he has shown temper was when another rider trod on his bare foot, and that outburst made headlines.