A few years ago at the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, CA I saw a bunch of posters for a book titled “The Race” by an author named Dave Shields. I had read about it in a few cycling news outlets, and it was pretty highly acclaimed.
I didn’t really give much of a look because I am more into mountain biking than road riding, but the Tour de France was something I am very much interested in, so all of the reviews I read swayed me to pick up a copy. I had no idea what I was in store for, but after I started reading it, I was kicking myself for not having picked it up sooner.
Very few books have moved me the way this one has. The only
one that I can think of is “For Love of the Game” by Michael Shaara. That was a book that got my heart pumping and pulse pounding as I read it, and Shields’ book would be no different.
His writing style is a pleasure to read, and the book flows from first sentence to last at a pace that almost feels like you are riding in a, well, race. He captures the essence of the romantic side of the Tour de France with absolute perfection.
Shields does an amazing job inserting you right in the middle of the Tour peloton as the story unfolds. And, due to the way the book is written, it has you reading as fast as you can to see how the story ends.
And then, once it does, you will experience some let down (I did) because the book is done. Fortunately, it doesn’t mean the story is over because there is a sequel to the book titled “The Tour” which brings “The Race” to and end in a way that will have you “on the rivot” sitting at the edge of your trying to keep from having “your elastic snap!”
I was lucky enough to get an interview with the book’s author, and here’s what Shields had to say of the questions asked. It should also be mentioned, that this highly acclaimed book will be making its debut on the silver screen at some point as well.
For those unfamiliar with it, what’s the story about?
The Race is the story of Ben Barnes who grows up in a small town in the southern Utah desert under the thumb of a very angry father. As the result of a chance meeting with a man who inspires him, Ben adopts the unlikely dream of winning a stage to Alpe d’ Huez in the Tour de France. He dedicates his life to this goal.
He works tremendously hard to develop his abilities, but just as he’s finally within reach of success, a rival sabotages him. Ben can’t control his anger and causes a terrible crash. He is suspended from the sport and he wonders whether he inherited the worst of his father’s traits. He’s on the verge of giving up on much more than just his cycling goals. But the friends Ben has made along his journey through life won’t quit believing in him, and they eventually help him earn the opportunity to ride the Tour de France as a low level domestique.
When circumstances conspire to give him a shot at not only the Alpe d’ Huez stage victory, but the chance to redeem himself against the rival who derailed his career, he’s forced to re-evaluate everything about who he is, why he is in this position, and what he is going to do about it.
Why “The Race?”
Cycling provides a great analogy for life. I was fascinated by the idea of putting a good but flawed character in the heat of a Tour de France stage and under incredibly intense pressure, and then seeing how he reacted. I also wanted to educate non-cyclists on the workings of a sport that most of them vastly underestimate and misunderstand. Many people believe that bicycle racing is nothing more than a test of endurance, but it is so much more complex. I hoped that by engaging them in a good story I could help to create new fans. I believe I succeeded in that because I regularly hear from readers whose backgrounds range from former Tour de France champions to grandmother’s that have never even ridden a bike. The vast majority of them tell me how much the story meant to them. Several have even called it “The Rocky of cycling.”
One more motivation of making this story into a movie at time is that cycling continues to get a black eye because doping plays such a central role in the current narrative. It’s unfortunate that such a beautiful sport has been hijacked by this one negative issue. I believe that by educating the fans on what is really going on and why(I wrote a sequel that goes into these issues extensively) that cycling can come through this difficult time even stronger than before. With this movie my goal is to communicate why I believe cycling is the most beautiful of all sports.
How long have you be been riding? Have you raced yourself?I’ve been riding since the early 80’s. I’ve raced bicycles, but my real success came in triathlons where I was fortunate enough to win from time to time. I was never skilled enough to go beyond amateur status, but I became a huge fan of Greg Lemond and have followed the Tour de France closely since that time.
What inspired you to write the book?A whole bunch of experiences came together to create this book. In most cases I had no idea I was doing research at the time, but the most important events were probably riding my bike 300 miles through the Utah desert at age 14, suffering a terrible knee injury and rehabilitating it using the bicycle, and becoming friends with Marty Jemison who went on twice finish the Tour de France and also with the US Pro Championship. Without his insiders perspective I couldn’t possibly have written the story that I ultimately did.
Believe it or not, even in the process of writing this screenplay I found myself reviewing old scenes and realizing they had been inspired by events I didn’t even know I’d been thinking about when I originally wrote them.
You really do a great job of taking the reader inside the life of a pro rider. How did you research life in a European peloton to paint such an accurate picture? Were there any teams the ones in the book are based on?
In addition to convincing Marty to read my drafts and help me perfect the book, I also made multiple trips to France to visit the Tour and research specific events and locations. My own racing and cycling experiences also played an important role because I was able to draw from them in order to describe events as intimately as possible.
I didn’t base the story on any specific team, but there were definitely real events that played roles in how some of the scenes in this story came together. I once heard an author say that their books were the result of smashing a stained glass window and then putting the pieces back together in a new way. I think that’s a good description of how my stories are created as well.
How do you take a great book and adapt it to the silver screen?It’s a more challenging process than you might think. In a book the reader can experience the internal thoughts and feelings of the characters. In a movie these things must all play out in a visual way. The story has changed more than I had expected it to in the adaptive process, but I feel like the changes have actually made the story stronger. For instance, several of Ben’s relationships are much more real and mature in this version. I’m certain there will be further changes as we move forward. I’m convinced we will ultimately create the most exciting and inspirational cycling movie ever filmed.
Any actors yet? Real pros?
We haven’t approached any actors quite yet but there are a few specific ones we have in mind. One in particular would be a game changer, and we have reason to believe we might be able to work something out with him.
I had been working closely with a producer but even that relationship looks like it might change somewhat before the movie is actually made. The movie industry presents many challenges but I feel confident that we’ll ultimately overcome them because there are a whole bunch of people who have already supported us in various ways with this project. I’m incredibly grateful to the people who have stepped up to become involved in one way or another… even to those who have simply shared an encouraging word.
So, having read the book, and trying to create the commentary with the voices as I did, something that I’m sure people will want to know is will Phil Ligget and Paul Sherwin be in it??It would make sense to me. There’s definitely a place for them. We haven’t approached them yet, though.
What’s your next project?
There are a couple of things percolating and numerous other responsibilities I have to attend to, but at the present time this project has the vast majority of my creative attention.
If you haven’t read either of these books, I can’t recommend them highly enough. They will please the most rabid fans of cycling as well as those who are casually connected to the sport. It is a book you will have trouble putting down, and is something that will definitely get you excited to see how it plays out on the silver screen.
I for one am very much excited about this project, and can’t wait to see it!