'My suitcase is always a bit heavy': The professional cyclists who read on tour

Off the bike, there are some pros who turn pages to relax

Cyclists reading
Romain Bardet peruses Gazzetta
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Cycling and great writing always seem to go together; the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia both emerged out of newspapers wanting to sell copies, and it is a sport that has produced so many great books, at a ratio of people who care about it to all time classics that must exceed most other sports.

From The Great Race by Geoffrey Nicholson to modern day hits like Slaying the Badger by Richard Moore, it is a sport which seems to produce top writing. 

However, to flip this on its head, is cycling a sport which producers great readers?

I started wondering back in July, when I was at the Tour, when I head a whisper - or possibly read in L'Equipe - that Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) had read a staggering amount of books at the Giro d'Italia, a couple of months previously.

Now, I was aware that the Dutch climber had a reputation for being a bit of a bibliophile - The Cycling Podcast was in a habit of calling him "Book Mollema" a few years ago, but I had to find out whether it was true that he was reading quite as much as had been suggested. It seemed like a lot.

"I just started a new book, The Alice Network [by Kate Quinn], in Dutch. It's about the First World War," Mollema told me in Tomblaine ahead of stage seven of this year's race. "That's the third of the Tour. I like to read a lot, and it always helps me to relax a bit, not to focus on the race all the time, especially on the bus and at night. To recover, to let my thoughts go somewhere else. 

"We have some guys in our team that read a little bit, but maybe just one book a Tour. I think in the Giro I finished six books, so I think I'm on schedule. I like paper, not e-readers. My suitcase is always a bit heavy."

There we go, confirmed, Mollema read six books at the Giro, which seems like hard going. Isn't he supposed to be racing for at least four hours a day? I managed five books in a week on a recent trip to Berlin, but that was on a leisure trip, where I had no work to do. One imagines there is more to do for the average pro cyclist during the biggest race of the year, not the least talking to strange mulleted journalists about books.

Cyclists reading

Jan Bakelants reads!

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious) thinks something might be wrong with Mollema's record of reading: "Six books? The guy is reading picture books surely."

However, if you think about it, cyclists do have an awful lot of down time, especially during a Grand Tour, with long transfers between stages and hotels, and hotels and stages, and whole rest days in which they are supposed to be switching off. Perhaps a book is the best thing.

Wright himself does read, just not at the voracious pace of his peloton colleague.

"I've slowly been making my way through Game of Thrones, they're huge," he told Cycling Weekly in Aigle, ahead of the first rest day proper. "I bought all of them sometime last year, and I've slowly been reading it. I've already watched it, so it's a bit easier to read. 

"Matej is always reading as well, Matejpedia or whatever it's called. Maybe I'll read a bit more tomorrow, it's hard cos your brain is so overwhelmed."

Ah yes, Matej Mohorič, Wright's Bahrain teammate, is another known in and around the bunch as a bit of an intellectual. In an interview with Slovenian media (opens in new tab) ahead of the Tour, he said he was taking four books with him to France, including Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, and, more confusingly, The Magic Spanner by Carlton Kirby. That hardly seems like escapism.

“I think nowadays we need to rest more, you always have to read messages on your phone and social media and never get proper rest you know. With a book, you can go into a different dimension,” Mohorič explained to Cycling Weekly during the Tour.

Of course, not all are bookworms, as in life as in the peloton. Chris Hamilton of DSM is honest: "I'm not a big reader, but there definitely are guys that do it. Other people do read on the bus too, but if I tried I'd throw up. I just read magazines and stuff like that."

Cyclists reading

Jan Ullrich probably didn't read his own book on the road

(Image credit: Getty Images)

For most, though, reading a book seems like more of an aspiration than a constant, as with Mollema. This is something surely all of us can empathise with, taking a book around with you and then hardly getting through it. I, in fact, only got through a disappointing three books during the Tour, one of which I gave up on I hated it so much. Such is life.

Christopher Juul Jensen of BikeExchange-Jayco thinks people "underestimate" cyclists when it comes to intellectual pursuits like reading, but was battling through one during the Tour.

"Maybe I'll read a book, a few pages of a book," he said. "I'm reading a French book, or trying to, at the moment. I can't remember the author's name, it's not in French. It's about two people in Paris, it's pretty good, makes me want to get there pretty quickly. A lot of days can pass where I don't even take it out of the suitcase. I never read on the bus."

Reading a book might well be the easiest way to pass the time for some, but for others it's an opportunity to learn, like for Connor Swift (Arkéa-Samsic).

"There's a couple of books floating around, but I don't see them open very much," he said. "I've got one in my suitcase, but I haven't opened it yet. I can't even remember the title, it's about properties I think, investing. 

"Potentially, on the rest day, I've been thinking about reading it to help me go to sleep, but stages finish so late, that often you're not in bed until half 10/11 anyway, so it's already quite late, so I've not really had time."

Well, there's the rub; even if you have the desire and the means to read, you can't always get round to it as a professional cyclist, even if you do seem to be always travelling. Not everyone can be a Mollema.

If you're a pro who reads, do let me know, I might set up a book (Bauke) club.

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Adam Becket
Senior news and features writer

Adam is Cycling Weekly’s senior news and feature writer – his greatest love is road racing but as long as he is cycling on tarmac, he's happy. Before joining Cycling Weekly he spent two years writing for Procycling, where he interviewed riders and wrote about racing, speaking to people as varied as Demi Vollering to Philippe Gilbert. Before cycling took over his professional life, he covered ecclesiastical matters at the world’s largest Anglican newspaper and politics at Business Insider. Don't ask how that is related to cycling.