Matthias Declercq pulled of two remarkable things. Not only did he manage to find this extraordinary story about friendship, ambition and sacrifice, he was also able to write it down in exceptional fashion.
The events described in ‘The Fall’ (‘De Val’) are real, but the book is not necessarily a biography. The story revolves around a group of five Belgian riders (flandriens) who are pretty well known in the cycling circuit. Some are even minor celebrities. Their lives and events — and especially the fall — are pretty well known and in some cases were front page news. As a writer you could easily overlook these stories because they were already so heavily documented.
But Declercq shows to have a keen eye for the story behind a story, and he was able to look past known facts and look for a deeper, collective connection between these five riders. And from their humble shared beginnings, Declercq takes the reader on a journey for each individual rider.
He does so with finesse. There is a dignified distance in his writing style (like a reporter) and this strikes the right tone of being an interested witness rather than a thrill seeker (the latter being the fate of many sport books of recent years). By doing so we get to hear the human perspective behind the stories. All these riders have lives, parents, wives, children and they sacrifice a lot. Which might be easy to forget when watching the Giro.
The fact that the often dramatic and heroic sport of cycling is a central subject of course helps the book, but it is mostly Declercqs’ writing that make this book stand out. I love cycling and I love good books by good writers. This book has both.
Originally published at Jan van den Berg.