In 2008, writer and Renew Adelaide founder Ianto Ware sought escape from the mountains of reading in his day job by leaping into the shared hobby of chronic insomniacs and cycling enthusiasts all around Australia: SBS’ late-night coverage of the Tour de France. Six years later, Ware returns to Adelaide to launch his “metaphysical” history of the tour, Twenty One Nights in July, having finally experienced the greatest race in the flesh.
Recent years have seen Ware’s knack for licensing regulation and planning policy achieve national renown as the first National Live Music Coordinator appointed by then Arts Minister Simon Crean in 2012 to address the dearth of live music venues nation-wide. Now, Hunter Publishers has dusted off, transcribed and republished Ware’s self-released 2009 zine, Twenty One Nights in July. A far cry from the smudgy photocopier ink and hand-drawn diagrams of its initial run, the final manuscript submitted for publication underwent heavy revision by Ware in the transition from Xerox to bookshelf.
“It’s almost a complete re-write,” Ware says.
“The original was a 30,000 word critical analysis of the 2008 Tour de France, where as this looks at 21 of the finest ever Tour stages in twice as many words.”
While the scope of the book has changed, the tone has also matured a little.
“When I started talking to the publisher it was suggested I remove what he politely referred to as the ‘sophomore humour’. I took this to mean remove all the humour and replace it with more facts.”
It remains a witty read, even with the balance of jokes and facts now tipped in the latter’s direction. At times, the eccentricities of the sport’s more over-the-top competitors require little comic licence. With the revelation of Lance Armstrong’s doping in 2012, hindsight provides Ware with new cause to assess and lampoon the more “cartoonish” superhuman feats of Armstrong, Floyd Landis and their fellow dopers.
“I think everyone knew Armstrong was doping, except those who willfully chose to believe otherwise,” Ware says.
“I remember when the Adelaide City Council gave him the keys to the city whilst he was under investigation by US federal authorities. That was pretty outlandish. The thing I find fascinating wasn’t so much what happened after he was caught as the psychology that let him get away with it for so long.”
Tracing the Tour’s history, Ware explores the race’s origins as a ploy by French cycling magazine L’Auto to shift units. As the trials and contests of the early athletes were filtered through the lyrical – and often hyperbolic – pen of sales-oriented journalists, the Tour has always lent itself to a larger-than-life mythos. Despite television changing how viewers engage with the race, for Ware, the Tour’s potential for grand metaphor is a feature that still resonates strongly, with the doping scandals of recent decades a perfect example.
“Metaphorically, I think that’s quite a rich topic: the degree to which people will justify believing in things that are obviously false or morally corrupt, and what sustains that sentiment,” he says.
“With Armstrong I can see how the fairytale was appealing. I suppose you can see the same sentiment played out in the belief systems that justify other obvious falsities.”
On the cusp of the book’s release, Ware also took the opportunity to make the ultimate pilgrimage for any cycling fan: experiencing the Tour in the flesh.
“It’s even more grandiose in real life. I went to the stage finish in London, which was the largest public spectacle I’ve ever seen, and later went to the stage start in Ypres and was surrounded by screaming Belgians. I had fairly big and utopian dreams about what it would be like to see the Tour, and they were all fulfilled.”
Currently calling Sydney home, Ware has seen firsthand the media-stoked backlash against the city’s cyclists and bike-friendly Lord Mayor Clover Moore on a scale even more vitriolic than the response to Adelaide’s recently-unveiled Frome Bikeway.
“It’s almost funny how those guys get so upset about a few bike lanes,” Ware says.
“I read an article in which a writer survived a near death incident, only to then have the motorist drive alongside him screaming out threats to phone Ray Hadley [Sydney shock jock]. I’m not sure what Ray Hadley was going to do, but when I hear those sorts of opinions it seems like there’s a real investment in this vision of the world I really don’t understand.”
While Sydney’s embattled bike lanes might make his hometown seem tranquil by comparison, Ware can still see room for improvement in Adelaide.
“I think there’s a tendency in Adelaide to assume a token gesture makes for a problem solved, particularly at the local government level,” he says.
“It’s nice there’s a bike lane down Frome Road, but try riding out to Gepps Cross and you can see the problem is still there.”
With the recent announcement of the State Government’s citizen’s jury initiative to brainstorm ways to mend relations between South Australian motorists and cyclists, Ware may have a point. But with this new book featuring prominently on bookshelves across the country, perhaps the guide to a lasting détente on our roads and bike paths has already been written. Or, as Ware might argue, spending 21 sleep-deprived nights parked in front of the television can’t hurt either.
Twenty One Nights in July (Hunter Publishers) will be launched at Format Festival Presents DIY Market at Hello, Yes, 12 Eliza St on Sunday, October 5, 4.30pm.
Get the latest from The Adelaide Review in your inbox
Get the latest from The Adelaide Review in your inbox