With the Tour de France now in full swing, we caught up with Dutch cycling journalist Bert Wagendorp to talk about his debut novel Ventoux, a brilliant evocation of friendship and rivalry on two wheels.
And don’t forget, this week is your last chance to win a signed and wrapped edition of Ventoux through our Twitter giveaway! Head over to our page to take part.
TA: Is it difficult to make the transition from journalistic to fiction writing?
BW: Not at all. I use my fiction skills in my journalistic writing (without inventing anything…) and probably my journalistic writing is recognisable in my fiction. For Ventoux I did a lot of journalistic research, in order to get the details right. What I don’t do is combine the two at the same time. I do three columns a week for de Volkskrant, a national newspaper, and it’s impossible for me to combine the style I use for columns with that of fiction: they are too different and I always need some time to make the transition.
Are there autobiographical elements to Bart’s story? Were those difficult or painful to recall?
The autobiographical elements mainly come back in Bart’s personal circumstances. He is a journalist, lives in Alkmaar, has a daughter Anna (mine is called Hannah) and is divorced. The character of Laura is partly based on a girl I knew in my youth – I guess we all have a Laura in our past. But Ventoux is mainly pure fiction: Peter’s death and the men’s return to the Ventoux is fantasy. I do have a very old group of friends I’ve known since high school, and who I see every now and then.
What is your favourite book about cycling? (my personal favourite is William Fotheringham’s biography of Faustino Coppi, ‘Fallen Angel’)… And what’s your favourite book not about cycling?
My absolute favourite is De Renner (The Rider) by Tim Krabbé. In non-fiction it’s the classic The Sweat of the Gods by Benjo Maso. Non-cycling? Too many to mention, but I like old Russians like Chekhov and Turgenev, the old Americans Melville and Twain, the Frenchman Japrisot and your John le Carré and Julian Barnes. I read a lot when I’m not writing myself, and I think it’s frustrating to know how many great books there are, and what small percentage of them you can read during your lifetime.
Tommy Simpson’s Ventoux story is obviously one of the most iconic in cycling, especially here in the UK. How is he viewed by the wider European community?
I guess there is not much difference. Tommy Simpson is, after almost half a century, still the best-known British pro. Almost everyone knows his tragic story. ‘Ventoux’ and ‘Simpson’ are two inseparable words. A lot of the stuff cyclists place at his monument on the mountain, is made in Holland…
Who are your tips for Dutch cyclists to watch out for in the peloton in this Tour?
There are no Dutch pros who will be able to compete with Chris Froome for the yellow jersey. There are a couple who could be able to end within the first 10: Gesink, Mollema and the great upcoming Dutch talent Kelderman.
And finally, who are your tips for the Yellow, Green and Polka-Dot jerseys this year? Do you think Nibali can retain his title?
‘I think Nairo Quintana will be able to beat Froome, Contador and Nibali for the yellow, and Bardet will be King of the Mountains. The green? I honestly wouldn’t know.’*
Ventoux is published by World Editions and is available now.
*This interview conducted before the start of the Tour