Title

Myth and the narrativization of cycle racing in popular literature

Publication Date

7-2-2020

Document Type

Article

Department

Kinesiology

Publication Title

Sport in Society

Volume

23

Issue

7

DOI

10.1080/17430437.2019.1631802

First Page

1146

Last Page

1162

Abstract

In his 1957 collection of essays Mythologies Roland Barthes famously discussed the world’s most prominent cycle race Le Tour De France. He critiqued its popular mythologization within media, which he argued masked the economic motives of the event in favour of myths of heroic ordeal. Following Barthes promptings, and some six decades on, we consider the contemporary narrativization of cycle racing within English language popular literature. This extensive body of literature features popular histories, exposés of drug scandals and autobiographies. We offer critical readings in light of the broader economic and cultural contexts of cycling. The dominant discursive framing accords with the myths that Barthes identified: emphasising a glorious history/heritage, ‘great men’, heroic sacrifice, and honour and fairness within cycle racing. Even accounts of the endemic spectre of performance enhancing drug largely accommodate the myth, framing drug taking as a threat to the integrity of the sport. In doing so, the literature both deproblematises the human experiences of cycle racing, and affirms what Wieting terms the ‘the fiction of pure sport’ (350). Simultaneously, we also document the complexities and flaws in the mythical edifice revealed in recent confessional autobiographies, and riders’ accounts of the harsh and insecure life worlds of professional riders which reveals the material realities of cycle racing to confound the romantic myths.

Keywords

Barthes, cycling, Myth, popular literature, Tour De France

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