Cycling and population density

From this piece in the LRB on the history of tennis comes a fascinating fact about cycling:

One reason road cycling has historically been so much more important in France, Spain and Italy than in the UK is that in those more sparsely populated countries getting a crowd together in one place to watch a match was difficult, whereas during a Grand Tour your sporting heroes could come to you

Sports writing

The bestseller sections of certain bookstores, the ones where glossy covers outnumber matte, usually contain several sports memoirs. As someone who never played sport, the genre projects an aura that keeps me moving past it to the cramped shelves where they keep the history books.

I re-read David Foster Wallace’s tennis essay “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart” yesterday. It is one of my favorite pieces of writing, in part because he eloquently makes the case that those memoirs, cheesy titles and all, contain transcendental truths. A few snippets:

There is about world-class athletes carving out exemptions from physical laws a transcendent beauty that makes manifest God in man.

This memoir could have been about both the seductive immortality of competitive success and the less seductive but way more significant fragility and impermanence of all the competitive venues in which mortal humans chase immortality.

Please do read the whole thing.