Posted in Cycle
The books every active woman needs to read

Need a book to lose yourself in as you fly off to your next adventure, a rest-day read or are you simply in search of inspiration? Here are our favourite books that celebrate women in sport.

 Legends and rebels of cyclingQueens of Pain: Legends and rebels of cycling - Isabel Best

Tommy Simpson, Eddy Mercx, Fausto Coppi...these names from years gone by live on in legend for cycling fans but where are the women?

In Queens of Pain, Isabel Best goes in search of the remarkable, yet often barely remembered stories of women's racing from the 1890s to the early 1990s.

Discover the tale of the so-called 'devil in a skirt,' Alfonsina Strada, one of only 30 riders (out of 90 starters) to complete the Giro d'Italia in 1924, when the race was 12 grueling stages on unmade roads over a distance of 3,613km.

Be inspired by Millie Robinson, the first British winner of the Tour de France back in 1955 (yes, before Wiggo) - a dominant force in women's racing at the time yet little has been written about her.

Just two of the unbelievable stories in this celebration of the history of women's cycling.

Marathon Woman book by Katherine Switzer Boston MarathonMarathon Women - Katherine Switzer

Your first marathon is always a memorable experience - the crowds, the atmosphere, the sense of achievement crossing the finish line.

Thankfully, your memories are unlikely to include the race director trying to physically remove you because of your gender, thanks to pioneering runners like Kathrine Switzer who became the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon back in 1967.

In Marathon Women, Switzer talks about her love of running which led to that infamous day when she stood up to all those who said it wasn't possible for a woman to run a marathon, through to her win at the 1974 New York City Marathon and beyond. 

Packed with life-lessons and inspiring stories, we would challenge you to not be motivated to go and overcome your own hurdles after reading this.

The Breakaway - Nicole CookeThe Breakaway - Nicole Cooke

Although there's some way to go, women's cycling has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years with increased TV coverage and a minimum wage at World Tour level. As recently as the 2000s however, it was a different story.

Nicole Cooke left home in 2001 at the age of 18 to pursue her cycling dreams in Italy but quickly found herself disillusioned by the reality of the sport she loved. Facing battles over unpaid wages, broken contracts and surrounded by drug cheats, the young rider from Wales tells of how she overcame the odds to become one of the most dominant riders of her time in her no-holds-barred biography. 

Amongst her 70 professional titles, highlights include becoming the first British cyclist to have ever been ranked world number one, the only rider to have been World and Olympic Champion in the same year and two wins at the women's Tour de France in 2006 and 2007.

Riding through a period in cycling that was plagued by doping, and with little support from the British Cycling federation, The Breakaway is both inspiring and eye-opening in equal measures.

Roar - Dr Stacy SimsROAR - Dr Stacy Sims

'Women are not small men. Stop eating and training like one.' This is the mantra of athlete, nutrition scientist and exercise physiologist Stacy Sims.

In ROAR, Sims explains that all of the research that mainstream nutrition and training plans are based on was conducted on men and that this has hindered women from achieving their potential for some time.

She argues that if we understand our bodies we can adapt nutrition, hydration and training to work with rather than against our physiology. Her book includes chapters for women at all stages of life and contains goal-oriented training and meal plans backed by research on actual women.

Dr Stacy Sims' ground-breaking book has become a bible for female athletes across all ages and disciplines looking to exploit their female physiology to unlock their best performance. 

 the Times and Life of Beryl Burton by William FotheringhamThe Greatest: The times and life of Beryl Burton by William Fotheringham

Best-selling sports biographer turns his attention to the greatest British cyclist, and possibly even the best cyclist, of all time - the indomitable Yorkshire woman Beryl Burton.

In her long career, Beryl set the twelve hour time-trial record for both men and women and took a staggering 96 national titles and seven world titles. In addition to this, she won the BAR (best all-rounder) competition for a jaw-dropping 25 years in a row, consistently riding the best times for 25, 50 and 100 miles. 

Her achievements would be unbelievable for a full-time professional athlete, but Beryl did all this alongside a gruelling manual job at a rhubarb farm as well as raising a daughter, cooking all the household meals and keeping the house meticulously spotless.

Through interviews with the people closest to her, Fotheringham provides a fascinating insight into a highly driven but highly complex icon of women's cycling. 

 Annie Londonderry's Extraordinary RideAround the World on Two Wheels: Annie Londonderry's Extraordinary Ride - Peter Zheutlin

The extraordinary tale of Annie Londonderry would make for a compelling headline even in the 21st century, but her legendary cycling world tour actually began in June 1894. 

As the story goes, she set off on a bicycle weighing over 19kg with only a revolver, a change of underwear and a taste for freedom, leaving her three children back home in Boston. Apparently, she had never even ridden a bike before but, caught up in a desire to be famous (and a bet that a woman couldn't ride a bike round the world), off she went.

Although it's said that she was penniless when she started, she somehow returned home with $10,000, in no small part thanks to her natural gift for storytelling and self-publicity. She might have taken steamships for large chunks of her journey, but her tale is no less compelling for it.

A fantastic read for anybody who has their sights set on their own groundbreaking adventure - if Annie could do it so can you.

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About the author

NChamanian's picture
Nassrin Chamanian
Published on: 01 Mar 2022

Pretty OK at bikes. Enthusiasm outstrips ability.