Beryl Burton is undoubtedly the greatest cyclist I had never heard of. Her palmarès is up there with anyone else and includes 7 world championship gold medals. (As an aside, I absolutely love that when you google palmarès the first link is to Sean Kelly’s wiki page). Other ridiculous achievements including breaking the men’s 2-hour time trial record and basically every women’s record you can think of.
William Fotheringham’s work will be well known to any fan of cycling books (along with his brother Alasdair). Two of his earlier books, Put Me Back on My Bike: In Search of Tom Simpson and Fallen Angel: The Passion of Fausto Coppi remain among my absolute favourites.
The Greatest is therefore that brilliant combination of the perfect biographer for a fascinating subject. Fotheringham tells the full story of Burton’s life in detail for the first time. She emerges as incredibly driven and forthright – someone who wanted to compete against and to beat all comers, whether that be men or her own daughter! She managed to overcome a serious childhood illness and compete at the highest level despite holding down a job that required hard manual labour.
Like all of Fotheringham’s biographies, The Greatest is exceptionally well researched and paints a clear, uncompromising picture of its subject and the times she lived in. He also covers the sexism Burton and any other female cyclists faced during the time.
Ultimately, The Greatest is an attempt to give Burton the historical recognition she deserves. It’s highly readable and a welcome collection to any cycling fans library.