With voting in the 2014 SweetSpot Cycling Book of the Year Award still open to the public, Brendan Gallagher has been casting his mind further back to consider some of his favourite cycling reads from over the years.

WHICH cycling book do you reach for time and time again, especially this time of the year when the wind is howling and the rain sluices down with depressing regularity? When you slump in your favourite chair and pour a glass of red which cycling book do you pick from your collection.

This of course is not at all the same question as which are the ‘best’ or most ‘important’  and ‘worthy’ books in the cycling cannon. They would certainly be headed by the ground-breaking investigative and revelatory books from the likes of David Walsh – LA Confidential (in conjunction with Pierre Ballester) and Seven Deadly Sins – and possibly Tyler Hamilton’s The Secret Race although personally there was far too much self-interest, justification and personal score settling in the latter.

I suspect Emma O’Reilly’s splendid The Race to Truth published last year will also be seen in that category in years to come, a unique insight into the Lance Armstrong she encountered while Nicole Cooke’s Breakaway seems to me to be another important book that will stand the test of time. [Both of which are shortlisted in our 2014 Cycling Book of the Year award – Ed]

On the subject of Armstrong  It’s not about the bike  still has an intrinsic value as a story of an athlete fighting cancer and an early insight into the man whose doping came to dominate the sport’s agenda. Strangely I neither particularly enjoyed the book at the time nor in retrospect but it was a world-wide best seller and will still be in most people’s collection.

Such tomes tend to be avidly read, digested, dissected and discussed on publication and then placed on top of the bookshelf for future reference if required. They are landmark books and reference points for the sport but almost by definition they don’t offer a huge amount of light relief and casual reading.

No, what I’m talking now is pedal-head comfort food, the books you consume repeatedly almost without thinking and keep you coming back for more because they touch a nerve or appeal in some indefinable way.

Such books entertain, inform, intrigue, instruct and instantly leave you feeling better for your devotion. These are the dog eared paperbacks that you reach for almost as reflex action and will be ritually re-read at least once a year, often more. Most seem to offer up something new everytime – a little nugget or insight – which is probably the theme that links them together. Or perhaps the reader is simply looking for something different everytime?

So here’s my top ten favourite reads – in no particular order of merit other than I love them all – among a collection of cycling books which now threatened to take over my office. No doubt you will have your own very different list.

Up the Road by Sam Abt (2005): A compilation of the best articles by witty and acerbic American journalist Sam Abt, a hard bitten news editor with the Herald Tribune for 30 years,  who clearly fell madly in love with cycling despite Woody Allen type self-analysis and protestations to the contrary. A delight at any time and a must for short flights, particularly that boring wait in the immigration queue when you arrive.

King of the Mountains by Matt Rendell (2003): I love the idiosyncratic, passionate, hot sweaty, soaring mountain dominated world of domestic Colombian cycling as re-created by Rendall. Excellent reportage and picture painting, wonderful stories and a dash of intrigue with the involvement of drugs barons. Transports you to another world and time.

Put me back on my bike by William Fotheringham (2007): The author has a number of very fine titles on is palmares – his Coppi and Merckx books are very good also – but this remains his best. Everybody loves Tom Simpson, not least the author, but Fotheringham told the story, and its tragic drug fuelled end, with a cool detachment and did the sport a great service in that respect while also paying full homage to a charismatic rider and brave British pioneer.

The Great Bike Race by Geoffrey Nicholson (1977): Still the best Tour de France book. Nicholson was a genius wordsmith and even after 20-30 readings you uncover sparkling new gems buried deep in its pages as he followed the 1976 Tour which actually wasn’t one of the more dramatic Tours.  Nicholson doesn’t chase the drugs stories, but then again nobody did in the 1970s. He does however convey the epic scale, but also the minutiae, better than anybody before or since. First editions have become a real collector’s item, nearly worth their weight in gold.

Wide Eyed and Legless by Jeff Connor (1988): Sparkling, witty, thoughtful fly-on-the-wall inside track look at ANC Halford’s doomed assault on the 1987 Tour de France by Connor who initially travelled to France to cover the British team for  a national newspaper  and ended up becoming a quasi-member of its team. Have always considered this book a prime contender for one of those low budget British films on a Channel Four mini series.

In search of Robert Millar by Richard Moore (2008): This was Moore’s first foray into books and he hit the bulls eye straight away as he went tirelessly in search of his early cycling hero Robert Millar who has seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth after an illustrious career in which he bravely flew the British flag.  Part biography, part detective book you soon become totally engrossed with the enigmatic Scotsman. Millar that is, not Moore!

Rough Ride by Paul Kimmage (1990): One of the first doping expose books in cycling but much more than that as the tyro young Irish rider with big hopes gets sucked into the realities of the big bad professional peloton. What I enjoy most from Rough Ride is Kimmage’s beautiful, seemingly effortless, writing and sharp eye for those revealing glimpses into the supposedly ‘routine’ life  a professional rider.

Tour de Force by Daniel Coyle (First edition 2004): Written before Armstrong’s exposure and at a time when the Texan was issuing writs left right and centre. So all things considered this was a remarkable and brave attempt to get up close and personal with Armstrong and his circle ahead of the 2004 Tour de France, at a time when they didn’t want to be written about. Coyle is a magnificent writer and I don’t believe this book suffers with age or retrospect or some prefer the revised version.  Now, a decade on, we can fill in the blanks and join up the dots when reading which a fascinating exercise in itself is.

Racing though the Dark by David Millar with Jeremy Whittle (2012): Regardless of your views on David Millar and his doping suspension anybody who has ever met the eloquent and thoughtful Scot would acknowledge that he had at least one great cycling book in him. It had to happen. We waited in some trepidation, therefore, as publication date approached – would he get big race nerves and blow it? – but were not disappointed.  A page turner, both for its content and style

Triumph and tragedy at the Giro by Herbie Sykes: (2011) A hefty tomb but a glorious historical, anecdotal riot which clearly illustrates what makes the Giro such a very special race. Sykes’ command of the bigger historical picture and Italy generally is matched only by his eye for those pithy little stories and cameos which illuminate the Giro more than any other race. Not sure I have ever actually read it cover to cover but I have dipped in more often than Baloo and the honeypot!

Hopefully the above choices get you inspired to perhaps re-read an old favourite this Winter,or to pick up one of the above titles. If you want to let us know your favourite cycling reads, you can do so on Twitter or Facebook.

While none of the above titles are from the 2014 Cycling Book of the Year shortlist, you can find short reviews and links to fuller reviews of our ten shortlisted books, plus many others, here, and vote for your favourite.

Everyone who votes goes into a draw, with the chance to win a copy of all ten books, or a copy of whatever is selected as the winning title, so don’t forget to vote here to be in with a chance of winning.