Hearts of Lions


Hearts of Lions

The History of American Bicycle Racing

Second Edition

Peter Joffre Nye
Foreword by Eric Heiden

576 pages
73 photographs, 2 illustrations, index

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May 2020


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eBook (PDF)

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May 2020


$39.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)

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May 2020


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About the Book

Bike racers were America’s media darlings less than a century ago—dashing, eccentric, and very rich daredevils. Until the 1920s bike races drew larger crowds than all other American sports events, including Major League Baseball games. Prize-winning racer and journalist Peter Joffre Nye vividly re-creates this period of sports history, forgotten until now, in Hearts of Lions, a true story of courage, daring, and occasional lunacy.

Revised, updated, and expanded, this second edition of Hearts of Lions is based on interviews with more than one thousand cyclists whose racing careers span from 1908 through the 2016 Rio Olympics, along with interviews with trainers and family members. Included are stories about Joseph Magnani, the lone American from southern Illinois who rode on the dusty roads of Europe in road racing’s golden era of the 1930s and 1940s; Lance Armstrong, whose rise in the mid-1990s was eclipsed in the doping era that still casts a long shadow over the sport; Kristin Armstrong, a three-time Olympic gold medalist who set new standards for women in cycling; and Evelyn “Evie” Stevens, who chucked a Wall Street career in her mid-twenties to compete in two Olympics and win several world championship gold medals.

Hearts of Lions is a colorful, exciting, classic work on the art of bicycle racing over 140 years against a backdrop of social, political, and technical changes.


Author Bio

Peter Joffre Nye has worked as a prize-winning author, journalist, and magazine editor in Washington, DC. He is the author of several books, including The Fast Times of Albert Champion: From Record-Setting Racer to Dashing Tycoon, an Untold Story of Speed, Success, and Betrayal. His articles have been published in a variety of venues, including the Washington Post, USA Today, and Sports Illustrated. Eric Heiden is a physician and a former long-track speed skater, road cyclist, and track cyclist. He won five individual gold medals and set four Olympic records and one world record at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games.


"Mr. Nye's history-rich writing has the fluid pace of a peloton coursing through the French countryside. Old stories remain as captivating today as they were decades ago. Most important, he shows how the bicycle has remained a constant despite the arrival of new protagonists and technologies."—Michael Barry, Wall Street Journal

"The indispensable book on American bicycle racing history."—Leslie Reissner, PEZ Cycling News

“If there is any one book fans of cycling and American sports should read, it’s Peter Nye’s second edition of Hearts of Lions. Updated to cover the male and female cyclists who stormed the roads of Europe in the era after Greg LeMond won three editions of the Tour de France, Nye’s latest edition of the definitive history of American cycling is a must-read.”—Mark Johnson, author of Spitting in the Soup: Inside the Dirty Game of Doping in Sport

Hearts of Lions is the most important book on American cycling history, essential reading for everybody who wants to understand the USA’s long and important role in a global sport.”—Feargal McKay, Podium Café

“The definitive history of bicycle racing in the United States. It’s also a terrific read, and you’ll marvel at the full reach of the cycling sport in your great-grandparents’ era. Learn about Major Taylor, the first African American to claim a major championship in any sport, and Frank Kramer, a man of such athletic renown that he earned more than Ty Cobb.”—Daniel de Visé, author of The Comeback: Greg LeMond, the True King of American Cycling, and a Legendary Tour de France

Hearts of Lions tells the poignant and inspiring stories of the men and women who made American bike racing history. Impressively researched and alive with the voices of its many protagonists, it will sweep you up in their compelling stories.”—Isabel Best, author of Queens of Pain: Legends & Rebels of Cycling

“Like a slow-motion replay of a Tour de France sprint that went by in a blur, Hearts of Lions brings into focus the colorful characters of a complicated sport in a country that doesn’t always recognize the grit behind the glory.”—Lynne Tolman, president of the Major Taylor Association

“Peter Nye’s chronicle of the great lost history of early American bicycle racing, its near death and final resurgence, is as captivating, as full of unexpected swerves, heartbreaks and triumphs, as the sport the author so clearly loves.”—Reed Karaim, author of The Winter in Anna

“Nye crafts meticulous research into a narrative of the forces and characters who ushered cycling from indoor tracks in the late nineteenth century onto today’s international stage—a trajectory shaped by small-town heroes and presidents alike. A thorough and absorbing read.”—Carrie Hagen, author of We Is Got Him: The Kidnapping that Changed America

“Peter Nye blends decades of research and interviews with more than a thousand cyclists into a fast-paced and engaging narrative that puts the ‘story’ into the history of American bicycle racing. The ‘herstory’ is here, too, with impressive coverage of women’s racing throughout.”—Roger Gilles, author of Women on the Move: The Forgotten Era of Women’s Bicycle Racing

Hearts of Lions is not just a title but a perfect description of the determination and passion pulsating from these pages. Our love of bicycle racing is rooted in this lifetime labor of love from Peter Nye. Reading the first edition of this more than a quarter-century ago launched me into a life of cycling. This new version is like a tailwind pushing me home.”—Daniel Lee, author of The Belgian Hammer: Forging Young Americans into Professional Cyclists

“How can we know where we are going without knowing where we have been? This book tells it all and should be required reading for everyone in the sport.”—Connie Carpenter Phinney, 1984 Olympic gold medalist

“A sumptuously detailed account of American bicycle racing. . . . A loving tribute to those athletes who race bicycles for a living.”—New York Times

“With this book, cycling aficionados everywhere have been given back something that was lost.”—Outside

“Highly readable, even gripping. . . . Nye has brought back the long-forgotten heyday with its host of marvelous characters, and done it in a manner that will fascinate enthusiasts and beginners alike.”—Toronto Globe and Mail

“It is what any wonderful history book should be. Factual about its subject. Poetic about its heroes. And visual when it comes to the great battles that took place. Nye obviously loved writing it, and I loved reading it.”—Steve Tesich, Academy Award winner for Best Original Screenplay for Breaking Away

American bicycle racers were the best in the world from the early part of this century through 1940. In the 1984 Olympics and 1986 Tour de France, the Americans returned to prominence. Nye chronicles the history of American bicycle racingtrack, road, and stage races; Americans on the European circuit; and the Olympics. There's no great detail about specific eras or individuals; everything is covered in brief, journalistic style. His comments on women cyclists are insightful. Eclectic historical bibliography included. For comprehensive collections. Thomas K. Fry, UCLA Libs.

A significant contribution to American sports history, this study by a former bicycle racer reminds us that, a century ago, bike racing was the major U.S. sport. Stars earned tens of thousands of dollars a year at a time when baseball heroes were making $5000. And some of the nation's greatest technological thinkers were involved in bicycle-making, including Henry Ford and the Wright brothers. Interest in the sport peaked in the 1920s, especially as a result of six-day bike races, held all over the country, but most notably at Madison Square Garden and the Velodrome in Newark, N.J. That interest waned in the Depression and war years, when the focus of bicycle racing shifted to Europe, but the victory of American Greg LeMond in the 1986 Tour de France has revived interest in the sport in this country.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Eric Heiden    
Part 1. The Golden Years
1. To the White House    
2. The Fastest Things on Wheels    
3. Gentlemen Amateurs Turn Professional    
4. John M. Chapman, Czar of Cycling    
5. A Bizarre Twist    
6. Wonderful Nonsense in the Jazz Age    
7. Sputtering to an End    
Part 2. “Spit and Scotch Tape”
8. L’Américain    
9. Jack Heid, America’s Premier Cyclist    
10. The Allure and Agony of European Road Racing    
11. Outside Normal Limits    
12. America’s First Woman National Champion    
13. Pedali Alpini     
14. The Rainbow at the End of the Crash    
Part 3. “One Good American Rider”
15. The Awakening    
16. Breaking Away    
17. The Drought Finally Ends    
18. The Americans are Are Coming, the Americans are Are Coming    
19. “The Day the Big Men Cried”    
20. Liars Club     
21. Queen of the Oval Hour    
22. The Match Sprinters    
23. A Mother, Three Olympics, Three Gold Medals    
24. The Summing Up     

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