21 Bends

Original title: 21 virages

Author: Poulet, Fred

Publication Date:

August 2021



Original language and publisher

French | En Exergue

Territories Handled

Worldwide excl. French


Debut Novel, Literary Fiction, Sport


  • 2022 Sports Writers Association Grand Prix (winner)
  • Antoine Blondin Literary Prize (finalist)

21 Bends

Original title: 21 virages

Author: Poulet, Fred


At the helm of this sleepless night, Fred Poulet, the sports columnist, turns poet, waltzing fantasies between lamento and Italian variety; bibliographical details and metaphysical vibration; frustrated thoughts and realistic photographs of the Pantanian imaginary, which he seizes as a friend, almost as a brother, to point out the magnificent ordinariness of a hero in spite of himself, a little bumpkin of the late 20th century who seeks life where it eludes him: no longer in the twists and turns of which he has become the master, the great initiator, but in a love deemed a priori impossible for “the” woman, always too distant, always too beautiful for himself. — Toute la culture

In this sensitive but always accurate text, we discuss the similarities between artistic production and athletic effort, but also the question of performance, which, when seen from the point of view of the abandonment it demands, can be likened to love. A question of the sadness that is hidden in joy as its principle. It’s also a question of moulting as the water flows, in a scene whose poetic power prevents us from spoiling it here. — L’Equipe

“No, I don’t read books. Instead, I let my life, that is at a standstill, go freewheeling in my head, picking off bends like an infernal strand of rosary beads, and praying for the arrival of sleep.”

October 18, 1995. Marco Pantani collides head-on with a car during the Milano-Torino race, sustaining multiple career-threatening fractures to the tibia and fibula. Forced to sit out most of the 1996 season, Pantani returns to action at the 1997 Tour de France, winning on July 13th a record time for the Alpe d’Huez climb with its 21 legendary bends. How did Pantani spend his year without cycling? The pressure, and those 21 bends that would shape the course of his career, no doubt kept him awake at night, or so the author imagines with his narrative of Pantani’s gap year, in which our hero will listen to Monteverdi with Charly Gaul, make the rounds of Saint Etienne’s kebab shops, climb the 30 floors of Cesenatico’s grattacielo, and, more importantly, fall in love…

An epic journey into the insomnia-plagued mind of a cycling great, whose incredible comeback and Alpe d’Huez climb – one of the Tour de France’s most challenging climbs – would go down in cycling history. Marco Pantani’s stranger-than-fiction life came to an end in a hotel room in Rimini, on the Adriatic Coast, where he died of an overdose.