Imanol Erviti rides up a climb in the 2019 Vuelta a España. Andy McGrath's mug is pasted over Erviti's head in a janky Photoshop job.

Our favourite stories: Andy McGrath always gets to the heart of it

Whether it's answering the questions on all our minds or an intimate portrait of a star or everyman, Our Man in the Field always gets the goods. And we mean goods.

José Been
by José Been 25.12.2023 Photography by
Kristof Ramon and Gruber Images
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Welcome to our year-end Favourite Stories series. To pick the best of our over 1,000 stories published this year, we assigned each of our staff and core contributors to write about someone else. Today: José Been breaks down the particular genius of one Andy McGrath.

Andy McGrath is a writer with many talents. He wrote an amazing book on Frank Vandenbroucke and some fantastic long reads. One of the talents I admire in him is that he really connects with a subject. Hopefully he will add some of those long-read rider features to his portfolio on Escape soon. 

For now, there are some great background stories by his hand to enjoy on Escape. Riders sometimes have had extensive media training and can feel like a brick wall. You try and try but don’t get any further than the standard answers everyone has. If you have the quality to be creative with the little time you have with a rider and come up with different angles you set yourself apart. That’s what Andy does in his pieces.

You see Andy at many races, not instantly to get the quotes but to invest time in riders, to get to know them. I always feel you never should only talk to people because you need something from them. People feel that. You talk to them because you are genuinely interested in what they do and who they are. That’s what people pick up and that’s what I see in Andy’s writing. He genuinely is interested in people. From that interest springs creativity in looking at cycling journalism from a different angle. He is a writer that often answers the questions I had and that’s why I read these articles.

An intimate portrait of an everyman

Truth be told is that there are not a hundred stories by Andy on the website just yet. The one that really stood out for me was Imanol Erviti because I have been following him for years and you never read about domestiques. And I love domestiques. Erviti was a man in the shadows, working hard but sometimes, just sometimes ended up in the bright light of media attention after his top tens in both Flanders and Roubaix. 

Andy tells the story of a humble man and how the mind of those who work for others works. “Erviti is an antithesis to the modern world of noise and notifications. He doesn’t post much on social media. The Navarran wouldn’t look out of place in a woollen jersey with an inner tube round his shoulders,” he writes. The only downside to this piece is that it comes too late. Who am I going to tell about Erviti now in a long stage commentary with a boring breakaway. We need more domestique background features now! 

Read “We are all Imanol Erviti” here.

The answer to a question on all our minds

Tadej Pogačar stands surrounded by media at sign-in for a Tour de France stage. He's looking down, while flash bulbs pop all around and overhead large klieg lights illuminate him as if he's on stage.

This is another example where a writer answers the questions I have too. Those are the pieces I click on. This was one I read the day it came out. Because yes, what is it like to be around Tadej Pogačar? We can ask him all the standard “How do you feel now?” questions after he won but frankly, I don’t care. It’s run of the mill journalism. I want to know some more of the “how.” We see him on television winning bike races. His teammates help him win bike races but rarely see that happen. “Most often, you’re dropped and sit with the team cars in the grupetto,” Bjerg says. “You go back to ask what’s happening. And then they say ‘what do you think happened? He won.” 

This article is a lovely behind-the-scenes of one of the most exciting riders we have at the moment. Andy speaks to domestiques Bjerg and Rui Oliveira. I was glad to read Tadej is just Tadej. On the bike, on social media, in the peloton and behind the scenes. There is no mask and that made me happy. The only seven reactions below this piece don’t do it justice so please give this piece a read now. 

Read “What it’s like to work for Tadej Pogačar” here.

John Degenkolb got so close

John Degenkolb is one of my favorite riders. When he won that cobbled Tour de France stage after that horrific accident earlier that year, I cried. And I don’t often do that for cycling. Maybe ten times or so. That could be a future feature: José cried when watching cycling but why? But back to this post-Roubaix piece. Degenkolb or Degencobble is Roubaix. He won it. He has his own cobbled sector. It’s the highlight of his year. 

This piece by Andy shows how you need real living and breathing journalists at an actual bike race to write pieces in an often hot and dusty press room with bad coffee. The scene he sets here is something that could never be replicated from watching a race from your couch or God forbid AI. 

The words are beautifully chosen. It flows lovely. I mean, come on. These next words are the words I could never write but wish I could because it would mean it’s Paris-Roubaix day and I am in the velodrome right now.

His two children stood at his flank, looking around at the blue skies and cheering fans, oblivious to the extent of his suffering. Before the race start in Compiègne, Degenkolb had been cheerfully showing media the drawing of a green chocolate egg stuck on his top tube that one of them had done. Happy Easter, John.

Read “The boundless disappointment of John Degenkolb” here.

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