From the Publisher
From the Author
If you want to see the Tour its easy: you simply go to France and stand by the roadside. Every year I go, generally for the Pyrenees stages. One day last year I rode over the col de Port, up the valley to Ax-les-Thermes and then, in torrid heat, up the wicked 12km of the Ax-Bonascre to join David Duffield in the Eurosport commentary box. Id put my back out so badly on a long drive to the time-trial in Gaillac that I could hardly walk for the pain but, on the bike, I had no problem. Perhaps, like the man in Flann The Third Policeman I had become more bicycle than human being. Anyway, I believe the very personal view of that kind of experience riding over the same road as the bunch on the very day they are racing it - adds greatly to the flavour of my reports on the race. I hope so and AH Pude, one of the many cyclists and readers who have written to me about the book, confirms it: I felt I must congratulate you on your fine book Tour de France: the history, the legends, the riders. The updated 2000 edition which I have just finished reading conveys all the ecstasy and agony of that fine event Your writing is informative, exciting and has humour I have only ever once enjoyed the luxury of proper accreditation as a cycling writer on the Giro dItalia but lack of a Press pass does have the advantage that I can see things as an ordinary spectator, even if I make it my business to get through barriers where I can. A correspondent to Cycle Sport said, about a piece I had written: Having blagged his way inside the barriers at Compiègne for the Paris-Roubaix start, I think Graeme Fife captured the atmosphere brilliantly these behind the scenes pieces are great reading. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The Tour de France is due to pass through here around noon. Metal barriers lining the streets had been in position since 9am. An accordion band, eight strong, is on the makeshift stage in the Place de Ville, zipping through a medley of boulevardier tunes, quintessentially French. Mid-morning, the municipal brass band, in maroon uniform with silver brocades and swagging, struts and oompahs its repertoire up and down the main street.
We stroll round the shops, but everyone is at the same game this morning in Millau: filling in time. Theres an air of expectancy as if the whole town were waiting with bated breath, and sudden silences pervade the streets and pavements. We wait, nerves taut, listening for the whisper from way off that the Tour has hit the outskirts, but its a false alarm. The low murmur of meandering citizens at leisure and desultory business resumes, Saturday-morning errands, window-shopping and rendezvous. The cafés and bars do slick trade in the lazy sunshine.
By 11am the barriers are pretty well lined with spectators; theres some good-humoured jostling for a better vantage point: on the cusp of a bend, maybe, or with a long view of the straight, even if slightly obscured by plane trees to either side. Some old hands keep their seats at the pavement tables time enough to move in before the action proper begins. A flurry of applause, cheers, laughter, as a young bride in white silk and lace, hoisting her dress up round her calves, tiptoes across the street and through a gap in the hurdles, picking her way to the church to be married. The Tour rules: thou shalt walk to thy wedding. She beams with mirth at the public congratulation on this doubly auspicious day.
At 11.30, a raucous fanfare of klaxons in the distance heralds the Tour vanguard: press and radio cars, Commissariat, publicity caravan soda cans on wheels, motories Coca Cola bottles, petrol-driven bonbons team wagons topped with serried ranks of spare wheels spinning fast in the slipstream. A maroon saloon draws up alongside the barriers where Im standing. Out steps Raymond Poulidor. Blimey. The great Poupou, suntanned, fit, smiling. Poupou, the eternal second, still in the Tour, promoting Poulain chocolate. He never promoted himself half as successfully; one reason, perhaps, why he never won the Tour, never even wore the maillot jaune, albeit he had the class and class to spare. His bête noire, Jacques Anquetil, was the first to win five times and when he retired Poulidor met another bête noire, Eddy Mercx, the second man to win five times. What luck. Poulidor came to terms with defeat; Anquetil never could. But here is Poulidor, while Anquetil is eight years dead, mourned by none more than his old adversary. Someone taps him on the arm and he scrambles back into the car. Apparently a break of five riders has jumped clear of the main field and will be through 15 minutes ahead of schedule. The chocolate saloon roars off. I remark to a bystander, a local: Poulidor, eh ? Such a pity he never won.
Yes; still, hes got more money than he can spend and hes still alive. Anquetil had no heart; he was always for himself. Poulidor ? A gentleman, too much a gentleman maybe, but thats past and hes as popular now as he ever was.
Hush again, like a blast of heat. They must be close and, in a sudden silky hiss of ultra-lightweight racing tyres on hot tarmac, a windrush of whirring spokes, a flash of colour, the escapers are there and past us. The American Lance Armstrong, ex-World Champion, the prime mover, evidently. Hes controlling things from the middle to the side, gesticulating urgently with his right arm, wagging a finger at the road, glancing over his shoulder at his directeur sportif (team manager), maybe, but why ? Food ? Drink ? An update on the lead time ? Mechanical adjustment to the bike while on the move ? Such tiny snippets of drama: the Tour is replete with them. But, most of all, escape sums it up. These fugitives are riding as if they were aristocrats pn the run and the bunch were a Jacobin mob howling for their blood.
Ten minutes later, the Tour is on us: the peloton en masse, a multicoloured polycycle, 150 rider-strong express engine moving at such a lick you cant believe the attack will have the speed and stamina to hold them off. The sensation of raw power makes you shiver; the thrill of the colour; the noise of the generator whirring wheels, cranks, chains is abrupt but exhilarating. Spotting faces in the pack is well-nigh impossible: too dense, theyre riding tyre to tyre, elbow to elbow and too many splashes of yellow in the team jerseys to pick out the yellow. But wait, there he is, Indurain, six feet plus of him, crouched like a big cat on the bike; effortless power, fluid action, ball-bearing smooth tempo. They dont all have that, the supple grace that only changes as the stage finish approaches and the break is still out and charge up to crisis acceleration. Merckx was a bruiser in style.
And, like a daytime comet blazing across France by small ways and high ways in garish pageant, they are gone, west. Millaus sudden moment of regal blessing has passed --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.