The book changes radically half way through. I loved the first half of this book (4 stars) but would only give the second half 2 stars.
The first half is a description of the tour's great climbs which allows the author to delve into the fascinating history of this extraordinary event. So climbs in the Pyrenees give him the opportunity to pay homage to Fabio Casartelli who was killed in 1995 on a descent, the Mont Ventoux of course brings in Tommy Simpson. Eddy Mercx, Raymond Poulidor, Jacques Anquetil, Fausto Coppi, all the great names feature. Further back in the tour's history we come across extraordinary tales. For instance, the tour leader whose front forks broke on a descent. He carried the bike down the mountain until he found a village with a forge. He then welded new front forks from scratch, himself, completely unaided for the most part. This added hours to his time. Throughout this ordeal, he was watched by officials to ensure that he didn't get any assistance. He was then penalised an extra 20 minutes because he allowed a boy to help him by blowing bellows to fan the fire - something he could not possibly have done unaided. He continued, several hours behind the lead. Quite extraordinary resourcefulness. There are loads of stories like this. And Fife suffering the same climbs - albeit on better road surfaces and without the risk of being eaten by bears or being lost in a blizzard - bridges between these extraordinary people and what a good but not exceptional cyclist could do today. It works well and I was enthralled.
The main complaint so far is that the emphasis is on the mountain stages and not on the sprint stages or on the timetrials to anything like the smae extent. But I suppose that the drama of the mountains is the essence of the tour. And Fife clearly has people he doesn't care for - for instance Greg Lemond comes across in a very unsympathetic light. And to quibble a bit more, Fife comes across as a bit of a bighead. OK so he got to the top of the climbs quicker than his touring companions - so what?
But overall the first half was a pleasure and kept me turning the pages. Shame about the second half.
We then go into a poorly edited and highly opinionated account of the tours since 1999. Unfortunately this is the era of domination by Lance Armstrong so many of the races are relatively unexciting (compared for instance to 1989 or some of the tours described briefly earlier in the book - e.g. the Poulidor/Anquetil struggles). Not all of them by any means, but a period of seven straight wins, followed by a tour tainted by drugs, is not the most engaging of reads.
The editing is poor. Each account seems to have been written shortly after the end of the tour and earlier accounts could have done with a review to bring them up to date. And some extraordinary statements come out on drugs. Fife is very unsympathetic towards people who opposed the drugs culture in the sport and claims at one point that no sport has as strong anti drugs controls as cycling. Er, what? Compare rowing, which has nothing like the same drugs culture, or the efforts made to clean up athletics. This was before the 2006 and 2007 tours and frankly such statements are embarrassing and should have been edited out, or at least reflected upon. I love the tour but it is not served by its obvious problems being minimised.
The book is worth buying for the first half. If I were the publishers, I would ask for a complete revision of the second half before I published another edition.