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Tour de France: The History, the Legend, the Riders [Hardcover]

Chris Boardman , Graeme Fife
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Product Description


'A complex picture of what one of the world's greatest sporting events feels like from the inside.' -- The Independent

'One of the best books on the Tour yet - not to be missed.' -- Cycle Sport

'Stuffed full of good material...anevocative account, good on the hardship that makes the Tour an examination of the human spirit.' -- The Independent

'This is a difficult book to put down. Fife has a keen eye for detail.' -- Phil Liggett, television commentator, Daily Telegraph

This is a beast of a book which teems with energy.' -- The Glasgow Herald

Book Description

An all-encompassing history of the Tour de France that brings the story right up to date with all the action from the 2010 race --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Publisher

We originally turned down Graeme Fife’s offer of this book, not realising just how much interest there already was in the Tour de France. And, at that point we hadn’t seen the manuscript. When, a year later, he urged us to think again, we did reconsider and, having received the text of what became this book we knew we were onto a winner. That original manuscript survives unchanged – a testimony to its author’s remarkable passion, ease of style and familiarity with the subject – but is enlarged each year by an additional chapter covering the latest race. The book’s success is directly linked to the growing popular interest in the Great Bike race. It is no longer an obsession of bike fans only.

What makes the book unique, apart from its intensely personal style, is the fact that Graeme Fife has ridden the mountains which the Tour routinely crosses: he knows what he is talking about. He is, indeed, the first writer or journalist since the great Jock Wadley who has put pen to paper about the Tour de France to do this and to continue to do this. Others follow from car or press room – he gets on his bike. Seeing the race from the roadside adds enormously to the insider feel which distinguishes his writing about a sport he not only loves but has studied and followed for years. In 2003, for example, he rode up the massive col du Tourmalet ahead of the publicity caravan, through the mist, past the thousands of fans gathering to see the race, on up into the sunshine nearing the col where the Basque supporters were out in force. Getting that close to the battleground of the Tour de France is essential to Graeme’s deep involvement. And there is the story about Lance Armstrong’s muffin from the day before the Tourmalet on the col du Portet d’Aspet.

From the Author

When people ask me how long it took to write my book about the Tour de France I say ‘about 25 years’ because the writing of it goes back to the time when I was first captivated by the race. In those days – the 70’s - the only coverage the Tour got in UK was brief reports in a few national newspapers and more substantial write-ups in the pages of Cycling Weekly. I had a French girlfriend at the time and supplemented my eagerness to learn about this amazing Tour de France with French journals, in particular the now sadly defunct Miroir du Cyclisme. I learnt that the Tour de France was about more than just cyclists competing in a race: it’s an epic, a heroic adventure. As Roland Barthes, the philosopher, wrote: ‘The Tour passes through a truly Homeric geography. As in The Odyssey this race is a voyage of both human endeavour and exploration to the far reaches of the land, every nook and corner.’

If you want to see the Tour it’s 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. I’d 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 d’Italia – 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.’

About the Author

Graeme Fife is a full-time writer and has had several books published in both the UK and the USA, including George Francis: Trainer of Champions. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Millau, 15 July 1995.
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. There’s 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 it’s 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; there’s 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 I’m 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, he’s got more money than he can spend and he’s still alive. Anquetil had no heart; he was always for himself. Poulidor ? A gentleman, too much a gentleman maybe, but that’s past and he’s 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. He’s 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 can’t 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, they’re 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 don’t 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. Millau’s sudden moment of regal blessing has passed…

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