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on 16 August 2010
Endurance cyclists are a deceptive looking bunch. In their quest for the perfect power to weight ratios, their upper bodies go undeveloped and are sometimes positively scrawny. Even their legs don't have the tree-trunk-like solidity of their cousins sprinting in the velodrome. Yet they are amongst the fittest sportsmen in the world, competing over distances and timespans way beyond any other major sport and the Tour de France is their ultimate challenge. Chris Sidwells' book is a very enjoyable and interesting homage to both those extraordinary cyclists and the Tour itself.

It's an accessible and easy read, following a chronological narrative through the more than a century of the Tour. Inevitably, some incidents and years get more coverage than others but that's only right. In fact, writing a history of the Tour presents something of a challenge, not in terms of what to include but what to leave out given the near 100 tours, thousands of stages and thousands of competitors. Sidwells makes mention of every single tour but with rare exceptions doesn't make them the focus of the story - that focus is firmly on the riders themselves and particularly the great ones, the champions.

In doing so, he moves slightly away from a true history for better and worse. The 'worse' is that it means that there are omissions. The Tour itself begins as very much a key player in its own right but as it becomes established, there's less space devoted to the organisation, the teams, the media coverage, the technology, the Tour's place in France's national consciousness and so on. It would certainly be possible to write a more thorough and perhaps better 'history' of the race but it wouldn't necessarily be an improved book. The 'better' is that it means apart from where absolutely necessary - e.g. the intervention of war, the doping scandal - the focus is on the cycling and cyclists, which keeps the momentum rolling and is, after all, what the Tour is about.

It also provides for a very workable structure as eras tended to be dominated by individual riders and these form the basis of most chapters. We get some good background biography of all the great champions as well as description of their careers and the key moments in them. Those moments are the essence of the challenge; the times when the great prove their worth. Sidwells makes good choices in focussing on relatively few stages but ones that mattered.

The one other criticism I'd make is that the author becomes an increasingly prominent participant in his own story. He is a journalist, has written about cycling for years and knows and has interviewed many of the racers in the second half of the book. It's a purely personal view but I found the references to his own articles or interviews intrusive; others may feel they add colour or authenticity. They do have a side-effect though of concentrating the action even more on the front of the peloton. The early chapters include interesting asides to look at some of the people that had no chance of winning but added character.

Overall, it's well worth a read for anyone interested in cycling. Those who already have a good knowledge of the subject will find it covers familiar ground (literally) but it does so well enough to make it worth while. Those who don't should find it a very good introduction.
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on 26 July 2010
I wanted to learn about the Tour and those riders who secured their place in history by taking part in it. This book does that brilliantly.

The book chronologically moves through the Tour's rich history describing each Tour, some in more detail than others, as well as the key battles and riders who competed. The writing is succinct and colourful and at times a little too familiar, nonetheless it flows off the page into your mind, where you can recreate some of cycling's greatest battles. In the middle of the book there are a dozen pages with pictures that enable you to see some of famous riders and landmarks.

I now feel I understand much more about cycling history, the Tour and would recommend the book to anyone who would like to learn about such things too.
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on 3 September 2010
I bought this with only a passing interest in cycling and the Tour De France. What a great book! Informative and interesting without ever being overly technical I would imagine it would appeal to hard core cycling fans right through to your average Joe. The book has made me look forward to next years tour as well as given me a new interest in the Pyrenees and surrounding areas.
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on 10 January 2011
Been an avid cyclist i thought i knew a fair bit about the history of the Tour De France, how wrong i was. So when huddled in a tent amidst the Pyrenees last summer waiting for Le Tour to pass over the high mountains for the 100th time i picked up a copy of "A Race for Madmen" i was that enthralled with the history of the event that i nearly forgot to go out and watch the event to pass. The book follows in chronological order the development of the event and has researched in detail the early pioneers. The way Sidwells writes though stops it just been an ordered history of the race, it digs deep into the pyschey of the racers and yet is not afraid to delve into the dark side of the sport discussing in detail the relationship between the event and drugs. I was also pleased to see that the main body of the book concentrates on the tour from the fifties to the eighties leaving the more recent history to other authors and media. Sidwells own passion for the sport is easy to see and the chapter on Tom Simpson is all the more heartfelt when you realise that he is his nephew yet doesn`t glamourise his untimely death and its circumstances. My only advice with this book is don`t start reading it on a day when you`re supposed to be watching the Le Tour as you might just miss todays modern day heroes, reading about the heroes of yester year.
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VINE VOICEon 27 June 2014
This book, as it says on the cover, gives a history of the tour de france. Sidwells starts at the beginning and comes up until the 2010 tour. I'll come back to that in a minute.

The book moves through in chronological order but concentrates on the riders more than anything else, And it's a fascinating story. The early years of the tour were just insane - stages that were 470km long, taking people 18 hours to ride, climbs that nobody could actually cycle up, riders having to find a blacksmiths to fix their bike - these guys were just amazing. The story is told with a journalist's eye for detail and anecdote and jolly entertaining it is too. As it moves into the more recent years the tone changes and becomes more judgemental. I assume that Sidwells knew some of these riders, and he puts much more of himself into the book - but it definitely works.

Reading it now, of course, it does seem out of date. Armstrong has come out and admitted his drug use, Wiggins has won the Tour, followed by Froome. So, in 2014, it feels like the book could do with an extra chapter.

That said, though, this is very accessible, very readable and recommended
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on 10 June 2010
How can you review a book without reading it? Obviously READER is a very important person who thinks his views really need to be read even though he doesn't need to read a book to review it. And he's so important that he hasn't even got the guts to say who he is! My parents taught me that if you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything at all.

This book is not a run of the mill history of the Tour. It comes from the heart of a man who has lived on the edge of cycling all his life and with tragic results to his family. And yet he still loves everything about cycling with a passion.

It's full of stories most of us have never heard before and photo's that most of us have never seen before. It's funny and sad in places but it's very entertaining and an easy book to read, well worth the money.

I sure all you normal people will enjoy a really good read and then you can speak with knowledge.
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on 24 May 2013
I have long had an interest in race cycling. Generally, I have watched the Tour de France every year. However, after the 2012 Tour and the Olympics with the successes of Sir Chris Hoy and Sir Bradley Wiggins I have become an addict. I have read all that I can... the dreadful to the very best of achievements This is just an additional book about the bad side of cycle racing..... I have read some dreadful works about Lance Armstrong .... dreadful because this so called sportsman had to dominate by threats and cheating. has this put me off NO. With Chris & Brad + other remarkable athletes, I now have a sport to watch and enjoy. BUT I'm glad I don't charge around the countryside falling off on slippery roads or have drinks bottles get stuck in my rear spokes/frame. The thrills are great...... the spills are quite something else and not to be laughed at when the cameras show the falls over and over. Keep these books coming I enjoy them all and they are a must if you want to understand how team racing actually works.
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on 10 August 2010
This book gives a good insight to how the race began.Gives good ifo as to how the in fighting started and still continues.Great price from Amazon ,well worth buying.
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on 28 December 2012
I'm not a competitive cyclist and just picked this up because it was cheap on Kindle. It was surprisingly entertaining. It's very well titled as it's about the crazy guys who raced, and a little bit about the organisers. Each year's race is described but not in too much detail, often just a highlight or two to illustrate the career of a star such as Eddy Merckx. There is some interesting detail on the sad history of doping in the race, but nothing on the technical development of cycling. I might watch a bit more of next year's Tour and understand what's going on.
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on 17 November 2012
This book is a great read, I was hooked on it, although took me a while to read.
It's given me a new understanding of the sport and I feel even more so, a fan of pro cycling.
It's such a cheap buy but well written & covers everything from the few French who started the race, why the jerseys are yellow/polka dot etc, doping, the greats of the sport and where the sport is today.
Written before Wiggins did our country proud by securing the 2012 GC jersey. Anyone interested in the great sport of pro-cycling, buy it, you won't be disappointed...!
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