Most helpful positive review
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Glorious purchase for bike-loving map-o-philes
on 17 June 2013
There are several competing volumes issued this June aiming to celebrate what will be the Tour's hundredth outing (it started in 1903 but there've been breaks for minor interruptions such as world war). This one I particularly liked, because it is focused on the maps of the actual routes, which makes for the most beautiful, inviting book - and one full of unexpected info.
Ellis Bacon is a longtime cycling journalist who now lives in Copenhagen (he translated Riis into English). His passion for Europe and particularly France -he's also fluent in French- shines through in the text, beginning with his entertaining introduction detailing how he developed his enthusiasm for that great country and its geographically ambitious bicycle race.
The book divides into three main sections. Firstly, a map of every Tour de France and its route. Each Tour has a double page spread, one page of text and one map, facing. The maps are lovely. For eg: the pre-1914 Tours are in black and white, becoming colour when the race restarted in 1919, all making you think about the ebb and flow of European history over the top of this wonderful, diverting competition. The text is really well-written, with lots and lots of details and also some wonderful evocative photos - well-chosen, and not too many, so that the story isn't drowned out by images. There are also quite a few tasty double page photo spreads, such as that glorious pic of Jean Robic leading Coppi going up Alpe D'Huez: the pictures in the book seem especially well-chosen.
The second part is a 2013 section with a complete double page spread for each stage of this year's Tour, with a bit of history of famous attacks, crashes etc for each (apart from Corsica, which sees its TDF debut this June!).
And lastly, there's a shorter section on "The Tour's Most Memorable Places": taking in obvious bits like the Galibier, and less obvious ones like Dublin.
One of the biggest questions for these commemorative volumes is: what to do about Lance? Does he get written out completely? or left in, somewhat tarnishing the story? And where does that leave all the other 'sieve-bums' like Jacques Anquetil (he said that of himself, by the way)?. Bacon chooses an elegant solution, in that Lance is left out of the graphics about who's won the race the most times, but remains on record as having won stages (albeit with asterisks) and is very much part of the narrative as the years wind by. It seems too strange to write Armstrong out, given that there are other riders whose drug status we're still not sure about.
All in all this book is a really five star production. I thought the focus on the maps would be a bit of a waste of a whole page, but in fact it makes you think about how far the cyclists travel, how different each Tour is to the next, and it reminds you exactly how important the glorious backdrop of France becomes to this wonderful race. Bacon's text sums up each year with great concision and verve, too. Leaves the reader very excited about the race to come!