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A Race for Madmen Paperback – 23 May 2013
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• ‘An intriguing read for almost any reader, not only those who are interested in cycling.’
• ‘[An] engaging and accessible account of the race’s history.’
Sunday Business Post
About the Author
Chris Sidwells is a bestselling author, journalist, photographer and broadcaster; a writer of books, magazine and newspaper features on every aspect of cycling and fitness.
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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.
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...!
I suggest well worth a ready if you've gained a recent interest in the tour and would like a catchall of its history. From here you can explore some of the history in more detail as there as a fair few books out there about tour characters and events.
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