The Tour de France burst into the American consciousness in 1986, when Greg LeMond, an American, won his first of three Tours. Arguably the greatest athletic event in the world, the modern Tour lasts three weeks each July during which racers pedal 2,000 to 3,000 miles divided among 20 or 21 daily stages. However, it hasn’t always been this way. British author Graeme Fife delightfully relates a history of the tour, the first in 1903 as a publicity stunt for a French bicycling publication. The Tour de France has evolved from the early days, when riders also rode at night with no team support, and when sabotage was common. Opponents were known to put caltrops (spiked devices) or other sharp objects on the road to puncture the tires of rivals. For security, racers often slept with their bikes. Tour legends, including winners Fausto Coppi (’49, ’52), Jacques Anquetil (‘57, ’61-’64) Eddy Merckx (’69- ’72, ’74), Bernard Hinault (’78-’79, ’81-’82, ’85), Miguel Indurain (’91-’95), are a big part of Fife’s story and the reader gains insights into the courage, skill, and suffering that are elements of bicycle racing. The 1998 Tour brought the problem of illegal drug use out in the open, threatening the race with loss of respect and the possibility of extinction. Even in the face of controversy, the Tour continues, striving to be the race envisioned by its founder so many years ago.
Author Graeme Fife has a charming writing style, making this history of the world’s oldest bicycle race fun to read. A bicycling enthusiast and professional writer, Fife prepared himself for writing this history by cycling several of the mountains periodically included in the route of the Tour de France. This book is great entertainment.
Reviewed by mc, 7/03. Other reviews by mc.