ExperiencePlus! Blog



Race Book Reviews

ExperiencePlus! founder and owner Rick Price, in 1993 with Italian cycling legend Gino Bartali, Race winner in 1938 and 1948We hope you’ll be able to join us in France next summer for the 101st anniversary of The Race. If you are able to come, then the selection of readings in my review this month will help you to prepare for the trip. And if you can’t come, the readings that follow will at least help to bring you up to speed so you can watch and enjoy the race on the Outdoor Life Network.



Race: The Illustrated History

By Marguerite Lazell (Firefly Books, 2003)


This richly illustrated book chronicles the history of The Race from the beginning in 1903 through the 2002 tour. Because it covers such a span, though, I was disappointed with the lack of historical analysis or depth to that analysis. For breadth of coverage, this is the most complete historical treatment of the Tour that I have found in English. Every Tour is described briefly with highlights of that particular year. And as with most histories of the Tour, the legendary riders get top billing. In the end the book is about the heroes and the personalities of the tour beginning with Henri Desgrange, the "father of the Tour", to Lance Armstrong, the current "favorite son". I recommend this one.



Graham Watson: Twenty Years of Cycling Photography

By Graham Watson (Velopress, Boulder, 2000; paperback edition 2002)


Graham Watson is a British photographer who first rode his bicycle from England to France to photograph The Race as an amateur in 1977. He was hooked and has since dedicated twenty-five years to becoming the preeminent photographer of European bicycle racing. This book contains rich color photographs of more than just The Race. Watson documents everything, from road hazards (with a wonderful photograph of Miguel Morras negotiating through a massive flock of sheep on a criterium race in France in 1996) to the peloton winding its way beneath a hilltop village in Italy’s Maritime Alps during the Giro d’Italia. Some of his most dramatic photos document mud-caked racers on the one-day Paris-Roubaix race held, usually, in the rain every April. But the Tour looms large in this collection, as do the fans, the landscapes of the Tour and the cycling life in general.


If you are a photographer and a cyclist (or if you have one on your Christmas list) you (and they) will love this book! This is a wonderful testimony to the agony and ecstasy of bicycle racing and pedaling in general that will provide hours of vicarious enjoyment.



An Intimate Portrait of The Tour de France: Masters and Slaves of the Road

By Philippe Brunel (Buonpane Publications, no date; First published by Calmann-Levy in French, 1995)

An Intimate Portrait of The Tour de France by Philippe Brunel

This is a book about people as much as it is about The Race. But the photos are extraordinary, perhaps the best single collection of historic photos of The Race available. You’ve seen these photos as posters in your bike shop: the three leaders of the peloton sharing cigarettes (it was thought that smoking "opened up the lungs!"), of arch rivals Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali sharing a water bottle on the road, or of the bacchanalian festival of six riders "re-hydrating" on the Tour.


Richly illustrated, this book is really a series of essays on the "giants" of The Race, although the early French racers are conspicuously absent. The two leading essays are of the Italians Ottavio Bottecchia (the first Italian to win the tour, 1924 & 1925) and Gino Bartali (second Italian to win, 1938 and 1948). This is followed by a photo essay of Fausto Coppi (third Italian to win in 1949). Two Swiss racers are then featured, Ferdi Kubler (1950 winner) and Hugo Koblet (1951). A French racer doesn’t appear among the essays here until Jacques Anquetill (the first racer to win the tour five times: 1957, ’61, ’62, ’63 and ’64). In short, it appears that the selection of racers to include in this book is very eclectic and limited to those riders for whom the author had good photos.



Tour de Frane: The History, The Legend, the Riders

By Graeme Fife (Mainstream Publishing, 1999; review based on 2001 edition updated for the 2001 Tour)

I have yet to find a comprehensive English history of The Race that really delves into the social and cultural history of The Race. This is a shame because it is such a rich historical phenomenon. Some day, I’m sure, someone will write this and address the role the tour has played in creating a "bicycle culture" in France and in Europe. Just think of the impact this grueling event had on the technology of the sport, for example!

At any rate, for now we have Graeme Fife’s reminiscences of his own rides over some of the major mountain stages of The Race (and we have Samuel Abt’s book reviewed below). Fife weaves stories of his own rides on famous tour routes with well-known anecdotes related to The Race and to specific passes in the Pyrenees and the Alps. Like Abt’s book below this is not history or sociology, it is journalism. But it is well written and entertaining



Breakaway: On the Road with The Tour de France

By Samuel Abt (Random House, 1985)

This is an older publication, but it’s a good one. Order it used for $5-6 or find it at your library. Abt is a journalist on the staff of the International Herald Tribune in Paris. He covered cycling for them in 1985 when this book was published and he still does. He writes very well and he has that investigative journalistic eye that knows when to explain a little history, some politics, or pop culture. In this book he writes about the 1984 Race when Greg Lemond was a rising star and when Hinault and Fignon were vying for top spot. Indeed, Fignon took first in ’84, Hinault second and Lemond third. (A year later Fignon was sidelined with a knee operation and Hinault and Lemond moved into first and second place. In 1986 Lemond eclipsed Hinault). Look for this book. I think you’ll enjoy it.




ExperiencePlus! reviews books every month. For our complete list of book reviews, go to the ExperiencePlus! book review archive. Note the following reviews that relate to this month’s review: