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The Tour de France Companion by Bob Roll

The Tour de France Companion by Bob Roll

Bob Roll’s Nuts, Bolts and Spokes on the famous Tour

This is a great book, just out, for those of us who haven’t had time to follow the Tour de France every year since Greg Lemond won in 1986. Avid fans, in short, will find most of this old hat. But those who need a primer about race strategy, about the “races within the race” (the sprinters, the “King of the Mountain,” and the under-25 racers), this book is for you.

Bob Roll is a former racer and member of the Cycling Hall of Fame as part of the first 7-Eleven Cycling Team. He raced for Motorola. He has raced in The Race, the Giro d’Italia, and the Tour de Suisse. He has raced eight times in the Paris-Roubaix, the grueling spring race considered by many to be the greatest one-day race of all time. In short, Bob Roll knows what he is talking about.

Dan Koeppel writes of Bob Roll, “I’ve had the pleasure of editing his work from time to time, and I’m always amazed at the genius, poetry, and energy of his prose. He’s not always the most organized author, but he’s got a true understanding of why people ride bikes – why people love bikes; that indicates a deep self-knowledge, I think, that is an important clue toward explaining his longevity.” (From Dan Koeppels’s nomination of Bob Roll to the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame.)

What I most enjoyed about this short, easy-to-read book is that Bob Roll writes with a thorough understanding of what’s going on in the minds of the riders on the road. It’s like reading about the Race from the inside. And he dumbs it down for us novices only a little bit.

The Tour de France Companion talks about how team time trials work. Indeed, how teams do and do not work together and why that’s important. Roll writes about the different jerseys awarded on The Race and he describes the roles of sprinters versus climbers. And he provides a “study guide” to the Tour including discussions of the geography of the route, the role of teams and individual racers, the role of non-racing team members, and on and on.

Roll begins to infringe on my book (no, you haven’t missed it, I just haven’t written it yet but will when I retire!) He writes around the subject of the geography and history of The Race, devoting time to the concept of The Race as “la grand boucle” – the great loop. He asserts that the circular shape of France combined with the geography, especially the great Alpine ranges of the Alps and the Pyrenees, makes for a unique bike race, one that the Italians, for example, can’t do because of the shape of Italy. He’s right, of course, and the topic requires an entire book written by a geographer who understands the “lay of the land.”

This book came together pretty quickly, I presume, to be ready in time for the 2004 Race. And there are a few editorial mistakes as a result. I can’t excuse the grammar error – “c’est la tour” rather than “c’est le tour” – on page 109, for example, especially since I live with a French professor who helps keep me honest. And I won’t excuse the reference to the 1949 Alpe d’Huez climb on page 143 when the first time the Alpe d’Huez figured in the Tour was 1952 when Fausto Coppi won it. But I’ll forgive him for making Mt. Ventoux a “volcanic oddity” (p. 111) since he is not a geographer. I have yet to pedal Mt. Ventoux and I assume he has. I’m sure that as you struggle up that monolith it seems like a giant volcano and not just a wrinkle in the Jurassic limestone of France’s Pre-Alps. (Indeed, Mt. Ventoux is part of the pre-Alpine geo-syncline, a tectonic feature and not a volcano.)

Whether you are joining us to see The Race in person this summer or you will be staying at home to watch it on the Outdoor Life Network, read this book. Between this and Lance’s latest, Every Second Counts, you’ll have the context you need to understand what’s going on. In short, this is good stuff.