Pez Book Club: Inside the Tour de France
“Back in my day, television was called BOOKS!” said the Grandfather in ‘Princess Bride.’ Before our eyeballs get all waxy and glazed from Tour TV overdose, let’s step back in time to a terrific book on the 1993 Tour…
Tour de France, DUH!
The State of the World
Le Tour is under the iron grip of Big Mig. After his absolute domination in 1992 and with the support of key strongmen such as Pedro Delgado, Jean-Francois Bernard, and Gerard Rue making Banesto the best stage racing team on the planet, nobody seriously started the Tour with any ambition besides not being humiliated by Miguel Indurain, the legend-in- the-making they nicknamed the Extraterrestrial.
What the Book Clubbers are Saying
Irishman David Walsh is a well-respected journalist who has followed Le Tour for many years, recently causing a bit of a wave with some controversial words about what might or might not be in Le Lance’s medicine cabinet. In Walsh’s eyes, the Tour, as the supposed epicentre of the cycling universe, is a pilgrimage for all involved. Therefore, he framed the book as thirteen “Tales” told through the eyes of one rider or individual, much like Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Therefore, we have “The Sprinter’s Tale (Jean-Paul Van Poppel),” “The Climber’s Tale (Claudio Chiappucci),” “The Winner’s Tale (Stephen Roche),” “The Lanterne’s Tale (Edwig van Hooydonck),” “The Neophyte’s Tale (Lance Armstrong),” and “The Champion’s Tale (Miguel Indurain).”
Maybe the grim reality of Indurain’s domination is what imbues the Tales involving the riders with such a sense of mourning and yearning for happier days of youth and ambition. This was especially true of the profiles on Van Poppel, Chiappucci, and Roche, each of whom find themselves suddenly facing the realization (or not accepting it in some cases) that they’re on the slippery slope where their best days are behind them. Walsh provides excellent character studies into both the story of the individual riders profiled, and also their roles in the large circus that is the Tour. Therefore, we feel in detail the agony of Edwig van Hooydonck, an excellent Classics rider with two Tour of Flanders on his palmares, who dislikes the Tour but finds that he must ride it, only to be held up as the circus freak who is la lanterne rouge, the poor sap who’s last on GC. Especially catching was the profile on Roche. Despite our media image of him as a happy-go-lucky Irishman, we find that he was a deeply driven person who alienated most people around him and only found inner peace in this, his final season.
The Other Players
As anyone who has witnessed the Tour in person, the riders are only the hub around which the entire Tour revolves. Walsh gives us the true insider’s view by featuring profiles on the less-hyped but equally important people in the sport. Therefore, there are Tales of “The Journalist,” “The Wife (Brigitte Rominger, wife of Tony),” “The Doctor (Nicolas Terrados of ONCE),” and “The Patron (a happily retired Bernard Hinault serving as the Tour’s technical advisor).” My favourite of this group was “The Manager’s Tale,” profiling Vincent Lavenu, a fringe pro who formed the tiny French Chazal team (morphing into Casino and now Ag2R), which ended up badly outperforming big money teams like Jan Raas’s Wordperfect outfit (now Rabobank). After reading this tale, I had a much better appreciation for the argument for selecting small French teams over others.
The Pez Verdict
I’ve read nearly every book written in English on Le Tour, and I have to give Inside TdF the maillot jaune. Rather than a short-lived play-by-play analysis of a single edition of the race, this book brings you deep into the entire drama of the race. The framework of the different tales also makes it timeless despite the race itself being a decade old. Read it and then spend July thinking about who are filling the roles of these pilgrims in this year’s race and what tales they have to tell!
“Inside the Tour de France”
Written by David Walsh
Photography by Billy Strickland
Published by VeloPress © 1994
Stephen Cheung is an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, with a research specialty in the effects of thermal stress on human physiology and performance. He has been an avid roadie since beginning university in the mid-eighties, and still has non-indexed downtube shifters on his winter bike and wool jerseys hanging in his closet. He can be reached for advice or comments at [email protected]