As the Tour de France nears its end, here are three books that trace its history and influence, as well as one amateur bicyclist’s adventurous attempt to complete the circuit on his own.
THE FIRST TOUR DE FRANCE
Sixty Cyclists and Nineteen Days of Daring on the Road to Paris
By Peter Cossins
384 pp. Nation Books. (2017)
As its title suggests, this book delves into the origins of what is now the biggest cycling event in the world. It was organized by editors of a flailing magazine who hoped to drive up interest in their publication, but few were eager to join the three-week long race; it was over tough terrain, more suited to horses than to bicycles, which weighed as much as 35 pounds at the time. The editors bribed a mishmash of unemployed laborers to participate, and Cossins uses their stories to paint a picture of France in the early 1900s to show how the race influenced the culture of cycling.
CYCLE OF LIES
The Fall of Lance Armstrong
By Juliet Macur
461 pp. Harper. (2014)
In this biography, Macur, a New York Times reporter, writes an illuminating portrait of the most notorious man in cycling. Though doping in sports preceded Armstrong, he was particularly calculated in his use: When he lost a race in 1995, he pressured his teammates into getting on a doping regimen and took extreme measures to ensure he wasn’t caught, like getting blood transfusions to force clean test results or pulling out of races to avoid being tested altogether. According to our reviewer, “what makes the story fascinating isn’t the dope,” but rather “Armstrong himself.” Based on interviews with Armstrong, estranged family members and more than 100 other witnesses, Macur tells the story of how Armstrong gained acclaim and what led to his eventual fall from grace.
Cycling the Tour de France
By Tim Moore
277 pp. St. Martin’s Press. (2002)
This travelogue is one writer’s account of tracing the 2,256-mile Tour de France circuit of the 2000 race. He was out of shape and a novice biker, so he gave himself double the time, six weeks, to complete it. Our reviewer wrote that Moore “plays his foolhardy crusade purely for laughs, tempering the slapstick with bits of cycling lore and reflections on the event’s physical demands.” Moore gets lost within the first 10 minutes and soon starts cheating, pushing his bike up hills or skipping sections that are particularly challenging, but by the end, wrote our reviewer, “his triumphs — however modest — feel painfully earned.”
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