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Blazing Saddles by Matt Rendell

Release date: 01st June, 2007
Publisher: Quercus Books

List Price: £9.99
Our Price: £7.99
You Save: £2 (20%)
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Blazing Saddles
The Cruel and Unusual History of the Tour de France
By Matt Rendell
Quercus Books

4sportsbooks.co.uk price: £7.99, saving 20% on rrp

In literary terms, cycling is rapidly gaining ground on cricket in terms of its written popularity; new titles dealing with either sport appear on bookshelves almost weekly. One theory suggests this has something to do with each activity's slightly obsessive nature, although it could be attributed to the colourful, ever-changing canvas they both offer writers.

Whatever the reason, the exodus away from standardised, well-packaged, sporting memoirs
and 'autobiographies' is to be welcomed, and leading the literary peloton is Matt Rendell. His
last book, The Death of Marco Pantani, was an absorbing biography which justified being
short-listed for the sports book of the year award and this week, Blazing Saddles provides
readers with a delightful appetiser prior to the start of next month's Tour de France.

The Tour is the undisputed pinnacle of professional cycling, although only the French could
have created something as apparently unwieldy as a crazy, convoluted dash around the
country (it comes to London on 7th July) and still make it work.

In recent years, its reputation has been sullied by frequent accusations of doping, blood
transfusions, EPO, growth hormones and other illegal substances, but as Rendell points out,
"A whiff of the apocalypse has always hung over the Tour. The 1904 edition was so blighted by cheating that its founder Henri Desgrange announced it would be the lastÖMuch the same was said in 1967, 1998 and 2006Ö"

The Tour's physical demands are legion and Rendell provides us with a whistle-stop guide to each year's highlights at a pace of which cycling sprinters would approve.

Originally planned to last thirty five days, so few entrants had committed to the first race in 1903 that the Tour organisers postponed it by a couple of months, cut the race length to nineteen days, halved the entry fee and offered riders five francs a day. This ensured 78 riders lined up for the Tour's first stage from Paris to Lyon, won by Maurice Garin, who went on to become the Tour's inaugural victor.

Rendell provides race details in chronological order, each year peppered with some fine black-and-white photography which captures the Tour's unique atmosphere. Pained-looking men endure the agony of a mountain climb, or else stop for a bowl of soup splattered with mud and blood. Rocky mountain roads, cobblestones and serious-looking injuries show that this is no glamour sport, particularly when one considers just how basic bicycles were in the Tour's earliest years.

It was Eddy Merckx, "The Greatest Belgian Ever" according to Rendell, who first brought the Tour to a wider audience in this country, thanks mainly to British television's coverage of the race in the late 60s.

Merckx's determination and bull-like strength ensured he dominated the Tour between 1969-74, during which his duels Roger Pingeon and the game Spaniard Luis Ocana became the stuff of cycling history. Merckx's domination is evidenced by his victory in the Pyrenees in 1969, described as "perhaps the greatest stage win in Tour history", while the Belgian's respect for the Tour's traditions were evident when he refused to take the yellow jersey following Ocana's bad fall which "deprived him of the opportunity of winning the Tour in honest, man-to-man combat."

Prior to next month's start, riders will prepare in a variety of ways, not all of which will be legal, although few will emulate Jacques Anquetil who, in 1957, declared that "To prepare for a race there is nothing better than a good pheasant, some champagne and a woman." No wonder cycling's literary star is on the rise.


SHORT VERSION [500 words]

In literary terms, cycling is rapidly gaining ground on cricket in terms of its written popularity; new titles dealing with either sport appear on bookshelves almost weekly. One theory suggests this has something to do with each activity's slightly obsessive nature, although it could be attributed to the colourful, ever-changing canvas they both offer writers.

Whatever the reason, the exodus away from standardised, well-packaged, sporting memoirs
and 'autobiographies' is to be welcomed, and leading the literary peloton is Matt Rendell,
author of Blazing Saddles which offers readers a delightful appetiser prior to the start of next
month's Tour de France.

In recent years, its reputation has been sullied by frequent accusations of doping, blood
transfusions, EPO, growth hormones and other illegal substances, but as Rendell points out,
"A whiff of the apocalypse has always hung over the Tour. The 1904 edition was so blighted by cheating that its founder Henri Desgrange announced it would be the lastÖMuch the same was said in 1967, 1998 and 2006Ö"

Originally planned to last thirty five days, so few entrants had committed to the first race in 1903 that the Tour organisers postponed it by a couple of months, cut the race length to nineteen days, halved the entry fee and offered riders five francs a day. This ensured 78 riders lined up for the Tour's first stage from Paris to Lyon, won by Maurice Garin, who went on to become the Tour's inaugural victor.

Rendell provides race details in chronological order, each year peppered with some fine black-and-white photography which captures the Tour's unique atmosphere. Pained-looking men endure the agony of a mountain climb, or else stop for a bowl of soup splattered with mud and blood. Rocky mountain roads, cobblestones and serious-looking injuries show that this is no glamour sport, particularly when one considers just how basic bicycles were in the Tour's earliest years.

It was Eddy Merckx, "The Greatest Belgian Ever" according to Rendell, who first brought the Tour to a wider audience in this country, thanks mainly to British television's coverage of the race in the late 60s.

Merckx's determination and bull-like strength ensured he dominated the Tour between 1969-74, during which his duels Roger Pingeon and the game Spaniard Luis Ocana became the stuff of cycling history. Merckx's domination is evidenced by his victory in the Pyrenees in 1969, described as "perhaps the greatest stage win in Tour history", while the Belgian's respect for the Tour's traditions were evident when he refused to take the yellow jersey following Ocana's bad fall which "deprived him of the opportunity of winning the Tour in honest, man-to-man combat."

Prior to next month's start, riders will prepare in a variety of ways, not all of which will be legal, although few will emulate Jacques Anquetil who, in 1957, declared that "To prepare for a race there is nothing better than a good pheasant, some champagne and a woman." No wonder cycling's literary star is on the rise.


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