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A Race For Madmen The Extraordinary History of the Tour de France By Chris Sidwells

Release date: 26th May, 2013
Publisher: Harper Sport

List Price: £8.99
Our Price: £6.09
You Save: £2.9 (32%)
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With the start of the 100th edition only a few weeks away and cycling's burgeoning popularity showing no sign of relenting, we can expect to witness the publication of a veritable mountain of books dealing with the history of the Tour de France - enough, perhaps, to line the route to the top of Mont Ventoux.

Your reviewer first attended Le Tour several years ago, a fabulous experience for roadside spectators, most of whom are in position hours before riders come hurtling by. The intervening period is spent chatting to locals, sharing their wine and catching gifts distributed by the Carnivale, a parade of sponsors throwing their wares to the millions who line the roads.

But it's the riders, their teams, strategies, disputes and successes which capture the attention for a month. In many respects, Le Tour is 3-D chess, delivered to France's doorstep.

Much of A Race For Madmen has been covered elsewhere, though Chris Sidwells still presents plenty of new material and anecdotes regarding a race which began in July 1903. That was a decade after the French government imposed an annual tax on bicycles, so popular had they become following the invention of pneumatic tyres. By the end of the century, more than a million people were paying the tax too.

Cycle races, initially on the track, were well attended, but longer-distance contests captured the public's imagination after Le Velo sponsored a race between Bordeaux to Paris in 1891.

In January 1903, it was another newspaper, L'Auto, which announced that it would sponsor a race of 2,228km around France. Within six months, it had attracted 21 sponsored riders and 39 amateurs, together with millions of French cycling enthusiasts. On the final stage, more than 100,000 people, described as a "hedge of fans" by one rider, stood and cheered the remaining 21 competitors just outside of Versailles. A further crowd of 20,000 awaited the peleton's arrival in Paris.

The race's impact upon national consciousness was phenomenal, a feature of Le Tour to this day.

The first riders were described as "bulls, not men", but all, surely, even in this hi-tech age, are mad. Go see for yourself this summer - A Race For Madmen would be a fine accompaniment.


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