Time for a seasonal book review. The Tour de France is in its last exciting week, so here’s a look at French Revolutions: cycling the Tour de France by Tim Moore.
I stumbled upon this book listed on Gerry Patterson’s cycling website. Parsimonious as ever, I got a budget copy from Amazon marketplace since there was no Kindle version. I figure if I’m doing book reviews that may mean the author makes a few more sales, then I’m allowed to buy a cheap version! (I have recently become a part of the Readers’ Favorites book reviewing team and am actually getting my hands on some free ebooks to review – which is more like it.)
Anyway, Tim Moore (no relation to Sir Roger although he tells one hotel owner that he is), is a travel writer and has written about arctic travel, trekking with a donkey and canoeing, amongst other things. Certainly versatile. In French Revolutions, it becomes apparent very quickly that he is a writer first and a cyclist last, although he is a keen cycling fan. As he says, before ‘old Father Time’ catches up with ‘old Father Tim’, he wants to experience what it’s like to ride in the Tour de France. This is a sporting event that has long captured his imagination. I love the way he describes it as ‘the only sporting event … with its own personality’.
So, he prepares for the trip. Or rather doesn’t. I have to confess I found the first couple of chapters irritating. As a keen cyclist and cycletourist, the total lack of proper preparation is very annoying, bordering on the irresponsible. You just don’t set off on a cycling holiday without decent large-scale maps or having made more than a vague attempt to get fit. Buying lots of top-notch gear is fun, but doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be any the more ready. But the author is buoyed along by optimism and enthusiasm and that’s contagious. So, although gritting my teeth and muttering from time to time, I forgave him and read on. Husband Chris couldn’t though.
How Moore managed to cycle having drunk half a litre of wine every lunchtime, I have no idea. The few times we ever had a glass at midday were disastrous. It makes you lethargic or giggly, neither of which are much good for cycling. Tim has an enviably iron constitution is all I can say.
The idea of the book is that Moore will cycle the route of the 2000 Tour ahead of the riders. OK, roughly the route of the Tour. You can’t help thinking it might have been more sensible to do it afterwards, since there’d be plenty of details and maps out there and it would have been easier to be accurate. He relies on a tiny map in Procycling and asking locals if the Tour is going to be coming this way.
And so he sets off, and the book becomes more a travelogue with observations on French places and habits. But he’s not always accurate. I can’t forgive him for being so dismissive and nasty about Limoges, which is a smashing city, if you bother to take the time to discover it properly. A spin along a few of its roads and one night in a hotel doesn’t count as a proper exploration. But the author doesn’t hesitate to trash it on his limited knowledge. Humph. (Reading reviews of his other books, it seems Moore has a knack of getting people’s backs up at times!) And other irritations are that he recounts shamelessly how he runs slugs over on purpose (it doesn’t even occur to my youngest son to do something as spiteful as that – you simply cycle round them), nicks drinks from the back of a van one day and gets a friend who comes to cycle with him to act as his windbreak most of the time. This sort of thing makes him look like a silly schoolboy rather than an intelligent author. But at least he has the grace at one point to realise that his family, who come along to be his support team in the Alps, are having a pretty crappy holiday, being stuck in a hot car most of the day.
Moore also makes some rash claims. He says that the life expectancy of cyclists is short, barely over 50 years. This seemed counter-intuitive. Apart from a few deaths during races, and one or two notorious drug-related ones, cyclists are generally a very fit bunch. So I did a bit of research. Yes, some ex-Tour cyclists have died in the fifties, such as Nencini, Anquetil and Fignon, the latter two of whom both died of cancer. In contrast, Eddy Merckx is still going strong, if tubby. Raymond Poulidor is still with us, as are Hinault and Roche. Giordano Cottur died at age 91, and the winners of the 1956, 1959 and 1967 Tours are still going strong. Nope. There isn’t a pattern of early deaths. Most seem to be living average to long lives.
The ending of the book is disappointing. It turns out the author wrote his name on one of the Alpine roads during his journey, for the world to see during the Tour de France. Not the name of one of the current cyclists he admires, or one of the great heroes. No. His own. Kind of sad, isn’t it?
OK, on balance this book is probably worth reading. You pick up some interesting snippets along the way about the Tour, although the author tends to overdo the ones about cheating and drugs. What sport hasn’t suffered from those? And Moore can be an entertaining writer, when he’s not being aggravating. But, as you might have guessed, I find him very aggravating!
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