June 30, 2004
Coming soon: A history of the Tour in English
New Criterion offers a review of the forthcoming Le Tour: A History of the Tour de France, by Geoffrey Wheatcroft.
The Tour is the sort of grand tableau that would seem to lend itself to a good history, but all of the Tour histories I can think of in English are simple retellings of each year's race, with no overarching materials on the Tour's universal themes. Wheatcroft's book looks likely to fill this void, as the author of a number of other histories takes on the world's greatest sporting event.
Messenger's review serves as a brief but good intro to Tour lore and history, right up through last year's Tour:
The centennial race in 2003 was itself thrilling to follow. Armstrong joined Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault, and Indurain in the five-time-winner’s club, but only after as competitive a Tour as we have seen since the late 1980s. Armstrong was decisively challenged by three riders. Luck also seemed to have returned to the Tour: Armstrong narrowly avoided serious injury after a fall took one of his chief rivals from the Tour, and later survived two odd crashes to win the key stage on Luz-Ardiden. The great German Jan Ullrich finished second again after crashing during the final time-trial, his last chance to overcome Armstrong. It was a marvelous three weeks.
Not to pick nits, but it's a little ironic that Messenger, in a review that chides the author for "an unacceptable number of gaffes," himself misses the year of l'Affaire Festina, which he mistakenly tags as 1999, rather than 1998, when Marco Pantani took the scandal-plagued Tour. He also references "David Miller," where he clearly means recent Tour ejectee David Millar.
Seen at shaken & stirred.