I just finished Blazing Saddles, and it’s an interesting read (although way too brief). The author, Matt Rendell, mentions that he is involved with the English translation of L’Equipe’sÂ Tour anniversary book and perhaps that would be a more comprehensive follow-up.
The book skims the main facts of each stage, concentrating on the main battle, or the new features introduced. For instance, the entry for 1910 concentrates on the introduction of the Pyrenees (described as a family-sized dollop of criminal negligence). Some entries are less than a page in length, and some go to six. The book is sectioned into groupings like the Hinault years, the Merx years etc. and is a nice way of getting some idea of how masochistic and sadistic the riders and the organisers were, respectively.
I think that I must have started watching the tour in about 1992, as I don’t remember much about Pedro Delgado, but the Indurain moments that are mentioned ring a bell. The book does contain a lot of stuff that I didn’t know at the time – like Pantani going back to the team car 3 times in 1994 (up the Col de Madelaine) asking for permission to abandon after a nasty crash and being refused. Of course there are innumerable small moments that aren’t mentioned but there’s also more that I’d forgotten about, such asÂ Djamolidine Abdoujaparov – the “Tashkent Terror”.
The problem with any book focusing on one event is that there’s a distorted view on the overall abilities of rider. Since there’s only peripheral mention of the Tour of Italy and less so of other events, the real worth ofÂ some riders seems lost – for instance Fausto Coppi. Obviously anyone who won even once (and Coppi won twice), is at the top of the sport, but there’s a lot more between the lines than on the page in this book.
I’d also like to see more in-depth mention of the rise of the commercialisation and the caravan; the way that the amateur status of the early riders gave way to theÂ professionally sponsored teams; the way that technology changed the event and how it was resisted;Â and more photos. The book has some wonderful old photos of riders slogging up muddy goat tracks through the middle of nowhere, and you get drawn back and back to these depictions of immense hardship in the early years.
There’s a lot of great quotes from various riders, but I guess that the winning quote for me has to comeÂ from Coppi: When asked if he’d taken drugs he replied “only when necessary”. When asked how often that was, he replied “nearly always”. Reading this book gave me a much better handle on how immensely difficult the Tour is, and a much better appreciation for the riders – even a bit more sympathy for the drug cheats who are forced by the pressure of the event to cheat in which ever way they can, to get through it. The drugs of choice during the early days of the Tour were pain killing drugs such as opiates or alcohol. These days, of course, the technology has moved on toÂ performance enhancement, and that is less defensible in my opinion.