French Revolutions: Cycling The Tour De France, by Tim Moore
If you are familiar with this author, others like him, there is a familiar sense about this book. A middle-aged sportswriter decides on some loony challenge and manages to secure a publishing advance and enough help to engage upon his challenge, which simultaneously proves some sort of heroism while maintaining the air of irony that is necessary to relate to contemporary readers. I am by no means unfamiliar with this sort of writing, nor do I dislike it . I feel this style of writing is more a commentary on our times and the way that heroism must be portrayed as mock heroism rather than frankly and honestly appreciated than it is on the writer themselves, whose achievements are certainly admirable. If you like this sort of literature, you know what is coming, a lot of witty banter from a self-effacing and falsely modest English sportswriter who has a great love of books about travel and/or cycling that mixes “you are there” reportage with a somewhat cock-eyed look at history. There is a lot to like here. This book is familiar in the sense a witty and somewhat irreverent dinner partner is familiar, and that is familiar in the best way.
In this volume, the author takes a trip along the 2000 Tour de France, capturing the sights and smells of the route and giving a colorful and somewhat unpleasant picture of what it is like to be a clueless and mostly monolingual British tourist attempting to do crazy tasks overseas. Here we see the author working on getting an up-to-date bike, doing stretch exercises and trying to take care of himself, and then try to manage life in mostly rural France. The author experiments with the sort of cheating that is regularly undertaken by riders, from hitching a ride with drivers to cutting corners on routes to taking hay fever medicine and indulging in a large amount of drinking to get a competitive edge in the brutal riding. As one might expect, the author gets more fit as the ride goes along, and manages to find quite a few interesting people. He says some rude things about the Germans–he appears to have a particular animus against gay German motorcyclists, who he comments on repeatedly. Even if one finds the author to be more than a little bit profane at times–and he is no question an earthy person who loves talking about scatological matters, this almost 300 page book has a lot to offer.
So, what does one learn about the Tour de France from this author? Well, the author indicates that there is an air of secrecy behind much of how the Tour de France operates and that they are perhaps not the friendliest to gonzo journalists like him. Additionally, there has been a consistent air of commercialism as well as cheating throughout the history of the tour. The author states where he does not imply that only someone who is less than completely sane would undertake a task such as cycling for over 2000 miles over the course of three weeks. I happen to agree with the author on this, and also find that the author makes some sound points on the connection between widespread apathy about cycling among young French people and the loss of French dominance in their national race, a subject about which they seem to be a bit sensitive. Is this author a bit less than a good guy sometimes? Absolutely. Is he somewhat unreliable as a narrator and likely prone to exaggerate or underexaggerate matters depending on what makes for a more compelling story? Yes. Is this still an enjoyable book to read? Without question.
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