the post

book reviews

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thanks to all who have read, commented and supported thewashingmachinepost over the past year and i look forward to doing it all again in 2006.

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tour de france. the history, the legend, the riders. graeme fife. mainstream publishing. softcover 9.99 365pp illus.

tour de france

this book was originally published in 1999 and gave the history of the tour de france up to that point. but then lance happened for the next six years, so the book has been updated to cover the appearance of the 52nd state. and that presents a minor 'problem'.

actually calling it a problem is somewhat overstating the case, and to be quite honest it's a rather unpragmatic, impractical way of looking at it. let me explain.

graeme fife is an excellent writer on all matters cycling, and with more books about the tour de france than you could reasonably shake a frame-fit pump at, something has to differentiate one from the others. unfortunately, in many cases, that plainly isn't the case. particularly in the tour's century year when there were just far too many books with the same stories, the same photographs and the same large amount of pennies exchanging hands.

this book is much more chatty. as we enter each chapter, we are generally climbing one of the tour's famous or infamous mountain climbs: the col du telegraph, the ventoux, alpe d'huez. and we are climbing through the eyes and 'recollections' of mr fife. this is the sort of book that would actually make a good film/documentary, if there were adequate film of the major anecdotes contained herein. imagine it thus - graeme sits astride his bike du jour, slogging his way up each climb at a pace that many of us will only too clearly identify with (ie, a lot slower than the pros) while regaling us with some well-known and some less well-known stories from the tour's rich history. i'd buy it.

where this 'falls down' so to speak is in the updated section. while the previous 97 years are filled with timeless stories of things that did or should have happened, on each mountain climb or regular stage. when we come to the latter years, graeme really has little option but to recount the blow by blow accounts of lance's annual domination. and that's not the same. that said, the only way to get round this would have been to start at the very beginning and weave the contemporary into the past and come up with a new book. not only would that be time-consuming, but probably not even remotely economical.

however, i almost wish i'd read the original version. the tour pre-lance. not because it's lance, you understand, just because it seems like a great book with a bit stuck on the end. this is no criticism of the book as a whole, and it may be just like buying that japanese hendrix import that has 14 tracks you already have but a fifteenth that is previously unreleased. if you're a fan, you spend the money and the record company feels a warm glow in its bank account.

cycling books can't be that much different. i doubt there's a huge market for cycling literature, certainly not large enough to keep a publishing company in the manner to which it wishes to become accustomed (i always wonder how mousehold press survives). so if mainstream, or anyone else feels the necessity to repackage an existing book with a previously unreleased track (or five) then it behoves those of us who dote on this sort of thing (bicycles) to log on to amazon and relieve them of a copy.

this new version of the book has well over three hundred pages, with copious statistics and some great photos for under a tenner. the quote printed on the back cover, obviously referring to the original version, as well as the current, cannot be bettered - "fife...has an infectious enthusiasm for the tour and it shows in every sentence. this is a difficult book to put down."

i'll second that.

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next...

'viva la vuelta - the story of spain's great bike race' by lucy fallon and adrian bell. published by mousehold press. coming very soon.. ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................

this website is named after graeme obree's championship winning 'old faithful' built using bits from a defunct washing machine

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as always, if you have any comments on this nonsense, please feel free to e-mail and thanks for reading.

this column appears, as regular as clockwork on this website every two weeks. (ok so i lied) sometimes there are bits added in between times, but it all adds to the excitement.

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