golden stages of the tour de france. compiled by richard allchin & adrian bell. sport and publicity paperback. 251pp. £14.95

golden stages of the tour de france

i've long considered the tour de france to be something of a self-fufilling prophecy. it's an event that has become ever more popular due mostly to becoming ever more popular. in essence, there is little to differentiate it from its nearest brethren; the giro d'italia and la vuelta espana. all comprise three weeks of intense racing, with flat, mountain and time-trial stages to test the mettle of the world's finest cycle racers, yet the tour de france maintains a pre-eminence that sees the other two as bookends to its own magnificence.

the latter state of affairs confirms participation in le tour as the ultimate goal not only for the riders, but more importantly, that of their sponsors. thus, add all these ingredients together and you arrive at an event that is somewhat considerably greater than the sum of its parts. and we, the tifosi (to shift nationalities just for a moment), delight in every moment of it, from the two month build-up in the cycle press, to a concomitant two month de-brief after it's all over, a de-brief that frequently interrupts the preview time set aside for la vuelta.

don't get me wrong, i enjoy the tour as much as the next obsessive, but i'm also somewhat disposed to enjoy the other two as well. and don't even get me started on the consummate delights of the spring classics.

however, in 2013, i feel i must adopt a more conciliatory stance, for it's not every year that a three week cycle race celebrates 100 editions, a substantial achievement for any sporting event. and with those ten decades comes a wealth of detail, narrative, anecdote and reportage, much of which has been put in print by a plethora of uk publishing houses, to say nothing of those abroad. however, interested though i am in the minutiae of each and every race, in much the same way that i approach appreciation of drawing and painting, i like to know how those in the headlights (so to speak) are affected by that which they saw or experienced. and in that spirit, the timely reprinting and updating of sport and publicity's 2003 golden stages is, to my mind, a particularly excellent way to experience at least a portion of those 100 tours.

the format is simple enough; twenty-one writers have been alotted at least one chapter each in which to either regale us with aspects of specific stages across the years, or, indeed, to inform the readership as to their own unique experience of the world's greatest bicycle race. many of the contributors will be familar to you; herbie sykes, david harmon, john deering, matt rendell, michael breckon, graeme fife and rather obviously, several others. at this point i wish to remain as impartial as i can manage, for though i have my favourites from the contents, several of the contributors are known to me personally and i'd like that to remain so for the foreseeable future.

suffice it to say, there is not a dud amongst them all, and their wide-ranging variety of style and content means continued reading is never a chore. richard allchin and adrian bell (he of mousehold press fame) are to be congratulated on choosing such an excellent team of contributors. amongst the many 100th tour books that you will find on the shelves (virtual or otherwise) of your local bookstore, this is perhaps the best kept secret, occupying a more modest format than its coffee-table brethren, yet arguably offering a lot more. i missed out on the original offering ten years ago, and though the current version declares the addition of eight new chapters, such is the consistency of origination, that without looking at the contents or chapter headings (where a date is included), you'd be hard-pressed to identify them from their longer serving peers.

and excellent publication from two of the stalwarts of cycling literature.

thursday 11th july 2013