tour de france 100 - a photographic history of cycling's most iconic race. richard moore. bloomsbury publishing large format hardback 224pp illus. £30

tour de france 100

legend has it that irish cycling supremo, and commentator for eurosport, sean kelly, nodded in answer to a radio interviewer's question. i am unaware of anyone who has produced this particular gem of live radio as verification, but the story has been repeated so often as to have become true despite the lack of supporting evidence.

if i might use yesterday's giro stage towards the galibier as a pertinent example, not only the scenery but the alternating thick snow on the mountains' higher points contrasting with dry and snow bereft routes in the valleys was surely something that added greatly to the sense of awesomeness in a tour that has already provided its fair share of awesome. the transition between the bright and arid lower slopes to the sleet bedecked finish pretty much had to be seen to be believed. with no disrespect to those charged with relaying the sense of atmosphere, landscape and competition via the radio, they'd have been hard pushed to convey every last nuance captured by the tv cameras both from the road and from above.

part of the additional joy of this year's giro d'italia, following a successful entree at the 2012 edition are the daily photo galleries by scott mitchell on teamsky's website. a photographic record of each day, seen from the point of view of one with an acute sense of the immediate. it would be hard to imagine a giro without mitchell's vision, and it is to be hoped that the same will apply at this year's tour de france.

a surprising number of the obsessed favour italy's race over that raced over three weeks in july. the giro seems more real in a manner of speaking, and less of a circus with bicycles. but it would be somewhat of a foolish obsessive who failed to acknowledge the greater profile of its french cousin. a testament to just how powerful the marketing machine can be leveraged. what is undeniable is the impression on history, both social and sporting, that the tour de france has made on the entire world, let alone that of southern europe.

it is thus fortunate that throughout its 100 years, the racing, the characters and the french landscape have been immortalised principally on film and more latterly in pixels. for it would be hard to imagine acknowledging 100 years of the world's biggest cycle race, one that has surely placed the word peloton in the vocabulary of nearly every cyclist in the western hemisphere, and ensured that even the most disinterested civilian has at least heard of something called the yellow jersey. wtih mark cavendish regularly exploring the fastest way to the finish line, and bradley wiggins finally bringing that maillot jaune back to the motherland, it would not be stretching credibility too far to state that the rece's popularity is at an all-time high this side of the channel.

though the top two steps of last year's podium were truly occupied by a south african and a belgian, it has taken a scotsman to provide a superb photographic insight into the last hundred years of tdf imagery. actually, that's not strictly correct, for excellent writer though richard moore may be, he is responsible for not one single of these images. however, his eminently readable prose accompanies each well-illustrated chapter, placing each period of the race history in considered perspective, stretching from its origination in 1903, and ending with wiggins' thin blue line of victory last year.

with no intended diminishing of moore's writing and pertinent captioning of each image, it is the photography that thoroughly commends this book, principally through the width, breadth, quality and sheer size of their imposition. the book measures 28cm x 33cm, providing ample real estate to print all the included photographs (and there are a lot) at a size worthy of our appreciation. they're printed on quality paper and someone somewhere has taken great care over the reproduction of each and every image; it is exemplary, even where the original (like that of rene vietto waiting in tears for the team car to replace his wheel) bears a quality that renders it less than pristine.

in its hardback incarnation as reviewed here, it is way too unwieldy and heavy to read in the bath, and in my case was read and examined in short bursts due to its substantial weight. however, it's a book that will convince even the midly obsessed that all their christmases have come at once. it's almost a pity that the tour starts at the end of june, for i can but imagine the delight on faces around the fireplace if ripping to shreds, layers of christmas paper on december 25th.

i have yet to read anything by richard moore that did not immediately engage with the reader, and it is testament to his subtle forcefulness that the text is rarely if ever, totally subjugated by the imagery on display (though there are one or two occasions where it comes perilously close). favourite image? it's really too close to call. the early century black and whites i could peruse from now until the 101st tour de france, while my manifest prejudice leads my eye to page 150 depicting a young polka-dotted robert millar in 1984 leading a similarly young greg lemond in rainbow stripes.

if i am allowed a trivial but hopefully pertinent criticism it regards the cover. i can see where they were going with this, but it seems a tad trite and obvious under the circumstances. i cannot deny that, had i seen this on a (large) bookshelf, i would most probably have overlooked it. certainly, i probably shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but it is a recognised fact that this is precisely how many of us choose which to buy. the back is even worse, consisting of a montage featuring six rather randomly chosen images. for what it's worth, i'd have chosen the image on page 219 for the front, and that on page 17 for the back.

to argue the point, you'll have to buy the book.

in recognition of those 100 years, the bookshelves will no doubt be full to overflowing with various tributes (i am currently reading an excellent compendium of will fotheringham tour articles) but this ranks amongst the very finest. thirty pounds may seem rather a lot to pay for any book, but believe me, i'd venture that you get far more than you pay for.

monday 20th may 2013