Book Report | Mapping le Tour: The unofficial history of all 100 Tour de France races

By Colin O’Brien

As the dust settles on the 100th edition of the Tour de France, what better way to banish those post-Grande Boucle blues than a book recounting every single edition since the race was conceived?

British journalist Ellis Bacon has compiled an interesting, year-by-year look the Tour’s evolution, from 1903 to the present day. In a nutshell, Mapping le Tour: The unofficial history of all 100 Tour de France races is an uncomplicated look at cycling’s biggest event. Unsurprisingly for a tome attempting to cram so much history between two covers, it might not be as in-depth as some fans might crave, but its panoramic approach to the La Grande Boucle makes for a great coffee table book, a quick reference or as an introduction to the event.

Each edition is surmised excellently by Bacon—who is succinct throughout without being boring or repetitive—and illustrated by a road map of the year’s route.

With every parcours illustrated in such detail, it’s interesting to track the development of the three-week extravaganza. The early years of the race saw it cover a fairly understandable loop, a tour of the country in the truest sense. Obviously, things have developed since then and the more modern maps zig-zag without rhyme or reason in search of fresh challenges and, whisper it, eager towns with some money to spend.

The chronology is interspersed with some great photography, and along with the maps this makes for a great flick. Everyone from Maurice Garin, the Tour’s first champion to Bradley Wiggins is captured in action, with Gino Bartali, Fausto Coppi, Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault in between. It’s the kind of book that can be easily delved into at any point, simply picked up and opened on a random page or consulted with a particular incident in mind.

Bacon covers this year’s edition in detail, and also provides some commentary on 20 of the Tour’s most iconic locations. It’s a good way to get to grips with the race’s history, which is often daunting, and to be introduced to France’s most famous peaks, from the Cols of the Pyrenees to the epic summits of the Alps.

The book’s only real weakness is in how it deals with the event’s shady past. Aside from the Armstrong years and the Festina affair of 1998—both too obvious to be ignored—doping gets little more than a cursory mention, and the controversies that have dogged the event for decades are largely brushed over. Smiling victory shots of notorious offenders like Jan Ullrich and Bjarne Riis will leave an unsavoury taste in a lot of mouths, but the book is clearly meant to celebrate rather than denigrate the Tour, so perhaps expecting a detailed break-down of two decades of cheating is unreasonable.

It’s amazing to think that France have not produced a winner of their own grand tour since 1985, but their appetite for the race has never waned because the event itself is the real star. This book conveys that fact perfectly, and while Bacon won’t win any awards for a creative approach to history, it doesn’t make his timeline of the Tour any less interesting. It’s an uncomplicated idea, executed well, and will entertain any sports fan for hours on end.

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