Roule Britannia is a brilliant book by Will Fotheringham that goes into lavish detail about some of Britain's most important Tour de France participants in the last 70 years.
Like the Oxford English Dictionary is a record of changing language over time, Roule Britannia is a record of changing results, approaches and personalities of the British in the Tour de France.
My bookshelf is littered with William Fotheringham books and I firmly believe that he is the best bike racing writer working at the moment. So I was really excited to see what he had done with Roule Britannia since its last publication in 2012.
The book details British riders on the tour, from the earliest to today, with Fotheringham's research so thorough that he often throws in stories that would be impossible to find in even contemporary books about the event. For instance, when discussing Tony Hoar, a member of the GB squad who raced in 1955, Fotheringham references how he arrived at races 'by train and bus because he had no car'; this was a man who raced 64 years ago, yet Fotheringham manages to throw in tidbits like this to demonstrate not only his knowledge, but give each character a sense of personality.
One of the key strengths of the book is that it isn't simply a record of the race itself from a British perspective, but gives a huge amount of detail and personality to cyclists who 95 per cent of British cycling fans today would never have even heard of, let alone seen race. It makes what has the potential to be a slightly limited subject feel fuller, very readable, and incredibly informative.
This book was originally written in 2005 and has been updated every few years since, but one of the elements that perhaps could have been done better is changing the contextualisation within some of the earlier chapters. For instance, Robert Millar is heralded as 'Britain's best ever tour man' with no reference to Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas or Bradley Wiggins, who would probably have a little something to say about who that title belongs to.
There are also some fairly awkward bits that, in hindsight, could have used different examples. For instance, when discussing Mark Cavendish there are two paragraphs showing how Cav's mentality was similar to Lance Armstrong, with his will to win at any cost. At the time of writing (before Armstrong became the ultimate pariah) these would have been a great comparison, but in hindsight are a little jarring.
Later in the book, as Fotheringham moves from the 90s and 00s to Team Sky's success, the same fully fledged characterisation of the characters seems to dissipate, and the rich multi-page history given to the early riders becomes brief paragraphs. Indeed, beyond being Kenyan-born, there is very little about Chris Froome's background despite being the only Briton to win the Tour more than once.
To some extent this is understandable, given that most chapters generally tend to give an entire history of a rider from first race, struggles, retirement and post-retirement, but it still seems a little off, especially given Froome's monumental successes as a Briton riding in the race that the book is focused on. Indeed, considerably more time is spent discussing the trials and tribulations of Team Sky's jiffy bag and Salbutamol cases than Froome's or Thomas's wins in the race itself. It is probably also true that writing about Team Sky isn't as interesting as writing about British forebears because of their success – underdogs always make a better story after all, so perhaps this was a deliberate move by Fotheringham.
However, regardless of the last couple of chapters, this is an enthralling and brilliant history of Brits in the Tour de France, and the way that Fotheringham brings real personality to some of them is masterful.
Brilliant and insightful book, though the updates could be a little more thorough
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Roule Britannia by William Fotheringham
Size tested: Paperback
Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
The book is a history of Britons in the Tour de France, originally published in 2005 to mark the 50 years since the first British team competed in the race.
How did Great Britain conquer the Tour de France?
In 2012 Bradley Wiggins made history by becoming the first Briton ever to win the Tour de France. Since that moment the UK has been living through the golden era in the world's greatest bike race, with four overall titles for Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas winning for Wales in 2018, and Manxman Mark Cavendish proving the race's most prolific sprinter.
In Roule Britannia, number one bestselling author William Fotheringham, charts British cycling's rise to the top and provides us with the definitive account of the nation's Tour de France achievements through exclusive interviews with and profiles of cycling champions - from the early days of Brian Robinson to Bradley Wiggins's dominant ride via Tom Simpson, Robert Millar, Chris Boardman and many others, Roule Britannia celebrates a nation's love affair with the greatest race of all.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Imprint: Yellow Jersey
Length: 448 Pages
Dimensions: 198mm x 28mm x 129mm
It manages to nail not only the technical details of the various Tours, but also to give real personality to many of the riders discussed, whether through their extra-curricular activities or their struggles on the bike.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The level of detail about riders who haven't competed for 50 years is fantastic – it's clear that Fotheringham is a master of historical cycling research.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Some of the references are a little jarring when looked at from a 2019 lens – comparisons between Cav and Armstrong or the unequivocal statement that Robert Millar is the best ever British tourman, ignoring the successes of Froome, Thomas et al...
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
A very entertaining and insightful record of the Tour de France from one of the finest bike racing writers of the past 20 years.
About the tester
I usually ride: Cinelli Gazzetta My best bike is: Cannondale Supersix Evo
I've been riding for: Under 5 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mountain biking
George spends his days helping companies deal with their cycling commuting challenges with his company Cycling for Work. He has been writing for Road.cc since 2014.
When he is not writing about cycling, he is either out on his bike cursing not living in the countryside or boring anybody who will listen about the latest pro peloton/cycling tech/cycling infrastructure projects.