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Despite all that has been written about the Tour de France already, Giles Belbin has managed to come up with a new way of presenting largely the same information and stories: Tour de France Champions: An A-Z simply gives a brief overview of every rider who has won the race. You can't really fault the result, but you can question the need for it.
This is a book that comes perilously close to combining two of my least favourite traits in the publishing world: the first is any compendium that simply re-hashes existing material, and the second is any book that tries to find yet another angle on the Tour de France. Just how many more variations on either theme do we need?
Tour de France Champions aims 'to provide an insight into the lives and careers of the sixty-two riders in the history books as winners of the Tour de France'. The problem comes in trying to condense all that into just a few pages for each, when many of the entrants have had complete books published about them – or several, as in the case of Eddy Merckx, and especially Bradley Wiggins.
For Belbin, both the challenge and the opportunity is that there is so much relevant material out there, but that it is spread across numerous books, magazines, and newspapers. He has clearly put a lot of effort into trawling across all media, as is shown by the 18 pages taken to list the extensive references.
Belbin has already shown us that he can weave together a coherent narrative from disparate sources (in Chasing the Rainbow); the difference here is that he has less new material to work with. As a long-standing and respected journalist, Belbin does have some good contacts, so he was able to include direct contributions from Alberto Contador, Cadel Evans, Stephen Roche and Felice Gimondi – but that new input really is a very small proportion of the overall, albeit a worthwhile part.
Floyd Landis and Lance Armstrong are two riders who don't get an entry to themselves, being lumped together in a segment about disqualified riders; the former was replaced by Oscar Pereiro, the latter by no one. They are joined by Maurice Garin and Alberto Contador in that section of shame, but those two also qualify for pages of their own because they still hold on to other wins.
As the subtitle suggests, 'an A-Z' groups all riders by the first letter of their surname; the letters Q, X, and Y are, as yet, unpopulated, but it can't be long before someone qualifies. The best chance of getting a victory by a Q was probably with a Quintana – but only by one of the brothers. Maybe it could be a chance for our own Charlie Quarterman in the future?
There might be more chance for Y, courtesy of a Yates – and it could probably be with either brother. An X-based victory looks to be a long way off, looking at current professionals' names.
However, contenders should be warned that the best chance of winning the Tour seems to be having a name starting with P: there were six of them, which is more than any other letter, and Tadej Pogacar has now reinforced that theory and made it seven.
Not surprisingly, this book about Tour champions came out at the same time as the race itself was meant to be on, which is always a popular time for books about cycling. As we now know, that turned out to be a good two months before Le Tour actually happened in late summer – which was shortly before the Spring Classics season. In this topsy-turvy year it seems only reasonable to review it during the Giro d'Italia, which has replaced Le Tour as the second three-weeker of the season.
If you specifically want a book of condensed biographies on any rider to have won the Tour de France, and nothing else, it's unlikely that you will find better than this; in fact, it's unlikely that you will find anything else currently fulfilling that exact brief.
However, if you want something that has broader coverage of the race, including its most successful riders, you could do a lot worse than Peter Cossins' The Yellow Jersey. If you just want brief biographies of all the best riders (albeit only since 1936), then Peloton Legends might suit you better: naturally, it has considerable overlap with those in Tour de France Champions.
The latest book to capitalise on the draw of the Tour de France name, and the enduring appeal of compendiums
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Tour de France Champions: An A-Z by Giles Belbin
Size tested: 272 pages
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?
From The History Press:
The Tour de France is a race like no other, so perhaps it's no surprise that it attracts racers like no other. The winner of the second Tour actually came fifth – but the four racers before him were disqualified for cheating. The 1932 champion credits his win with saving him from capture by the Nazis, as the soldiers recognised him from the podium. One of Britain's best cyclists of the modern era only got into European racing by forging an email. Tour de France Champions is a journey to the summit of cycling, looking at those who have taken on the roads and mountains of France to prevail above all others and win cycling's greatest prize. Giles Belbin presents the stories of all those who have claimed the original and greatest Grand Tour, the one race that still transcends the sport of cycling: the Tour de France.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Title: Tour de France Champions
Author: Giles Belbin
Publisher: The History Press
Format: Trade Paperback
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The thorough research.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The uninspiring pictures.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes, if discounted.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
Few people could do as good a job as Belbin of writing such a book, and the result is nice to have but not ground-breaking.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding,