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An Intimate Portrait of the Tour de France
A review of Philippe Brunei's book by SIMON LEVERMORE
"We thought we knew everything about the Tour and its apostles: the racers, organisers, sporting directors and reporters. We never saw these champions as they appear here: candidly stripped down in broad daylight, their bodies being loosened by a masseur's hands, avowed enemies sharing a bath, letting themselves go at last. We see them living in the poignant glow of the stages' evenings, as if through a two-way mirror. They show themselves rid of their star status, as simple family men, just regular guys. They are ordinary, sublime and at times pathetic all at once."
So begins 'An Intimate Portrait of the Tour de France', a beautiful coffee-table book rich with candid black and white pictures of the stars of the Tour de France through the decades. Starting with the mysterious death of Ottavio Bottechia, alone on an Italian country road in 1927, the book chronicles the history of the Tour as a series of portraits of the Tour's personalities. There are twenty-one chapters; including ones on Gino Bartali, Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx. The book finishes in 1996 with Miguel Indurain, about whom Philippe Brunei writes: “That farmer's son... what would he have become if it had not been for the sport of cycling which monopolised him? He was a contemplative leader in the sports media, where each big name was often asked their opinion. From him they received only silence, because he loved peace and quiet and the countryside. He relished the spectacle of the harvest under the clear skies of Navarre. This true champion did not understand why his opinion on anything would excite the passions of the public."
Philippe Brunei, well known for his work on L'Equipe Magazine, writes as if he knew every one of the Tour's characters personally. His style is sometimes tender, sometimes theatrical but always very readable, full of the day's triumphs, disasters and scandals and with enough race detail to please any Tour aficionado. The absence of a contents page or index makes navigating through the book tricky.
Philippe Brunei's words are well complemented by the photographs, which "show an intimate and unknown Tour de France'.'As can be seen in many of the photographs, the early Tours took place before the advent of sunscreen and there are pictures to make any pale-skinned cyclist wince. Competitors looking more like patients in a burns unit, with thighs and necks red-raw from the ravages of the midday sun. There are images from the early days which it is hard to imagine seeing in today's Tour de France, such as two competitors lighting up each others' cigarettes for a mid-race puff or pausing for a while in some sleepy courtyard to down a pint or two of the local beer. It is also surprising to see the early racers festooned with spare inner tubes, and even one carrying a buckled wheel on his back!
The amazing ocean-going world of Yvon Le Caer
1904 The Tour de France which was to be the Last
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Marriage is a wonderful invention; but then again, so is a bicycle repair kit.