Insights into the Tour de France

2008-10-02 08:05

FLOYD Landis made history last week by being the first Tour de France winner to have been stripped of his title. Accompanying this scandal, as it did in the Festina saga in 1998, comes much soul-searching about how to keep the tour clean and whether it will survive.

Reading Blazing Saddles reminds one that none of this is anything new and the only surprise is that the race ever got off the ground. Rendell takes one on a Cook's Tour of the Tour, year by year, noting the idiocies, scams and scandals that have accompanied it since its first instalment in 1903. Competitors have from the outset used illegal substances and illegal tactics (including spreading nails on the road) to gain advantage. Looking at the vicious weather conditions some of the races have taken place in makes one wonder not only why anyone would be so foolish, but how the organisers weren't prosecuted for crimes against humanity.

Throughout all the anecdotes and potted race reports, the racers themselves emerge as unforgettable characters - from the forgotten early winners Garin and Cornet, to the modern heroes of Merckx, Anquetil, Hinault and of course seven-time winner Lance Armstrong.

Blazing Saddles is a fast-paced whirl of detail and sharp insights into more than 100 years of the world's greatest cycle race, confirming its status as an addictive sporting spoctacle, scandals notwithstanding.

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