BOOK REVIEW: Mapping Le Tour by Ellis Bacon

REVIEW: Mapping Le Tour

by Ellis Bacon, with a foreword by Mark Cavendish MBE

Published in hardback by HarperCollins (RRP: £25)

Buy this on Amazon

Review by Dave Nash

It's quite a simple formula, but surprisingly no one has thought to do it before. Take all 100 editions of the Tour de France, place them in chronological order and include a full page route map for each edition. Spice up each entry with some key facts, a short synopsis of how the race unfolded and some well researched imagery and you have a concise and illuminating compendium of the Tour's first centenary!  It's a simple concoction, but it is rich in delivery.

From the inaugural Tour in 1903 right through to the 2013 edition, every parcours is recorded in detail and what becomes very apparent as you work your way through the pages is the fact that the route taken each year by the Tour de France has become increasingly incoherent.

In 1903 the riders completed an inner loop of the country, avoiding the Pyrenees and the Massif Central, before flitting through the Alps. From 1910, the year that Henri Desgrange, the founder of the Tour, introduced the Pyrenees for the first time, the route followed a roughly circular route around the outer edges of France - a route that remained relatively recognisable until the early fifties.

Post-war and the Tour organisers started branching out. In 1951 a huge deviation from the perimeter of the country to Clermont-Ferrand in the Auvergne region of central France saw a clear break with the routes of the past and increasing incursions into Belgium and Italy.  Visits to other countries duly followed, but 2013 is unique in the modern era of the race as the route stays within the borders of France, though it will be visiting Corsica for the very fast time. Next year the Tour organisers have returned to form and Yorkshire will host Le Grand Départ - the third time the race has visited the UK.

The maps of more recent editions of the Tour bear little resemblance to those of the first fifty. Disjointed and fractured, the yellow lines that denote the individual stages have been usurped by black dotted lines denoting overnight travel,  which meander around the French countryside like snakes. In 2002, for example, the race was run in the very north and the very south - the central section of France completely overlooked!

To ensure the book in bang up to date, Mapping Le Tour reserves the final part of the book to a complete stage-by-stage breakdown of the 2013 edition. The text provides a little bit of historical information about some of the places and towns each stage visits and touches briefly on how the respective days might play out - which is useful, but the flipside is that it will make the book date very swiftly as the results come in. That's a minor criticism though, as the chapter is crammed with interesting facts and statistics relating to the stages and, once again, is richly illustrated with some brilliantly researched imagery.

But it's not quite all over! A final section focuses on 20 of the iconic locations the Tour has visited in its 100 year history. The great Cols of the Pyrenees and the places that provided the backdrop for some of the most epic and memorable events  the race ever witnessed are placed in their historical context within the Tour's history. Alpe d'Huez and Mount Ventoux - arguably the two most iconic climbs the Tour visits are also featured.These two infamous climbs will feature this year and both have the power to decide who will wear the yellow jersey in Paris.

The Champs-Élysées rounds off this final chapter and it is rather fitting that Mark Cavendish reflects on to this famous section of asphalt that runs through central Paris in his foreword. It is, he says,  'the highlight of every race' and he feels privileged to have won the final stage on four occasions. On the evening of 21 July 2013 he will be looking to win for the fifth time in succession, having endured a serpentine journey around France of 3360km (2088 miles)

Italian legend Gino Bartali on theCol d''Izoard in the Tour de France of 1938 - the year he won the first of his two Tour de France titles. It is one of the many memorable images included in Mapping Le Tour.

Mapping Le Tour is a fascinating document of the Tour de France,  underpinned by Ellis Bacon's lively and entertaining text, stacks of essential stats and, of course, those full scale maps and excellent photographs. Anyone who is interested in the history of this great race will enjoy delving into its pages at will, to learn more about the places visited and the riders who have ridden those long and often brutal roads.

As Cavendish notes in his foreword, 'the route, rather than any individual rider, is always the star of the event. Perhaps this is why the Tour has survived and flourished.'


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