French Revolutions

6 01 2010

Tim Moore has been described as Bill Bryson on two wheels, but in his book French Revolutions, although the comedy is up there with something to laugh at on every page, rather than a book about travel it is a book about discovery. As cheesy as that might sound in my first foray into book reviewing, this book is quite uplifting in that Moore, a cyclist in his thirties who hadn’t ridden a bike since he was a teenager, decided after a few weeks preparation to ride the entire distance of the Tour de France.

It was a spur of the moment decision, he had a keen interest in the Tour for a decade but this interest “spawned no greater desire than a vague intention to join one day the exuberant roadside festivities among the largest sporting crowd in the world. But after my Icelandic triumphs, achieved without preparation and at the cost of only peripheral permanent injury, a bolder ambition was born. I might be too old to join the sport’s greatest drama, but maybe I could still stand on the same stage. Ride the route of the Tour de France, even on my own, even at a moderate pace, and I’d have achieved something remarkable, the sort of achievement that made men.” So the stage was set. Throughout the 3,360 kilometres and 16 mountains he takes us on that voyage of discovery where we meet some colourful characters and picture some extraordinary scenery.

Tom Simpson was a British road racing cyclist who died on the sloped of Mont Ventoux during the 13th stage of the Tour de France in 1967. In the book Moore describes the Simpson Memorial on the slopes of Mont Ventoux: “At its foot was a messy memorial mound of sun-bleached cycling detritus: old tyres; caps; a saddle; bidons weighted down with chalky lunar rubble; a PVC rain top, one sleeve knotted around a white stone, the other whiplashing furiously in the wind. Nothing but hard, loud wind and silent, bare rock above and below and all around: a wretched, lonely place to die, a godless extraterrestrial wasteland.”

He describes the characters in his book equally vividly. My favourites had to be the two Italians he came across on the slopes of the Izoard. He describes them thus: “As he slowly nodded I detected an arresting resemblance, from the all-black strip to the well-groomed moustache and stringy, gnarled physique, to Lee Van Cleef in his role as the Bad. What made this particularly compelling was that his colleague, all shifty, stunted mania and overripe nose, paid alarming visual homage to whoever it was who played The Ugly.” I’ll let you read the book for yourself to discover the other characters he meets on his journey – the Germans with their clip-boards, the Swiss with their tight jeans and the skunk-mouthed French.

Throughout Moore’s mammoth cycling effort he goes through some of the pain the real riders go through, which causes him to overcome them the same way that not few of the real riders do also – cheating and drugs. His drug of choice not being EPO, cocaine or steroids but the readily available stimulant ephedrine found in cold and flu remedies at your local pharmacy. Incidentally, pseudoephedrine containing products in New Zealand are changing from over-the counter medication to prescription only medication to try and curb the P/Crystal Meth/Methamphetamine epidemic in this country.

So, to end, I highly recommend French Revolutions not just to cycling enthusiasts, but to anyone wanting some light entertaining reading. It is the sort of book that doesn’t have to be finished in one sitting, it is split into different chapters based on the various stages he is riding, each stage or chapter with its own stories and legends. The only part of the book that i found mildly vexing was his approach of mocking everything, especially the French people. This aside, French Revolutions is a highly entertaining book and worth having on your bookshelf for that time when you’re searching for something light-hearted to read.

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2 responses

2 02 2010
7 02 2010
Pedaling Revolutions – a book review « Wellington Region Cycleways

[…] on the Drug Pedaler, Scotty once reviewed French Revolutions the book by Tim Moore about riding that year’s route of the Tour de France. I’ve been a […]

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