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Tim Moore


Cycling the Tour de France

Book review by Anthony Campbell. Copyright © Anthony Campbell (2001).

Tim Moore is a journalist who conceived the plan of riding the route of the Tour in 2000, a few weeks before the actual competitors. As he had almost no previous cycling experience this was a rather ambitious undertaking. Moore also makes a good deal of his age (36), although - as he was to discover—many riders who regularly cycle in the Alps and Pyrenees are considerably older than this. His tone is resolutely jocular throughout, with a strong element of self-mockery This certainly makes for an entertaining account, though I felt at times that he was somewhat overplaying his part to get the laughs.

At the beginning he didn't even have a bike, but, advised by the technical editor of Cycling Weekly, he acquired an expensive lightweight model together with the rest of the necessary kit. He then encountered the difficulty that the route of the Tour, though already decided, was evidently a closely guarded secret not to be revealed to inquirers on any account. He nevertheless set off, looking for information on the way, and we follow him as he starts to meander across the flatter areas of France but heading towards the terrifying Pyrenees. On the way he has encounters with numerous French people, some charming, some less so; his command of the language seems to be rather shaky and he is chronically unable to remember that le tour and la tour mean different things.

Even in the flatter parts Moore resorts to cheating once or twice, omitting one or two unappealing sections and even hiring a car, and this understandable tendency to cut corners reappears, not surprisingly, in the mountains. Still, he does manage to get up most of the passes, although he cracks on the Ventoux, the mountain where in 1967 the British Tour cyclist Tom Simpson died. Moore struggles up as far as the monument to Simpson but then 'bonks' (runs out of fuel and energy) and has to be ignominiously rescued by his wife, who is following him in the car accompanied by their children.

He neverthless continues with his epic journey, and as the kilometres go by under his wheels his fitness improves progressively until he becomes increasingly able to tackle the climbs and do long distances. Finally he does complete his own version of the Tour, making triumphant circuits of the Champs-Elysées and reaching the grand total of 3,000 km (1,900 miles) in exactly a month—certainly a creditable achievement. However, his experience doesn't seem to have converted him to cycling, for in his final chapter he describes his expensive bike as rusting outside his back door while he sits watching the Tour on television, albeit with a better understanding of what the riders are suffering and what their performance represents. We are left with the impression that he intends never to get back in the saddle again.

An amusing book in the best British tradition of self-deprecating travel writing, but not one that will give the reader a very realistic picture of what to expect in an average cycle tour in the Alps or Pyrenees. It's really not as bad as all that. As several people have remarked, Moore is rather like Bill Bryson on two wheels; if you are a Bryson fan you'll enjoy this book too.

%T French Revolutions
%S Cycling the Tour de France
%A Tim Moore
%I Yellow Jersey Press
%C London
%D 2001
%G ISBN 0-223-06095-3
%P 277 pp
%K cycling, travel, France
%O paperback
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