101 Damnations – dispatches from 101st Tour de France | Review

101-damnationsNed Boulting’s 101 Damnations ‘Dispatches from the 101st Tour de France‘ is an entertaining account of his perspective on the last edition of the Tour de France.

If you’re expecting a blow by blow account and evaluation of Nibali’s average power outputs on the final climb, you will be dissappointed. The actual race is very much in the background, a canvas to tell amusing tales – from the Tour de France’s very own public urinals to ruminations on the Anglicisation of the Tour de France.

Ned makes little effort to hide his disappointment as the major contenders slip and slide out of the tour. I actually remember many exciting stages of the tour – even if they were won by no-hopers in the overall standings. But, this is a minor quibble – this is not a book for aficionados of  detailed race analysis – it is a book which will appeal to those who like amusing stories about the the characters and idiosyncrasies which make up the Tour de France caravan.

If we have forgotten already, the Tour de France really did start in Yorkshire. As Boulting says – ‘Leeds to Paris’ – how often do you get to say that? Still, six months later I’m trying to digest the scenes of actually seeing the Tour de France go 2 miles from my home town. There is still an element of surreality to these memories of baking sunshine – as the Tour de France in Yorkshire passed by 3 million spectators, but more than anything the surreal aspect of cycling being so enthusiastically welcomed by nearly everyone.

Ned Boulting comments on the Tour in Yorkshire with a similar degree of astonishment, bewilderment and genuine excitement. This is a rather random excerpt from the chapter about the Tour starting in Leeds.

“…The sign age was in French, most of the languages being spoken were not English, and even the rays of sunshine that beat down on the makeshift courtyards between marquees felt unusually strong for Yorkshire.

It was curiously unsettling and not altogether  mediated by the presence of a truly terrible burger van knocking out gristly sausages in stale baguettes to a bewildered clientèle, more used to being served foie gras and gazpacho. I queued up behind a German, who asked for a ‘beef pattie’ The man looked at him as if he were simple. “We can do you a burger, pal.’

– This is not necessarily the most memorable excerpt from the book – it is a rather random choice – perhaps I choose it because of my strong recollections of cheap burger vans outside Headingley, Leeds which I would go past every weekend on the way to watch the rugby. Nevertheless it gives a flavour of the book. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but I enjoy the humour and random recollections which give an unexpected insight into very small aspects of the race – be it the challenges of interviewing Mark Cavendish or working with the systematically efficient and methodical Chris Boardman.

As well as snippets from the current tour, the book is also an excuse to bring up lesser known stories which make up the great history of the Tour de France. Some excerpts from the past, like the legendary Roger Rivière’s, tragic drug induced high speed crash are reminders of the chequered history of the tour. But, no matter what happens, the stories give the over-riding impression that the Tour is an unmoveable force which not even getting stuck in Pyrenean mud can hold back.

But, although there are plenty of whimsical moments and analysis of disappointing aspects, you can’t hide Boulting’s genuine almost innocent enthusiasm for the sport and the Tour de France – this is quite refreshing.

I read the book all the way to the end, which is praise indeed. I would recommend it if you would enjoy a light-hearted look at the Tour de France. The final word is that the humour is quite British; I’m not sure how quickly it will be translated into German or French, I fear something may get lost in translation.

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One Response to 101 Damnations – dispatches from 101st Tour de France | Review

  1. Bob Laibe January 15, 2015 at 5:54 pm #

    Reminds me of a printed version of a Dave Duffied tour commentry – for those of you that are old enough!
    Merits a read but hard work.

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