The first named climb from bicycle racing I ever learned was Alpe D’Huez. It’s the most famous bicycle climb in the world. The Tour is Won on the Alpe is a book by some foreign guy about the climb and it’s place in the Tour de France. ( Ed. Note: While the “foreign guy is in fact foreign to the United States where this review is being written, he’s actually French which means he’s not foreign to the location where the book takes place.) The book is 175 pages along with a generous amount of color photographs and a plethora of data in an appendix. It’s important to note in the interest of impropriety that I did not receive a free review copy from the publishers but instead purchased this at Goodwill for a dollar.
The Alpe d’ Huez is a huge climb, 8.6 miles at 8.1 percent grade. It’s featured very frequently in the Tour de France and when it is it’s usually the most important stage in the race. This is one of those climbs where half a million people gather to form a human tunnel and go literally insane as the riders climb up the 21 switchbacks. It’s easily the most exciting part of the Tour de France. In fact if they one day just came up with a format where the riders climbed up human tunnels for 21 days in a row the Tour would get better ratings.
So the foreign guy’s book is structured very logically, the first chapter details how the ski-resort village of L’Alpe d”Huez finagled the Tour de France into coming up the mountain and taking a rest day in his resort. After that it’s a chapter for every year that the Tour came through, starting in 1952 and ending in 2006. Each chapter is a 5-7 pages long and covers the primary movers and shakers of that year’s tour with a specific coverage of the climb to L’Alpe D’Huez.
The book is awesome bathroom reading. The short chapters are almost the perfect length for a visit to the restroom. The book reads like a rapid fire history of the Tour de France. While I enjoyed reading it I don’t feel like I got much out of it, especially the sections from the 70s and 80s where the names like Beat Breu, Hennie Kuiper and Joaquim Agostinho didn’t mean a thing too me. I’ve got some more background knowledge on the Tour’s of this era now thanks to the book, but I don’t think it made a lasting impression on me.
The author includes coverage of doping, which there is a lot of. The book ends in 2006 with the winning and subsequent striping of the tour title by Floyd Landis. Lance is on the cover and his exploits, like in 2001 giving Ullrich “the look” are probably the reason this book was written or at least sold in America. The author doesn’t dust Armstrong’s accusers under the rug, but gives ample coverage to his detractors. I was surprised by doping violations early in the book (70s-80s) that would result in a rider being penalized by 10 minutes and fined 50 francs or something. It’s not surprising to see how cycling developed into the freak show that it became. The organizers wanted more spectacle and exciting racing, if that came from doping then so be it.
The book is well written but feels a bit, “flowery.” The foreign guy I’ve mentioned, the one who wrote this book, he’s French, and he’s a cycling journalist, and it’s a safe bet that he’s fanatical about the Tour. He describes events with colorful metaphors and slightly melodramatic language. Personally I liked it, but maybe someone else might find it too much.
This book is available in paperback for 17 dollars from amazon.com new, but can be purchased used for a few bucks. It’s well worth the used price for the cycling history but I prefer a more in depth look a smaller era or even a single rider. I read this over the course of a couple weeks usually reading a chapter every morning and every night. It’s not the best cycling book I’ve read, but a great overview of modern tour history and well worth hunting down on ebay, you know for bathroom breaks.