The most prestigious cycling race in the world, the Tour de France, will celebrate 100 years of racing when it finishes on the Champs Elysees in Paris on Sunday and, as always, le grande boucle (roughly translated as the “big loop” for the circular path the race takes around France) has been three weeks full of exciting racing, spectacular scenery, and superhuman athletic performance. A new book, Tour de France 100: the definitive history of the world’s greatest race gives a fine overview of the history and spectacle of this incredible event. There are several more titles in the KPL collection that celebrate and document the race, Tour de France, tour de force: a visual history of the world’s greatest bicycle race and Slaying the badger: Greg Lemond, Bernard Hinault, and the greatest Tour de France are both excellent. But these books do little to explain the tricky circumstance that the race now finds itself in. The Tour has always, for its entire 100 year history, had foul play, doping, and other forms of cheating associated with it. But with this past year’s spectacular confession from Lance Armstrong that he used drugs and banned methods to win all seven of his Tour victories and an unheard of wave of confessions or outings of professional cyclists from the “Armstrong Era” has lifted the veil on how these guys could race at top speed for three weeks around an entire country with such unnatural strength. And now every spectacular performance (in particular this year’s domination by the current race leader Chris Froome) or incredible comeback is called into question and we, the fans and journalists alike, have no reference points for what is physically possible on “pane e acqua” (bread and water) alone in cycling. While the latest generation of professional racing cyclist talks of a change that has taken place in the sport – more ethical teams, more and better PED testing, a biological passport that tracks blood levels throughout the year – the problem is that the sport has been claiming the birth of a new, clean, era for several decades now but then each decade brings a new string of doping scandals and so skepticism (or outright abandonment on the part of Germany where the media has boycotted the race and there is no longer television or journalistic coverage) about the cleanliness of the sport abounds. But despite all of the controversy, the lies, and the falls from grace, the roads of France during July continue to be filled with literally millions of fans waiting to get a glimpse of the riders as they fly past and the unparalleled beauty and drama of this great sporting event continues into its second century.
Tour de France: the definitive history of the world's greatest race