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Ascent: The Mountains of the Tour de France Hardcover – May 1, 2007
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Profusely illustrated with 150 duotone photographs and other historic illustrations, this superbly written and knowledgeably presented 160-page history is a must read for all dedicated bicyclists and Tour de France enthusiasts... --The Midwest Book Review, November 2006
About the Author
Richard Yates is a bicycle sports writer who has reported on the sport for many years for various English- and French-language publications. His book Mr. Jacques, about the life of France's cycling legend Jacques Anquetil, was published in 2001.
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Full of great photos and illustrations, Ascent takes the reader meter by meter with the riders up some of the most feared climbs in the world. From Anquetil to Zoetemelk; from 1903 through the '70s -- before commercialism really started to mess things up -- Yates takes us along with some of the reaal hard men in the business: Coppi, Bartali, Merckx, Hinault, and the all the others.
You'll be glad you went along for the ride.
Let's say, first off, in some ways, the price seems a few dollars too high but then again, many cycling books tend to cost a few dollars more than what one would normally pay for a book with so many pages, Joe Parkin's book A Dog in a Hat: An American Bike Racer's Story of Mud, Drugs, Blood, Betrayal, and Beauty in Belgium is a prime example, a bit lean pagewise but great story. Brand new cycling books tend to be a bit high priced honestly compared to like other sports books.
Fine book written by a Brit, I went to amazon UK and inexplicably, I found uncharitable reviews of this fine book.
Admittedly, the reviews here don't heavily analyze the meat of this book, I attempt to. Here is my review for both sides of the Pond.
It'll have to take a Yank to straighten this thing out, I read the soccer magazine FourFourTwo on occasion and it seems to me a dozen books on your soccer/football come out every month from the list that magazine runs as a feature and here some gentleman writes an excellent book on cycling sport's Tour De France, apparently published out of San Francisco and I think it is outstanding. Maybe ye ol' Britishers ought to stick to footy instead and not put down an outstanding book. Now I'll admit, there are some typos, I won't dock it for that, he spells "very" "veru" in one place, hey, this book is about the Tour De France, that kind of sounds French, I think I'll let it slide. Then, there is the fact, that yes, it does seem that this book published in San Francisco does use Americanized English and not that of the home country. Valid enough criticism, why not take it up with the Publishing House, Van Der Plas publications, by the way, Bob Van Der Plas, I think he's a Belgian. You ever hear of Eddie Merckx? He's a Belgian. Belgians have won more Yellow Jerseys, that is Tour De Frances than anyone else except the French themselves. You got a problem with that?? I don't. Even the American reviews are mostly general reviews of this book but at least, it's not some cockamamie analysis. Yes, Mr. Yates, you should have said "colours" instead of "colors."
Some would say, hey, this is like the many books out there, what we in America might call Coffee Table books, you know, a big square or rectangular picture book, no, no it isn't. He covers a lot of detail. All of the major mountains are covered in the book in box features with details such as their grade and their elevation, a diagram, excellent stuff. Then, the book talks about details of the Tour De France and I'm sorry to anyone who says, what he tells us is run of the mill, Yates the Author, obviously hunted down NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS & OTHER ACCOUNTS, in Francais to give us the truth about this stuff.
I doubt, if any other book in the English language talks in details about how the "mountains" went and became a part of the Tour and not certainly with the detail Yates tells us. So, mountains were added but back in 1910+/- and in places like the Pyrenees, they were not easily navigable, NOT navigable in the winter and sometimes, barely by summertime, by Tour Time. We learn how the Tour's inventor and architect Henri Desgrange or one of his surrogates in this case, inspected one mountain to ride during the Tour by leaving his driver who in the winter could not drive any further in the snow and indeed hiked up the mountain and down to the village on the other side, arriving there at 3 o'clock in the morning and search parties were sent out to find him. I don't think I've seen this in other books. By the way, the region's authorities warned against making the mountain a part of the Tour since the status of the road by summer was unpredictable. Desgranges sent his agent to size up the situation and against the position of the region's authorities, the mountain became a part of the Tour successfully. The fact, that early tour stages might be 250 miles long per day in the Tours heyday might be touched on in other Tour books but again, I sure haven't seen that point expounded on nor that in fact, that they use to start some of these tortuous rides at 3:00 AM or even 1:00 AM in the morning on occasion. Why, as I know a little bit about the "Little 500" see The Little 500: The Story of the World's Greatest College Weekend, the race at Indiana University (i.e. the movie "Breaking Aways" plot) and that that event has every rider riding the same type of bicycle ("gentlemen, mount your Roadmasters), in fact, some Tour De Frances of the early 1930s had the riders riding indentical bicycles as well (save the saddle and handlebars according to the author).
And so, Yates cuts off the Tour in 1980 as being the end of the golden age of the Tour?? 1980, Dutchman Joop Zoetemelk won on a steel is real Raleigh?? Doesn't seem like a bad cutoff and within 10-15 years, EPO and Aluminum became the rage of the Tour. Sounds like a fair benchmark to call it the ending of the golden period of the Tour De France. I see a book by a Mr. Owen Mulholland calling Cycling's Golden Age from 1946-1967, so you decide.
Speaking of coffee table books, I think that is an issue that confuses readers on this book. It is a bit oversized, but not like your standard "history of the Tour" books, it's probably close to size per the cover of a children's story book like say a Doctor Seuss book, a bit bigger and has 160 pages of an informative narrative on big pages, that might come out to quite a bit on paperback sized pages, so it is still a comfortably long read. Once you get into it, it is hard to put down. Those big books are ones you look through, look at the pictures, this isn't like that. It's excellent telling us of the many greats, I might be remiss in failing to name all but let's say Eddie Merckx, you find out new things about him and the likes of Thys, Michel, Bottechia, Bartali, colourful figures are discussed in full and their personalities as well as how theirs and other races and stages figured in outcomes. Yates' descriptions of the stages themselves, the heroism and at times, treachery (similar to some of the reviews and ratings here btw) while he can not go through every stage out of a race that is over a hundred years old, would certainly do Phil Ligget proud. The author obviously loves the subject and is your proverbial walking encyclopedia on it.
Read this if you love cycling or else, stick to reading your bios on Beckham, Gerrard and other sporting heroes.
Eddy Merckx, read about his exploits winning his first tour, he tore the competition apart, up in the mountains, down the descent, no wonder they called him the Cannibal. 1964's Tour, how Poulidor almost defeated his all-time nemisis, Anquetil but I read it spellbound, hoping Raymond would pull it out. Exciting read and a lot to absorb.