Must-Read Tour de France Books

There have been thousands of books written about the Tour de France - after all, there's been plenty to write about. And some of them have been real crackers.

There should be something for everyone on this list of books about the Tour de France, its history and its riders.

Histories of the Tour de France

Sky's the LimitTour de France: The History, The Legend, The Riders by Graeme Fife is a comprehensive Tour history from one of Britain’s leading cycling writers. It’s heavy on detail but remains accessible. See also The Beautiful Machine: A Life in Cycling, from Tour de France to Cinder Hill, Fife’s beautiful account of his love affair with the bicycle, and his portrait of Brian Robinson (below).

Le Tour: A History of the Tour De France (UK, US), Geoffrey Wheatcroft takes a cultural history approach, looking at the impact the race has had on France. If you like this, you might also like The Discovery of France by Graham Robb, a cultural history of France researched almost entirely on two wheels.

Tour de France – To the Bitter End (UK, US) is a collection of Guardian and Observer articles about the Tour de France. Contributors include Christopher Brasher, Michael Davie, Geoffrey Nicholson, William Fotheringham, Richard Williams and Phil Liggett.

A Race for Madmen (UK, US) by Chris Sidwells is a mix of Tour facts, history and politics, interwoven with the personal stories of key riders from throughout the Tour’s past. We have five extracts from the book on the site, starting with the first Tour de France.

Roule Britannia: A History of Britons in the Tour de France (UK, US) by William Fotheringham is a history of British cycling’s participation in the Tour, from its first foray across the Channel in 1955 (see also Graeme Fife's book on Brian Robinson below.) By Fotheringham, one of Britain’s most celebrated cycling writers, it was originally published in 1995, but was updated and re-released during 2010.  

The Tour is Won on the AlpeSky's the Limit (UK, US) by Richard Moore is a detailed fly-on-the-wall study of the birth of one of the Tour's most talked-about teams of recent years. Team Sky – funded by the Murdoch millions – was developed as a platform for British Cycling's assault on the Tour de France. In the aftermatth of Bradley Wiggins' ride to fourth place with Garmin in 2009, Moore follows Sky's formation, telling the inside (though not authorised) story of how one of cycling's most ambitious concepts made it on to the road.

Field of Fire: The Tour de France of '87 and the Rise and Fall of ANC-Halfords is Jeff Connor's follow up book to Wide-Eyed and Legless, his original inside story of how the first British Tour de France team in almost 20 years fell apart on the road to Paris.

The Tour is Won on the Alpe: Alpe d'Huez and the Classic Battles of the Tour de France (UK, US) is French cycling journalist Jean-Paul Vespini's history of the legendary Alpe d’Huez, a mountain rivalled only by the Ventoux for the honour of the Tour de France’s most mythical climb. With 21 hairpins over 13.1km and with an average gradient of 8.1%, it can make or break a yellow jersey contender.

Coffee table Tours

Argyle Armada: Behind the Scenes of the Pro Cycling Life (UK, US) is a coffee table book featuring words and text by photographer Mark Johnson. It's a behind-the-scenes look at life on the road with the Garmin-Cervelo team.

The Greatest Race (UK, US) is a Tour de France pictorial featuring images by the celebrated sports photographer Mike Powell.

Following the Tour

Graham Watson's Tour De France Travel Guide: The Complete Insider's Guide to Following the World's Greatest RaceTour Climbs: The Complete Guide to Every Tour de France Mountain by Chris Sidwells is not just for armchair fans, but for anyone wanting to emulate their heroes in the mountains. It profiles every mountain climb ever included in the Tour, complete with maps, mountain stats, and a list of the riders to have won each mountain stage.

Graham Watson's Tour de France Travel Guide: The Complete Insider's Guide to Following the World's Greatest Race (UK, US) is the most practical guide to following the Tour. Photographer Watson is a 30-year veteran of the Tour – time he’s spent not just nailing some great photography, but also perfecting the logistics of organising the trip as a spectator. 

How I Won the Yellow JumperRiding High: Shadow Cycling the Tour de France by Paul Howard follows club cyclist Howard as he attempts to emulate the stars of the Tour de France by seeing if it’s possible for an ordinary drug-free human being to complete the course. He may not have had a team of support riders, mechanics and technical advisers, but he did have an enthusiastic dad and a group of friends as cheer-leaders as he tackled each stage hours before the pros set off.

How I Won the Yellow Jumper by Ned Boulting is one of the most entertaining Tour de France books of 2011. Part memoir, part travelogue, part Tour history, it takes in everyday life on the road with the Tour de France, capturing it nuances, as well as some of the characters who have become regulars on the Tour merry-go-round. If you still need convincing, we've reviewed the book here.

Tour de France cyclists

My Time (UK, US) is the Bradley Wiggins story, taking in his disapppointing 2010 Tour – see On Tour, the photo-led diary that was presumably commissioned on the assumption he'd follow his exploits of 2009 with something special. It tracks his climb back from 2010, through the disappointments of 2011 to the podium in 2012.

Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike is another meticulously researched and well-received biography by William Fotheringham (see also Put Me Back On My Bike: In Search of Tom Simpson, Fallen Angel: The Passion of Fausto Coppi, and Roule Britannia). Also new for Merckx fans is Eddy Merckx: The Cannibal by Daniel Friebe, of Procycling Magazine.

It's Not About the BikeClose to Flying is the Cadel Evans backstory. As with Cavendish, below, there will inevitably be a follow-up. This one is his account of how he made it to the top of world cycling: the pressure, the need to test physical limits and the psychological barriers that need to be broken. There's also The Long Road to Paris.

For the Aussies out there there is Rupert Guinness' What a Ride: From Phil Anderson to Cadel Evans, an Aussie Pursuit of the Tour de France (US, Oz).

One Way Road is Robbie McEwen's autobiography. McEwen, who three times claimed the green points jersey in Paris and won 12 Tour stages, is arguably the best sprinter of his generation and the finest sprint cyclist to come out of Australia.

Another sprinter with a story to tell is Mark Cavendish in Boy Racer (UK, US). It's a candid and diary-like ghost-written autobiography that isn't shy to name and shame. As interesting an insight this is into his early career and influences, it's hard not to imagine that Boy Racer, released so early in his career, isn't just the first chapter in a more complete (and glorious) story. Watch this space for the complete autobiography.

Robbie McEwenRacing Through the Dark: The Fall and Rise of David Millar is the story of how one of Britain's most promising cyclists got sucked into a world of doping, his arrest and subsequent suspension from the sport tarnishing a promising career. But it's also a story of renewal as Millar writes about life in the wilderness and his journey back to the peloton.

And to a British rider of a previous generation. Graeme Fife's Brian Robinson: Pioneer charts the life of the first Briton to complete the Tour de France, and the first to claim a stage victory. Robinson also became the first British rider to win the Critérium du Dauphiné, a feat only repeated twice since by his countrymen (by Robert Millar and Bradley Wiggins). Fife's book is a profile of a seemingly modest rider whose forays across the Channel and into Europe paved the way for others to follow.

The Flying Scotsman, meanwhile, is by and about one of the most accomplished British riders never to compete in the Tour de France. It's the autobiography of Graeme Obree, the champion Scottish cyclist who set his sights on – and broke – the World Hour Record. It may not be poetic in its style or its tone, but it's a self-written, poignant story and one in which Obree lays his demons out in full public view. The book has since been made into a film.

The most recent is Richard Moore's Slaying the Badger, a gripping account of the 1986 Tour, when Frenchman Bernard Hinault famously broke his promise to ride in support of teammate Greg LeMond who, following team orders, haTomorrow, We Rided sacrificed his own chances of winning in 1985 to ensure a Hinault win. Moore's book is a fine study of the politics of team cycling and, despite the title, the book's scope is far wider than just the 1986 Tour.

Tomorrow, We Ride (UK, US) by Jean Bobet is one of the most elegantly written accounts of professional cycling in the 1950s. It’s a portrait of the extraordinary relationship between the brothers Jean and Louison Bobet, two supremely talented riders from Brittany. Louison went on to win the Tour three times, his brother offering loyal support as a team rider and confidante. Tomorrow, We Ride encompasses it all in intimate prose, capturing the romance of cycling’s golden, post-war era. And it's my favorite cycling book.

We Were Young and Carefree (UK, US)by Laurent Fignon is the autobiography of the charismatic French rider who won back-to-back the Tours in 1983 and 1984. In 1989 he lost out to Greg LeMond by just eight seconds on the final day in Paris in one of the most fiercely contested Tours of all time. Fignon also features prominently in Richard Moore's Slaying the Badger (see above).

Put Me Back On My Bike: In Search of Tom Simpson Put Me Back On My Bike: In Search of Tom Simpsonby William Fotheringham Tom Simpson was the first Briton to ever wear the yellow jersey, a world champion cyclist and Olympic medallist who epitomised the win-at-all-costs attitude of Tour de France riders. Immortalised forever by his death on Ventoux during the 1967 tour – a memorial stands on the mountain near where he fell – Simpson’s story is one of inspiration, triumph and tragedy. There's also Mr Tom: The True Story of Tom Simpson by Simpson's nephew, the cycling writer Chris Sidwells (author of A Race for Madmen and Tour Climbs, both mentioned above).

Fallen Angel: The Passion of Fausto Coppi  by William Fotheringham
Another stunning portrait from Fotheringham, this time of Italy’s pre- and post-war cycling hero. Coppi was the first cyclist to win the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia in the one year, a feat he went on to repeat. But he died hated and heartbroken after an adulterous affair led to a scandalous divorce and his ex-communication from the church in Catholic Italy. Mystery and rumour surrounded his death, which was variously reported as a result of malaria or drugs.

The Eagle of Toledo (UK, US) is Fotheringham's biography of Federico Martín Bahamontes, a six-time King of the Mountains and the first Spaniard to with the Tour. The book is based on interviews with Bahamontes, who first rode the Tour in 1954.

Road to Valour by Aili and Andres McConnon is the story of Italian cyclist Gino Bartali, who won the Tour de France both before and after World War II, and who spent the war years sheltering a Jewish family and acting as a cycle courier for the Resistance.

The Death of Marco Pantani: A Biography by Matt Rendell, meanwhile, is a detective story and biography rolled into one, the story of how one of Italy’s greatest riders died in a haze of cocaine and controversy.

In Search of Robert MillarIn Search of Robert Millar: Unravelling the Mystery Surrounding Britain's Most Successful Tour de France Cyclist is another excellent book by Richard Moore. It's a study of the only British rider to ever finish on the podium in Paris. The mysterious Millar, King of the Mountains in 1984, became the best British rider since Tom Simpson, but he eventually disappeared, opting out of both cycling and life as he’d known it.

Stephen Roche's first full autobiography, unimaginatively titled Born to Ride. It follows the publication in late 2011 of his son Nicolas' Inside the Peloton: My Life as a Professional Cyclist, which is largely based on his cycling diaries that were originally published as columns in the Irish press.

Riis: Stages of Light and Dark (UK, US) is the autobiography of Bjarne Riis, who in 1996 became the first Danish rider to win the Tour. Riis, now boss of Team Saxo Bank, later admitted the ride – like most of his career – was powered by drugs. The book is a candid and sometimes bewildering account of cycling in the 1990s.

Last but not least, It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life by Lance Armstrong (UK, US), the best-selling autobiography that tells of Armstrong's early career. Without all the important bits. It’s his take on how he defeated cancer to return to cycling and win the 1999 Tour. Wait for the blockbuster tell-all book that takes in everything he left out first time round...

And you couldn’t make it up if you tried …

Sex, Lies and Handlebar Tape: The Remarkable Life of Jacques Anquetil, the First Five-Times Winner of the Tour de FranceSex, Lies and Handlebar Tape: The Remarkable Life of Jacques Anquetil, the
First Five-Times Winner of the Tour de France
(UK, US)is Paul Howard
's biography of French superstar Jacques Anquetil, the first man to win all three Grand Tours, the first to win five Tours de France, the first to win in France and Spain in the same year. Yet it’s his convoluted private life that provides the most scintillating read – summed up most succinctly by the book’s own product description: “He seduced his doctor’s wife, had a child with her daughter and then sustained a ménage à trois with his wife and stepdaughter under the same roof for 12 years. When this ‘family’ eventually imploded, he attempted to inspire jealousy in his former lovers by having a child with his stepson’s ex-wife”. And that’s not including the drugs or his life in the fast lane. Refreshingly – or absurdly – different from any other cycling book you’ll read. 

Olympic Gangster: The Legend of José Beyaert – Cycling Champion, Fortune Hunter and Outlaw by Matt Rendell is a fascinating account of the life of José Beyaert, a Tour rider and 1948 Olympic gold medallist who used his bike to traffic arms for the Resistance during World War Two. His sense of adventure eventually led him to Colombia, where he was meant to open a velodrome as part of a publicity stunt. But he never returned home from South America, turning instead to a new life as – depending on who you believe – an athlete, coach, emerald-trader and smuggler.

Doping and the Tour de France

Rough Ride (UK, US)is Paul Kimmage's account of his attempt to cut it in the world of professional cycling. He ended up giving up disillusioned, largely as a result of the systematic doping. Written in 1990, the book has since been revised and updated – and it’s as shocking and as poignant as ever. Kimmage's crusade against drugs in sport culminated with Lance Armstrong's confession and justified Kimmage's pursuit (in tandem with David Walsh) of the disgraced 7-times champion.

Seven Deadly Sins (UK, US) is inside story of how cycling journalist David Walsh pursued the Lance Armstrong story for more than a decade. It charts the background of the broader doping story and lays out the evidence against Armstrong. From Lance to Landis: Inside the American Doping Controversy at the Tour de Francewas David Walsh's earlier attempt at lifting the lid on the systematic doping that he for so long maintained Armstrong was involved in. 

In a similar vein is Bad Blood: The Secret Life of the Tour de France by Jeremy Whittle (UK, US) another exposé that captures the disappointment and disillusionment of a writer  losing faith in the Tour de France.

Breaking The Chain: Drugs and Cycling – The True Story by Willy Voet is that it’s not written by a rider or a cycling journalist, but by someone charged with the actual day-to-day management of a drugs programme. Breaking the Chain is the part-memoir, part-confession of ex-Festina soigneur Willy Voet as he lifts the lid on his role in the systematic doping in one of the sport’s showpiece teams. A shocking – horrifying, even – account of how such an open secret was allowed to carry on unchallenged for so long.

For doping, see above also for Racing Through the Dark: The Fall and Rise of David Millar, Riis: Stages of Light and Dark (UK, US) ... I could be here all day...

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