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Blazing Saddles: The Cruel and Unusual History of the Tour de France [Hardcover]

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Item description for Blazing Saddles: The Cruel and Unusual History of the Tour de France by Matt Rendell...

In this fascinating book, award-winning sports writer Matt Rendell covers every corner of "La Grande Boucle," from the eccentric couture of the first Tour winner (white blazer, black trousers, wool socks) to the earliest method of cheating (riding the train). Blazing Saddles recounts the famous rivalries and riders that contested the Tour, setting the score straight with complete records of every podium finisher. Rendell's vivid storytelling is complemented with more than 100 classic black-and-white photographs, portraying cycling's heroes and martyrs from Jacques Anquetil to Lance Armstrong.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   303
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 1" Width: 5.25" Height: 8"
Weight:   1.36 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Apr 28, 2008
Publisher   VeloPress
ISBN  1934030252  
ISBN13  9781934030257  

Availability  0 units.

More About Matt Rendell

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Rendell survived Hodgkin's Disease and lecturing at British and Latvian universities before entering TV and print journalism.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > History > Europe > France > General
2Books > Subjects > Sports > General
3Books > Subjects > Sports > Individual Sports > Cycling > General
4Books > Subjects > Sports > Miscellaneous > History of Sports

Reviews - What do customers think about Blazing Saddles: The Cruel and Unusual History of the Tour de France?

A Pocket History of Cycling's Most Celebrated and Eccentric Race  Sep 6, 2008
"Hell, there are no rules here. We are trying to accomplish something."
Thomas Alva Edison

Leafing through the entertaining pages of "Blazing Saddles: The Cruel and Unusual History of the Tour de France" one is struck by the tone of the book, released just in time for this year's Tour. Instead of the usual paeans of praise to the great athletes of cycling history, author Matt Rendell has instead emphasized that the glorious Tour de France, one of the world's great sporting events, is "[a] fine spectacle of life-threatening exertion, bare-faced cheating, roadside sabotage, ludicrous clothing, extreme intimate discomfort and grown men at the absolute end of their tethers..."

At the pinnacle of the gang of eccentrics who populate this volume must stand the founder of the Tour, Henri Desgrange. Clearly a man who loved to give orders, M. Desgrange had a vision of the Tour as the ultimate test of strength and courage and dogged manliness. He once said that the ideal Tour winner would be the sole survivor. To realize this goal, the early Tours were insanely difficult. With staggering stage lengths over terrible roads and often started in the middle of the night, the Tour de France attracted some Very Tough Competitors, men not mollycoddled by technology. Desgrange objected to freewheels ("Are our races seriously threatened with decadence by the freewheel? Will the Tour de France be undermined by this infernal invention?") and although eventually relenting on that he did prevent racers from using variable gearing until 1937, some 15 years after cycletourists began happily shifting their way up the mountains to greet their heroes en route.

Desgrange, as the inventor of the first great national tour (and still the greatest) had to find his way as he went. The recent exclusion of Astana, seemingly based on a change-of-rules-on-the-fly, is in the great tradition of the Tour. Desgrange first prevented riders from working together, then he allowed it; he accepted trade teams and then banned them for national, or even regional ones; he used a time-elapsed system for determining the winner; then he had a points system so complex nobody knew where they stood until a day after the stage was over. He was angry the riders hadn't tried hard enough, so he instituted a Tour that was full of team time trials in 1927, a system that Australian Hubert Opperman called "a crime that should never have been perpetrated on the roads of France." Desgranges soon gave this idea up, but then reverted to only allowing solo riders rather than teams. For a short time. Then he changed the rules again. And again. But there was method in this madness as the popularity of the Tour went from strength to strength.

Of course, the response of the riders, who were, as noted, Very Tough Men, to all these rules was to cheat. As the author notes: "Frame builders, component manufacturers and the riders themselves have always dreamed of weightlessness, so it's hardly surprising some of the latter have tended to dispense with the excess baggage of a conscience." In 1904, there was widespread cheating, the mildest version of which was drafting (against the rules) and the most extreme was getting a lift in a car. Some riders had their supporters dump tacks in the road to slow their competitors. And occasionally it seemed that a bicycle race would break out in the middle of a fistfight between riders and "fans." Desgrange thought this would be the last Tour de France, but on it went. Later editions featured even better cheating: in 1906, two competitors hopped on a train. Starting in 1910 real mountains were added, although Desgrange's scouts were somewhat negligent about whether there were actual roads over the so-called passes or not.

The Tour was dominated by Belgians in its early years but there was wide range of colourful characters-Eugène Christophe being the first to wear the Yellow Jersey in 1919. He apparently complained about it as spectators laughed at him for looking like a canary. This is the same legendary Christophe who had to drag his bike off to a blacksmith's to weld up a new fork not once but twice. The third time he broke a fork, in 1922, he quit on the descent of the Galibier. Interestingly, he was deeply opposed to doping and decades later furiously reproached another old Tour rider who admitted to drinking some champagne before each stage as a cheat.

Other riders were equally as unlucky as Eugène Christophe, although Raymond Poulidor, who never got to wear the Yellow Jersey, must surely be in a class by himself. Reading the book's accounts of his various misfortunes, you simply have to laugh at time because it seems to so unbelievable. Other events, such as Tom Simpson's collapse on Mt. Ventoux, bring the dangers of doping front and centre, and Matt Rendell zeroes in on this element of the Tour into the modern era. How about the 1968 race, nicknamed by organizers as "the Tour of Good Health?" It sure didn't stop doping and Mr. Rendell gleefully catalogues all the chemical disasters. And for more fun, check out his Appendix on statistics, which shows that nobody seems to know the actual distance of each Tour.

The book generally covers two Tours briefly per chapter and is best taken in small doses, like a particularly ripe blue cheese. Much of the information contained in it can, in truth, be found in other histories of the Tour. What sets "Blazing Saddles" apart is its unwillingness to worship at the Tour de France altar and Matt Rendell's enthusiasm to hold up elements that are ridiculous, unsporting or even unsavoury to the light. As the 95th Tour de France is underway, read this book, enjoy its often hilarious photos (I loved René Pottier's "milkmaid cap") and ponder this rich event that mixes so much of the human condition, for better and for worse, into three immortal weeks.
Tour  Aug 30, 2008
Highly recommend for Tour de France and cycling buffs! Now i know much more of the details of how the race began and how it evolved and the some what odd history of the greatest cycling race!
Bit & bit  Aug 25, 2008
This is a fun read for the anecdotes and characters - I thoroughly enjoyed it - but it needs a bit more to link through as a full story.
I still recommend it, even if you don't know a lot about cycling. I'm still bombing around on a 30 year old Gitane.
Simmering Saddles  Aug 13, 2008
The title of this book conjures up images of that wonderful 1974 Mel Brooks movie of the same name. Unfortunately, the book should have been called "Simmering Saddles." I have had my copy for about a month, and I have to say it is anything but a page turner. I am about half way through the book and it has been relegated to the magazine basket in one of the bathrooms in my house. There I can quickly read another one page synopsis of the next year's Tour de France during my daily constitutional.

I have gotten as far as the mid 1950s of Tour history. Each year gets about a page or a page plus of coverage of endless names, with very few interesting details. I have looked ahead in the book, and the modern tours get multi-page treatment, but then again if you are a fan, you probably are well aware of the events of recent editions of the Tour de France.

If you are looking for a good account of Tour history, I would investigate the two volume set that is currently available by another author. Although I have not read them, they almost have to be better than this boring waste of a good trees.

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