Title: Tour de France 100: A Photographic History of Cycling's Most Iconic Race
Author: Richard Moore
Publisher: Bloomsbury (US - VeloPress)
Order: Bloomsbury (US - VeloPress)
What it is: What it says on the tin: a photographic history of the Tour de France
Strengths: Super-large format allows for beautiful presentation of the images
Weaknesses: Two hundred pages is too short.
Having done books about the likes of Robert Millar and Chris Hoy, British Cycling and Team Sky, and after having looked in detail at one single Tour - 1986 - Richard Moore returns, this time with a photographic history of the race the French call la grande boucle.
Wiggins en route to victory in 2012
Tour de France 100 traces the history of the Tour through images pulled mostly from the archives of Getty Images and Offside/L'Équipe and serves up a good mix of iconic images and ones less seldom seen.
François Faber sprints for victory during the 1909 Tour after his chain broke.
At six foot odd and weighing in excess of two hundred pounds
Faber was probably the biggest man ever to be declared the Tour's best climber.
In addition to the Getty and Offside images Moore also serves up an interesting treat for British fans:
"'The greatest show on earth' they called the Tour de France in Picture Post, the UK's leading photographic magazine of the 1940s and 1950s, which at its peak sold close to two million copies. The 19 August 1951 edition of the weekly devoted six pages to the Tour, having sent their star photographer, Bert Hardy, to capture an event that captivated much of Europe, but remained a mystery to most in Great Britain."
Best known for his Picture Post street scenes, Hardy had started out with The Bicycle and often returned to the sport (Google up his shots of Ken Joy or Reg Harris). For Moore, one of the more interesting things about Hardy's shots is their focus:
"While most lenses were directed at the riders, Hardy seemed more interested in the people who watched: the public standing for hours by the roadside; the chefs and storekeepers who rushed form their kitchens and shops to see the Tour pass; the girls overcome at the prospect of seeing the likes of Géminiani, Bobet, Koblet, Bartali and Coppi, who had the status of Hollywood stars; and the autograph hunters peering through the windows of the riders' hotels."
This is something shared by Moore in his selection of images, which balances action with reaction shots, seeing the Tour as both a race and an event, both sport and entertainment.
Fans dance in the street while waiting for the Tour to pass,
while riders in the first post-War Tour (1947) fill up their bidons.
One of the interesting aspects of most sports photography, not just cycling, is that so much of it has been told in black and white, newspapers only being able to fully embrace colour photography in relatively recent years. So much of the Tour's history, despite being shrouded in myths, is told in black and white images. This often makes for a rather harsh transition in photo-based books when the race enters the modern era and colours pushes black and white aside. But something I liked in Moore's selection of images was the way he introduces colour pictures, initially through images featuring just one or two strong, primary, colours before giving way to the kaleidoscope of colour that is the modern peloton.
Flandria's Michel Pollentier and Freddy Maertens relax on the Alpe
before the storm over his attempted fraud at doping control breaks.
Merckx, Hinault and Anquetil during the 1987 Tour, just months before Anquetil's death.
At the 1988 Tour, another yellow jersey got into a spot of bother at doping control.
As well as the images, Moore provides some text that whizzes through the history of the Tour, stopping off at well known spots (Christophe's forks, Bottecchia's death etc) and here he is able to expand upon why photography is such an important medium in the telling of the Tour's tales:
"Even if the language has changed over the years, with the reporting becoming less imaginative as the TV cameras' lenses leave less to the imagination, photography has been the one constant medium through which the sport has been best captured in all its glory, and gory. Indeed, for many, it is photography that remains the ultimate medium; the one that best conveys the epic scale, the stunning scenery and, most of all, the sheer beauty of the Tour de France."
Moore's text fills in the basic history of the Tour.
In conveying the epic scale of the Tour, Tour de France 100 is aided by its size: in a world in which so many things are being shrunk to pocket-size Bloomsbury are here serving up the equivalent of a sixty inch plasma screen of a book (okay, it's actually only about twenty-nine centimetres by thirty-three, but that's bigger than any other book on my bookshelf). The large format allows for the detail in the photographs to tell their own stories: the evolution of the derailleur, from under the front chain-ring to the system we know today, or the way the HD initials bounced around the yellow jersey for forty years before disappearing for a while and then being reinstated in 2003.
Created by a newspaper, the Tour is a race that has evolved from being one whose design best served the printed word to a race that, today, best serves the needs of television. Throughout its one hundred and ten year history, though, photography has been there to freeze individual moments and tell its own version of the Tour's history. Tour de France 100 offers a broad range of just some of the images that told that story and itself tells an interesting story about the history of the big buckle.
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You can preview a selection of images from Tour de France 100 on tdf100.com.