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Cartes du Tour, by Paul Fournel

Cartes du Tour, by Paul Fournel
Cartes du Tour, by Paul Fournel
Getty

Title: Cartes du Tour
Author: Paul Fournel, with a preface by Christian Prudhomme (translated by Claire Read)
Publisher: Rapha Editions, in arrangement with Bluetrain Publishing
Year: 2018
Pages: 248
Order: Rapha
What it is: The Tour de France, in maps and words
Strengths: Beautifully produced and full of food for thought
Weaknesses: Fournel’s text does feel a bit disjointed, not quite clear where it’s going

Cartes du Tour, by Paul Fournel
Cartes du Tour, by Paul Fournel
Bluetrain

“The Tour de France as a sporting event never really interested me. But, when my brothers and I stayed at my grandparents’ for the summer holidays, we knew the Tour was on when the TV was loud and an air of masculine camaraderie filled the house. There were friends, farmers, cousins, neighbours and more than a few earthy oaths. The conductor in this boisterous affair was my grandfather, the shortest of them all, and by far the merriest. For me, the Tour de France is not about yellow shirts or a race against time, but rather the memories of slow and happy days and the summery flavour of togetherness.”
~ Caroline Vermalle

Memories. We share them. We borrow them. Stephen Roche on Luz Ardiden? I saw that. Bernard Thévenet at Pra Loup? I have to borrow that memory from others. Wherever we get them, we make them our own, we learn to recall them as if they were our own. Paul Fournel has previously written that maps are like dream machines, in Cartes du Tour he shows how the maps of the Tour de France are also storage devices for memories:

“The 1950s are the golden years for Tour maps. With no competition, newspapers strive to offer Tour maps to readers. They try to outdo one and other’s graphic invention. Some illustrate the route outline with portraits of local or favourite riders; others leave space with dotted lines so you can play the game of predicting the future winner of each stage as well as of that day’s yellow jersey. You indulge in this game as a family, each member making his or her choices.

“Other supporters keep their map right through the Tour and, gathered around the radio set, scrupulously note the results night by night to remember them. They archive their maps over the years, souvenirs of summers that have fled.”

Some maps served to allow fans to keep track of the Tour’s daily results, or to predict those results in advance, all function as souvenirs of summers that have fled...
Some maps served to allow fans to keep track of the Tour’s daily results, or to predict those results in advance, all function as souvenirs of summers that have fled...
Bluetrain

In the years before radio reported the race results it was to cafés that fans went to follow the race:

“Any good café owner knows that, during the Tour, he has to keep an up-to-date blackboard on which he promptly writes down the stage result and general classification. Informed by a phone call, he collects the result and rushes to share it with his regulars.

“With the names barely chalked up, the bar comes alive and discussions advance at great speed. You make up the story of the race before reading it ‘for real’ the next day in the paper. So the commentary precedes the news, and the exploits are all the greater as they are still imaginary.”

Key to that commentary people imposed upon the race was the map of the race route, which helped guide the café’s customers around a France that most would not know from direct experience, a France most would know at best from half remembered lessons in school.

As the media landscape has evolved, maps have managed to stay central to the reporting of the Tour.

Over time, newspaper reports, photography, newsreels, radio, TV, the internet, they have all helped to shape our memories of the Tour. They have also helped to shape the Tour itself. Take Jacques Goddet’s comment on the role played by television:

“I immediately felt that television would change the face of the Tour de France, in all senses. It shows that this is indeed a phenomenal event; that cycling is a marvellous sport. Television has become a reason for the running of the race, even if sometimes that means running it in a disorderly fashion.”

Commentary preceding the news. Television becoming a reason for the running of the race. We are in the world of Baudrillard. Maps preceding the territory. Representation preceding reality. The myths and legends we create about the Tour have always held more power than the story of what really happened.

This is not to suggest that Cartes du Tour is a book for the chin stroking homme serieux. Rather it is to show that there is clearly a lot more going on within its 248 pages than just a collection of historic maps showing the routes the Tour has taken over the last 115 years.

Even the Ladybird book of the cycling, Edmund Hunter’s ‘The Bicycle’, provides a map of the Tour (right), here the 1974 race
Even the Ladybird book of the cycling, Edmund Hunter’s ‘The Bicycle’, provides a map of the Tour (right), here the 1974 race
Bluetrain

That collection of maps showing the routes the Tour has taken over the last 115 years has already been done, five years ago (when the count stood at 100 Tours) by the Cycling Anthology editor Ellis Bacon, with his Tour atlas, Mapping le Tour. There has also been Richard Abrahams’ Google Earth-inspired Tour de France – Legendary Climbs with its topographical representations of the Tour’s mountains, while those with a particular interest in mapping the tyre tracks of the Tour should probably look out for Vladimír Bačík & Michal Klobučník’s 2017 paper ‘Stage Finishes – Mapping the Locations and Results of Tour de France (1903–2016)’ in the Journal of Maps.

What Cartes du Tour does differently is to show how the Tour has been represented in maps over the course of its history. Topping and tailing the book are the race organisers own attempts at cartography. The early maps possess a child-like naïvety, understated affairs that show how the Tour represents and celebrates the boundaries of France. The more recent maps, on the other had, are perhaps a bit too sophisticated and seek to impose the Tour on France, painting the country yellow and turning it into a mannequin for the maillot jaune.

The official view of the Tour de France, then and now: once France imposed itself on the Tour, now the Tour imposes itself on France
The official view of the Tour de France, then and now: once France imposed itself on the Tour, now the Tour imposes itself on France
Bluetrain

In between these two extremes we get how others saw the Tour.

As early as the 1920s ‘Le Miroir des Sports’ was offering its readers the chance to do Google Earth-like fly-throughs of the Tour’s terrain, topographical representations of the route similar to those that today precede TV coverage of the race
As early as the 1920s ‘Le Miroir des Sports’ was offering its readers the chance to do Google Earth-like fly-throughs of the Tour’s terrain, topographical representations of the route similar to those that today precede TV coverage of the race
Bluetrain

Accompanying the images are Paul Fournel’s words, the fourth time English-speaking cycling fans have been offered a chance to appreciate his thoughts on cycling in book form (following on from Need for the Bike, Vélo, and Anquetil, Alone. Each of those had a different translator, which has had subtle differences on how each book feels, and so it is welcome that Claire Read, who translated parts of Vélo, returns to the job here.

Vélo is probably a good comparison of what Fournel offers here, essays on different eras of the Tour and on some individual editions of the race that are somewhat standalone, somewhat joined up by a common theme.

The text here is, somewhat unusually, presented in both French and English. A treat for the bilingual reader. But maybe not for the translator? I put this question to Read, when asking her about the task of translating a writer like Fournel:

“When I started work on Cartes du Tour I’m not sure I realised we were going to have dual text rather than two separate editions. I think that’s probably for the best, because certainly the idea that readers will be working up their own translations has occurred to me since – and I’m not sure that would have been helpful to have in mind as I worked on mine!

“For me, though, translation is a puzzle to which there can be many subtly different solutions. It’s as though you have a shape in front of you, made out of jigsaw pieces, and your job is to recreate that shape as closely as possible using a pile of completely differently shaped jigsaw pieces next to you. And you’re not just trying to recreate the size and edges of the shape: you’re also trying to match the picture on it, the colours, the spirit it evokes.

“The simple reality is the jigsaw pieces I choose may not be those someone else would have chosen. And of course in some instances, there may be no way to replicate aspects of the original – puns, wordplay and phrases for which there is no equivalent in English are all obvious examples here, and all occur in Cartes du Tour.”


The Tour’s maps are more than just memory devices, ways of recalling the stories of individual races or whole summers. The role of the map maker in bike racing was explained to Herbie Sykes, by the Giro d’Italia’s cartographer in chief for more than half a century, Cesare Sangalli, in The Giro 100: “everything was decided according to the drawings I did, the timetables I drew up and the architecture of the stages we put together.” It is left to the actors – the riders, their support staff, the race personnel, the fans, the media – to improvise their lines around the basic structure given to them in the race’s map. Everybody plays a role in the race’s outcome and how it is remembered. The Tour’s maps prompt both forward- and backward-looking tellings of the story of each Tour, take us back to those café days when commentary preceded news.

That comment from Cesare Sangalli, and his overall involvement with Sykes’s Giro book, is one of the prompts that gave life to Cartes du Tour, as Guy Andrews – who, together with Taz Darling, makes up Bluetrain Publishing, which is is responsible for bringing together the different parts of this project, from Fournel’s text to the maps and photographs themselves – explained to me:

“The inspiration for the book came from a variety of maps I had, but also the work that Herbie Sykes did on The Giro 100 with Cesare Sangalli, the cartographer and route planner of the Giro. Sangalli re-worked some of the profiles for us in that book and (even now in his 90s) he took so much care to make them beautiful. The routes of the Grand Tours are fascinating and some of the folks that drew them really deserve to be celebrated. The cartographer’s art should definitely be rekindled.”

As well as their own collection of maps, Andrews and Darling spread a wide net trying to source representations of the Tour’s route for inclusion in the book:

“Collecting the maps took many visits to archives and libraries, not just the BnF/Galicia but also Pressesports and Getty, then flea markets, websites and magazine shops and collectors.”

Those of you who yourself trawl Gallica for old cycling stuff – from copies of L’Auto to photographs of Henri Desgrange in his budgie smugglers – will know that much of the source material has not aged well. This meant that a considerable degree of work was needed to make the maps presentable in a professional fashion:

“All of the maps we found needed some ‘work’ to get them into shape for printing. We work with some very talented folks who can work wonders with very poor quality scans and prints. We used a variety of scanning and photography, proofing and reproofing, to get the results we wanted. Many of the early maps are printed on newsprint, so the show-through and paper quality varied enormously, some were very bad and had to be reconstructed completely, whilst others just needed a once-over. We kept folds and rips when they worked, but our archive took around eighteen months of work to get it to it’s printable state, from collecting them all to printing.”

On the left, a page from ‘La Vie au Grand Air’ in 1913 as found on Gallica and on the right how that image appears in ‘Cartes du Tour’
On the left, a page from ‘La Vie au Grand Air’ in 1913 as found on Gallica and on the right how that image appears in ‘Cartes du Tour’
Bluetrain
For all that the art of cartography has changed many ideas are timeless. Here Lucien van Impe, winner of the 1976 Tour, bursts through a map of the route, similar to the way ‘La Vie au Grand Air’ had Philippe Thys doing the same in 1913.
For all that the art of cartography has changed many ideas are timeless. Here Lucien van Impe, winner of the 1976 Tour, bursts through a map of the route, similar to the way ‘La Vie au Grand Air’ had Philippe Thys doing the same in 1913.
Bluetrain

The selection of maps in Cartes du Tour is comprehensive but not exhaustive. Some maps couldn’t be found – L’Auto sold its own maps of the route, independent of what appeared in the paper, and these are hard to come by – while others verge on what Borges would have called unconscionable maps:

“There have been some huge Michelin maps produced down the years but they were too big (and Michelin copyright too complicated) for us to use in the book. These are used by the technical staff, team support, the police and some journalists. They’re nice, but too much detail for reproduction in the page size we had!”

Cartes du Tour offers the reader a lot: from being that pretty coffee table book to impress friends and visitors with to being a book that shows how the route of the Tour has evolved over the years. On top of that, for everyone it offers food for thought on the role played by maps in the history of the Tour, gives readers a chance to appreciate a sometimes overlooked aspect of bike racing and cycling history. With luck, this is a book that may yet encourage a new golden age in the cartographer’s art, and add a fresh angle to the way we enjoy Tours to come.

Cartes du Tour, by Paul Fournel, is available in two editions from Rapha
Cartes du Tour, by Paul Fournel, is available in two editions from Rapha
Bluetrain