Gary was delighted when a proof of Ned’s new book unexpectedly dropped through the letter box at Stumpy Towers. So was his wife, Mel. Guess who got first read…
Ned Boulting, football commentator and Tour De France expert – or is he? This book shattered one of my illusions fairly quickly, chapter 2 actually. I thought all TV pundits had an encyclopedic knowledge of their sport. Surely they did hours upon hours of preparation before each race, game, round etc? The frankness and honesty of this author proved otherwise.
The author and I share 2003 in common as our first real Tour. We also shared the same confusion, ignorance and bewilderment about what on earth this race was all about. I played out my embarrassing ignorance in the privacy of my living room, with my husband there to shed light on just what a peloton was, why George Hincapie would gladly give up his own chance of a win for Lance “Larry” Armstrong and what the multitude of jersey colours actually meant. Sadly for Ned he had to do it in front of TV audiences as a first time tour reporter for ITV. Poor Ned. His ignorance did however give us many a laugh and a wince – the yellow jumper Ned?! Really, even I wouldn’t have made THAT particular mistake.
I have picked up cycling books before. And put them down again within pages. This book, however, I got through cover to cover in a matter of hours. The laid back style, the well scripted and appropriately titled chapters and the self deprecating wit of Ned’s writing had me unwilling to put the book down – even to feed my children. I should say at this point that I am not a cyclist. I own a mountain bike, which occasionally gets used off road but is more likely to be seen with smooth tyres to take me to and from the gym. However, I LOVE Le Tour and because of that I found this book a fascinating read.
Ned takes you through some of the behind the scenes aspects of Le Tour from a commentator’s perspective. From the less than glamorous places he has found himself staying in, to the state of his festering socks festooned in plastic within his suitcase after the first week or so of his trip, to the more serious commentary on some of today’s “big men” of cycling, Wiggins, Cavendish, Contador and those of not so long ago, Armstrong and Landis. The book touches on some of the serious issues in cycling, yes I mean the doping, but does so in a way that left me still interested and engaged in the unfolding dramas.
At some points I did have to wipe my eyes and try to explain why I was laughing to the point of tears. Most of the stories that had me reduced to such a state involved the rest of the crew that travel with Ned for the month of July. To name but a few, Phil Liggett, Chris Boardman and Mattt Rendell all get their own special mentions in the book. Some of the stories will have you wincing in embarrassment whilst others, like the shower story of the poor soundman, Ben Woodgate will have you doubled over with laughter. For the visual amongst you, this chapter may even have a suitable photograph to support it which makes it even funnier – I do hope Ben has recovered.
Have you ever wondered why sometimes Ned can look like he’s slept in his shirt? It’s probably because he has. The “En Route” chapter covers everything from what goes in a suitcase for the 4 week trip to how he can never find the right non-iron shirt to wear in front of the camera. The reader gets a glimpse into the less salubrious side of journalism. The hours spent in an Espace travelling mile upon mile between small, and sometimes, pretty awful suburbs of France. The late night arrivals at run down hotels, to the lack of an evening meal if an interview with one of the riders runs late. The rest day visits to the local laundrette and the iron versus steam debate – Pulitzer prize winning stuff it isn’t but it is hilarious. I am starting to believe that I might not be missing out on much watching the whole thing from the comfort of my chair with a glass of wine in hand.
For the more serious reader (see also: bike geek) however, there are other more serious insights to be had. Ned’s account of how he is not there to be a riders friend but to get that all important insight into the day’s stage for us viewer’s back home left me feeling that his job might be an uncomfortable one on a number of counts. I’m left in no doubt that relationships between reporter and rider can often be difficult and uncomfortable yet both sides accept that a relationship is necessary.
Ned doesn’t shy away from the hot topics. He devotes a chapter to his take on the emergence of Team Sky and what that might mean for ITV coverage (and therefore his job) and how it would be to comment on a rival company’s team, especially if they were successful. He also shares his thoughts on some of the arguably greatest, yet controversial riders in Armstrong, Cavendish and Contador. Armstrong and Cav both get 2 chapters which prove very interesting reading on a number of fronts. Cav sounds like the arrogant yet brilliant sprinter we watch on TV and you get the feeling Ned really likes him. The author’s take on Armstrong is one that sits well with me as a reader – see what you make of it. Whilst not in any great depth, all of the chapters devoted to specific riders, including Bradley Wiggins and Ned’s views on his 2009 Tour success, give an insight into how the author feels about these guys who, let’s face it, it’s his job to follow and comment on regardless.
Following chapters on the mountains, the Basque antics, the food and lingo, there’s the toilet chapter. Do we really need a graphic description of le toilette en tour? Hell yeah, if it makes the chapter so titled as funny as this one. Not normally one for toilet humour this reader certainly found a lot to laugh about, especially Ned’s recollection of a conversation with Phil Liggett mid flow and the picture of a very alternative mushroom – I’ll say no more.
All in all this is a fantastic book for any fan of Le Tour. Whether you are a true cycling geek, or a reader like me, who simply loves the month of July and all that it brings, you will surely find this book to your liking. I am left bereft of something good to read yet safe in the knowledge that Ned is not only infinitely more knowledgeable now than he was back in 2003 but – like me – he is also a huge fan of Le Tour, but can’t quite tell you exactly why.
Mel, aka Mrs StumpyRider
Ned Boulting’s “How I Won the Yellow Jumper: Dispatches from the Tour de France”, published by Yellow Jersey, is out on 2 June 2011