Tuesday, 31 May 2011

A Tour de Force

In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted from the outset that sporting memoirs, of any description, are not generally given much airtime on this blog. In fact, it is fair to say that they are usually given a very wide berth. But every so often a book comes along that forces one to re-examine our preconceptions. How I Won the Yellow Jumper: Dispatches from the Tour de France by ITV’s intrepid sports journalist Ned Boulting is one such book.

Part memoir, part travelogue, How I Won the Yellow Jumper is a hilarious account of Ned’s eight years covering that most famous and illustrious of road cycle races, the Tour de France. From inauspicious beginnings, (on his maiden Tour, he referred to the coveted yellow jersey as a ‘jumper’ live on TV - a howler of such magnitude, it is surprising ITV didn’t cancel his contract on the spot) to his emergence as one of the sport’s most respected journalists, Ned recounts his experiences with remarkable honesty.

Ned Boulting
The book is essentially a collection of vignettes which illustrate what it means to exist within the annual hive of frenzied activity that constitutes the Tour de France. These snapshots, as seen through Ned’s eyes, provide a unique insight into what life must be like for the army of people – cyclists, reporters, photographers, fans, even chefs – who make up the Tour’s colossal entourage. And Ned is well placed to make such observations. His position as an accredited Tour reporter allows him a glimpse into the rarefied world of professional cycling, while at the same time compelling him to operate on its periphery. From this unique vantage point, Ned has an unfettered view of the good, the bad and the ugly that make up La Grande Boucle. And he doesn’t shy away from the job in hand. With flashes of searing insight, the author dishes the dirt on cycling’s grandees, allowing the reader to see a side of Lance Armstrong, Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins et al, which is usually carefully edited from view.

Quite apart from the obvious cycling anecdotes, the reader is also regaled with tales of male camaraderie, as Ned and his production team struggle to deal with life on the road. Whether it’s an unhelpful SatNav or the constant hunt for launderette facilities, the book has the feeling of a boy’s own adventure story throughout. Add to this the wonderful descriptive passages which evoke the beauty of the French countryside, and the chapter on food which takes the reader on a mouth-watering gastronomic journey, this is a book that has it all. It will appeal to not just the cycling enthusiast, but also the foodie, the traveller and anybody who enjoys a good ole yarn.

Oh, and did I mention it is very, very funny?

How I Won the Yellow Jumper: Dispatches from the Tour de France by Ned Boulting is published on June 2nd by Yellow Jersey Press (an imprint of Random House).

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