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Roule Britannia

pantani book
The Brit pack

As a follow up to his superb biography of Tom Simpson, ‘Put me back on my bike’, William Fotheringham has written this fantastic account of British riders and their fortunes at the Tour. He explains the reasons why some riders made it and some didn’t. How we started out in the pro peloton and why we struggled to cut-it. The history behind the ludicrous system in the UK that allowed road racing to be banned and became split between too many governing bodies – politics meant we failed to organise the UK scene effectively. What stands out from the early days is how UK racing was never a match (and still isn’t really) for the top level continental style racing and the holy grail event – The Tour de France.

The personalities and stories are sympathetically told by a writer who seems to understand what makes them tick. Riders like Robert Millar and Sean Yates – with fascinating accounts of their rides through the 1980s and, most interestingly, Brian Robinson who is clearly a man who commanded much respect in the peloton for riding and competing with very little (if any) team support. Then Chris Boardman’s amazing rise and fall and rise again…

There is certainly a ‘Boy’s Own’ sense of adventure in Roule Britannia that is all but lost these days – the classic ‘jumpers for goalposts’ era culminates in the disasterous ANC-Halfords debarcle of the ’86 tour, I’ll spare you the details, but if you are thinking we should have a UK based Pro team this will be enough to put you off.

This book finishes off with a very interesting account of David Millar’s fall from grace and, unlike some cycling publications, he takes a level view of how Millar dealt with the situation. This chapter highlights that there is more room for depth in this book than Fotheringham is allowed in his newspaper and magazine articles – clearly he will continue to build on the content in this book. Perhaps some more biographies of top UK road riders to follow then? Sad that David Millar’s story is the final chapter it underlines the tragedy of Tom Simpson and highlights the fact that for the last two years the Tour has been Brit-free, the first time since 1955.

This book is a must read for any British fan of cycling, if you are new to cycling it does a lot to explain the ‘ins and outs’ of a complex sport and how the Tour became the massive sporting legend that it is today. Best of all it conveys the passion and pain of a select group of riders who have been there and done it. Highly recommended.

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Published by Yellow Jersey Press

ISBN 0 224 074253

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