Riding High: Shadow Cycling the Tour de France – Paul Howard

Published by Mainstream Sport

If you cycle, you’ll have thought about riding the Tour de France. Could you too complete this amazing feat? The author Paul Howard, a reasonable club-cyclist, did just that in the year of the event’s 100th anniversary: 2003, the year of the heat wave.

I have to be honest, this is a re-read. The first time around I didn’t do the book justice. I bought it in the aftermath of my maiden Tour, 2004, ostensibly because it was one of the few books on cycling not about Lance Armstrong, although he does get a few name-checks between its covers. But there’s not a lot about the race as the author was taking a well-earned rest while the professional peloton rode over the finishing line.

Neither my husband nor I had started cycling, nor had we watched any Tour stages live, when I first read the book. I therefore lacked any context by which to judge it and the undoubted endeavours of its writer. I now bring a far greater appreciation of the enormity of the challenge, both physically and logistically.

Each chapter covers one stage of the Tour prefaced by a small summary of salient facts a la Bridget Jones dear to the author’s heart pertaining to each overnight stop. Just as for the professional teams, these run the gamut of awful to quite reasonable. Sustenance also looms high on the agenda, particularly gaining access to it at the right times and in the requisite amounts. Not easy when your morning starts in the early hours, to be on the road well ahead of the caravan and Tour proper, or you need dinner well before its anointed hour in France.

Much of each chapter is given over to the parcours and Paul’s state of mind, a fragile beast at best, beset by worries over his physical condition and exacerbated by the French gendarmerie thwarting his attempts to finish key stages. I now understand exactly what he faced. But you don’t have to cycle to enjoy the book.

Rating: 8/10

The book was shortlisted in the best new writer category at The National Sporting Club “Sports Books of the Year” in 2003.

Paul has since written a number of other cycling books:

  • Sex, Lies and Handlebar Tape: The Remarkable Life of Jacques Anquetil, the First Five Times Winner of the Tour de France
  • Two Wheels on my Wagon: A Bicycle Adventure in the Wild West
  • Eat, Sleep, Ride: How I Braved Bears, Badlands and Big Breakfasts in my Quest to Cycle the Tour Divide