Nothing I have ever written has seized me like this.
It’s no exaggeration to say that what began as a journey to satisfy a certain curiosity, during that long, sad first Covid winter rapidly became an overwhelming obsession; one which spun off in any number of different directions, all of which seemed to me to be uniquely fascinating.
The genesis for the entire project was the chance arrival in my life of a reel of ancient Tour de France film, of uncertain provenance, and unclear origin. It’s only 2 and a half minutes long, but it contains enough material for to fill not just one book, but many. It’s that rich, because if you stare hard enough at any moment of recorded time, it will reveal shards of both the past and the future. Its present tense is only the visible part of the iceberg.
This book operates at many levels. There is in part real-world, real-time sleuthing, as I drag my project into the light of the day, a century later. There is the unsettling background of the covid pandemic distorting our sense of distance and connection. There is at its heart the Tour de France, and this particular and wildly dramatic edition. There are the riders, some well-known, some almost completely forgotten, whose personal stories are shot through with hardship. There is the aftermath of the Great War, and the first rumbling of the impending Second World War. And then there are the many, many characters, some scarcely believable, whose extraordinary lives brush up in unexpected ways against this fragment of history, preserved from oblivion by nothing more providential than pure coincidence.
If it were possible, if it didn’t make me sound insane, I would have to say that I fell in love with a year. I fell in love with a moment in time. I fell in love with a single event that is bigger than everything I have ever imagined. This is my testament to a race that is bigger in scope than even its creator imagined possible. This is my love letter to the Tour de France.
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A captivating journey of discovery into a lost world. A real joy to read. ― Tom McTague.
This is such a poignant book. Ned Boulting is conjuring ghosts. I don't know of many things more thrilling than this. A wonderfully imaginative and evocative work - Philippe Auclair.
Ned's captivating book explores one man's obsession with this magnificent event and casts an intriguing light on a tiny fragment of a race long gone by ― Alexei Sayle.
Ned has created a rich tapestry from the finest of threads ... I felt transported back with him to the very origins of bike racing and the world that created it ― David Millar.
There has never been a cycling book quite like this one. A scrap of newsreel film, a century old and two and a half minutes long, sweeps Ned Boulting back not just into the world of a forgotten hero of the Tour de France but into the forces that shaped that world: a collision of sport, war, family and destiny. And as he searches for the tiniest clues among the faded celluloid shadows, he carries us along with him, making us his companions on a remarkable mission of rediscovery ― Richard Williams.
Witty, discursive, and tons of fun, Ned Boulting has the Tour de France under his skin, and you will too by the time you've read this ― Al Murray.