A few weeks ago we covered the reprint of a much loved book about cycling, The Rider. The Great Bike Race is another book that has been reprinted recently, and it covers the story of the 1976 Tour de France. While it may not be quite so well known, it is still a well-respected title that merits another airing.
Why choose to reprint this title? These days books about le Tour are plentiful, but this one was really the first mainstream book to give le Tour such comprehensive coverage – to a level that we tend to take for granted today.
The race itself had its fair share of interest, with Eddy Merckx taking a year out and other riders taking the opportunity to make their mark. Freddie Maertens managed to win a record-equalling eight stages, and the climb to the Alpe d'Huez ski resort proved to be a defining stage of the race. It was only the second time that the climb had been used, and effectively staked its claim as a candidate for future appearances.
More importantly, the late Geoffrey Nicholson was a highly respected sports journalist, and this was his first foray into cycling books, so it was always going to be a worthwhile read.
For the most part you are getting exactly the same book as it was first time around. The cover features a new design, and uses a classy cloth finish (with no paper cover). You also get an introduction by William Fotheringham, who is a highly-respected author himself – see here for example.
As it is nearly 40 years since the book first appeared, this new edition is able to include extracts from several of the reviews that followed the original publication. Cycling magazines were a lot thinner on the ground in those days and so don't contribute many quotes, but virtually every major national newspaper is represented – plus the Essex Weekly News, who called it 'a gripping tale even for someone who doesn't know a bidon from a peloton'.
The central theme of the book is a fuller account of the race than you will find anywhere else, but with the addition of a lot of highly informative discussion about equipment, tactics, sponsorship, the history of the Tour, and the decline of Merckx.
Some of the discussions are still as hotly debated today as they were 40 years ago, such as complaints about the over-commercialisation of the Tour, transfers between stages, the effect of drug taking, and the penalties handed out to riders. Plus ça change.
The book is also a reminder of how things were done differently in those days: 'split stages' had two events on the one day, such as the last day, which featured a morning time trial and an afternoon road race, both based on the Champs Elysées.
This book is the first from Velodrome Publishing's Vintage series, which aims to republish classic cycling titles and make them available to a modern audience. There are no others yet, so if you were in charge, what title would you reprint next? Recommendations must be out of print, preferably timeless, and of course worth reading. My suggestion is 'The Yellow Jersey' by Ralph Hurne – any other nominations?
A reprint of one of the best-written and most thorough analyses of any edition of the world's greatest cycle race
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road.cc test report
Make and model: The Great Bike Race by Geoffrey Nicholson
Size tested: n/a
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
From Velodrome Publishing:
The Great Bike Race is revered by modern cycling critics and was the first book in English to tell the entire story of a full tour. Vivid descriptions of the racing, the personalities, tactics and intrigues of the 1976 race are rotated with insightful thematic chapters. Republished on the 40th anniversary of the race and original first publication.
Geoffrey Nicholson's The Great Bike Race is universally revered by modern cycling critics as the benchmark English-language volume of the sport and has risen to mythical status. It was the first book in English to tell the entire story of a full tour and truly captivates the reader from start to finish. Nicholson's classic, vivid descriptions of the racing, the personalities, tactics and intrigues of the 1976 race are rotated with insightful thematic chapters where he lifts the lid on the broader culture and lengthy traditions of cycling's most famous race and the greatest annual sports event in the world.
On the 40th anniversary of the race and original first publication, Velodrome Publishing is most honoured to republish and celebrate this seminal cycling tome as the launch volume in the 'Vintage Velodrome' series of titles.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Title: The Great Bike Race
Author: Geoffrey Nicholson
Date: April 2016
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
If it had not been for this reprint I might never have read this book, but I am pleased to have done so.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes, if they have an interest in this area of the sport.
Use this box to explain your score
Probably not of mainstream appeal, but it will be appreciated by fans of the sport and its history.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding