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The Yellow Jersey, by Ralph Hurne

A Tour de France novel

 

Terry, the main character in The Yellow Jersey, is a kind of a sympathetic jerk. He obsesses about a New Zealand girl barely more than half his age while living with his thirty-something sort-of fiancée, who’s providing him with financial security by giving him a job in her antiques shop. He also occasionally cheats on her with her college-age daughter, who is dating the Tour de France contender from Luxembourg whom he’s currently training. But, hey, this is France. They’re not as prudish over there as we are in the USA. And the love quadrangle is a mere subplot.

Once the training, tune-up races, and the Tour itself get going, this book is about cycling, cycling, cycling. The protagonist is a thirty-seven year British ex-pro turned manager. He’s seen it all, and though he’s never been good enough to win it all, he thinks his friend and protégé might be able to, someday.

This is a gripping race. I was more excited to learn the outcome of this fictional Tour de France than of last year’s real one.

The book was first written in 1973, and slightly revised by the author in 1996. Although written before the modern era, the race itself is remarkably familiar in terms of

This book taught me far more about tactics and teamwork than any stage recap or TV commentary. The flat, sprinter stages of the Tour always used to bore me, but now I actually understand what’s going on. In one scene, Terry tries to teach his protégé, a natural climber, how to be more aggressive in a sprint. Strategies and nuances that I never noticed before—both ethical and unethical, such as grabbing an opponent’s jersey for a split second to create a gap for your teammate to slip through in the crowded peloton—suddenly became clear, thanks to this book.

I finished with a greater knowledge of exactly what domestiques and managers and mechanics do during each phase of the race—including on rest days. The grizzled veteran rider’s views on behind the scene politics and commercialization of the sport were fascinating. There’s even a doping scandal in the middle of this fictional race, tying it in with current events. Most of all, though, The Yellow Jersey describes the sheer agony of riding more than 3000 miles in the blistering heat of July, with (for most riders) little or no chance for much money, fame, or glory, but plenty of dreams.

As one character says, “The ordinary bloke settles for kids as a sort of poor man’s immortality, but I’ll settle for a half-minute lead at Paris.”

Highly recommended for any cycling enthusiast.

Reviewed by Eric Pinder