Written by Books

The Yellow Jersey by Peter Cossins

The first thing to say about this book is that it’s beautifully made. Telling stories from the Tour isn’t a new idea – there are dozens of books that, quite often, recycle the same stories of races of yesteryear. But this book takes as its starting point the Yellow Jersey.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the Yellow Jersey – although that doesn’t mean it’s the centenary Tour. We’ve already had that. It was only in 1919 that Henry Degrange introduced the Yellow Jersey as a way for spectators to identify who the leading rider was.

Each chapter of Cossins book looks at a different aspect related to the jersey and its wearers. He combines research and quotes from other books, with fresh interviews with relevant participants. All of this is amply illustrated with dozens of pictures – glorious photos of the jerseys themselves, and news and magazine articles across the various eras.

And by no means is this just a picture book. There is plenty in here between those images.

There’s a strong authorial tone too. While many complain that Sky’s recent dominance of the Tour is something new, Cossins points out that many in the past dominated race using the same techniques – pointing at Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain amongst others. Even the now discredited Lance Armstrong era wasn’t all that much different.

(While I was reading this book, the sport’s governing body, the UCI, was asking for cycling fans to complete an online questionnaire. The aim of the survey was to feed into future initiatives that might make racing more entertaining. Invariably, the same complaints that get listed a bit by various people in this book came up: team radios, reducing further team sizes, banning power meters. Team radios didn’t stop inattentive teams losing significant periods of time in this year’s crosswinds affected Stage 10. And reducing team sizes further – they were recently downsized from 9 to 8 – will just result in fewer cyclists being employed, and those that race being even more conservative. Finally riders train enough with power meters these days that they probably instinctively know how much power they’re putting out. But I digress.)

The chapter on the lack of a women’s Tour de France is good, and while ASO organising such an event might not truly be the answer, there is definitely still plenty of modernisation that the organisation needs to go through.

Those who’ve read enough other Tour books will be familiar with plenty of these stories, but there’s enough new information in here for me to make it a very enjoyable read.