Channel 4 burst onto UK TV screens in 1982 – a new commercially funded public service broadcaster. One of the things it would do was cover sports that the traditional BBC and ITV weren’t showing. They would show highlights of the NFL and even kabaddi. But for me, the sport that Channel 4 would really introduce me to in the mid-eighties was cycling. With Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, they were the voices of the Tour de France in the UK. Each evening, we’d get a highlights package of that day’s Tour. In due course, Gary Imlach joined the team – and of course he still presents what is effectively the same show, when coverage switched to ITV in 2001.
But it was the 1989 Tour that really showed me what cycling could be. I didn’t really know anybody who was also watching Channel 4’s coverage until I spent a placement year in Edinburgh and made friends with someone there who was also a massive cycling fan. Only then could we truly discuss quite how remarkable the year before’s Tour had been.
Nige Tassell’s book tells the story of that Tour – a three week race that would end up being decided in a final stage time trial on the streets of Paris, with just eight seconds splitting the first two places.
I confess that the precise details of the race had drifted into the deeper recesses of my memory, so Tassell’s book reminds me of how extraordinary a race that truly was. Greg LeMond had gone into the race having really only finally properly recovered from a hunting accident that had seen his body peppered with shot. He was on a week team, and nobody gave him much of a chance. Pedro Delgado was the reigning champion, while Lauren Fignon, a two-time winner was himself returning to fitness.
The book follows a fairly straightforward structure, going stage by stage through the race. Tassell gives you enough background to work with, but not too much. He’s interviewed a number of the key people in the race, dug through other interviews and used lots of contemporaneous accounts of the race.
Even the start of the race was extraordinary, with Delgado going last in the opening prologue time-trial, missing his start time and instantly losing two minutes forty seconds on everyone else on the race!
A thoroughly entertaining read in my ongoing sequence of cycling books!