As competitors sprint for the Paris finish line of the ninety-ninthÂ Tour de France with dreams of wearing the winning yellow jersey this Sunday, July 22, a legal drama is playing out here in the States as Lance Armstrongâ€™s former Tour teammates come forward with allegations of doping that may cost Armstrong his medals. Before the use of performance-enhancing drugs threatened to overshadow the thrill of watching skinny men cycle up and down near-vertical peaks in pursuit of glory, there was still plenty of drama behind the scenes at the Tour. Take, for instance, the story of Gino Bartali, the Italian two-time Tour winner who worked for the Italian resistance during World War Two, hiding a Jewish family and smuggling counterfeit documents past Nazi checkpoints on his bicycle. As Aili and Andres McConnon write in â€śRoad to Valor,â€ť their new biography of Bartali, the cyclistâ€™s â€śtoughest moments came not on the steepest pitches of the Tour de France, but during the darkest hour of the Nazi occupation of Italy, risking his life for strangers.â€ť Following, a round-up of other Tour-inspired books to lose yourself in after marveling at the riders cruising down the Champs-Ă‰lysĂ©es.
At the funeral of Jacques Anquetil, which was attended by heads of state and cyclingâ€™s elite, the priest eulogized the racer by saying â€śin the life of the man, there is the good and the less good. It is not up to us to judge.â€ť We certainly can enjoy reading about it, though, especially the less good, and Anquetilâ€™s life story offers plenty of dirt. He was a national hero for winning the Tour five times, but his exploits off the bike became just as legendary: drug abuse, partying, and a longtime relationship with the wife of his doctor before impregnating both his stepdaughter and the wife of his stepson. Howard argues that Anquetilâ€™s personal exploits shouldnâ€™t overshadow his achievements on the bike, claiming the rider was one of the top five Tour competitors in history, but that the manâ€™s personal and professional lives were inextricably -- and fascinatingly -- intertwined.
"It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life" by Lance Armstrong with Sally Jenkins
Before he became the most controversial figure in the performance-enhancing drugs scandals that have rocked the Tour in recent years, Armstrong was a young cycling phenom struck by cancer just as his career was taking off. A mere three years later he won his first Tour, and heâ€™d go on to win six more. In his memoir, he discusses the rigors of a grueling training regimen and his exhausting battle against cancer with equal detail and grit and a bracing lack of self-pity. He also traces his path to the Tour from his Texas childhood, where he competed in junior triathlons and road races, to a European sojourn and back to the states, where his career really took off, making his name synonymous with cycling for most of the past decade.
"Racing Through the Dark" by David Millar
When a cyclist dedicates his book to the peloton -- the pack of riders that follows the lead cyclist in a bike race -- Â writing, â€śI treasure the small amount of time I have left with you, even though you can be so cruel,â€ť you know his memoir is going to go to some dark places. And so is the case with British cyclist David Millar, who describes himself as an Olympic athlete, Tour de France star, world champion -- â€śand a drug cheat.â€ť Unlike other cyclists who remain coy on the subject of doping, Millar comes clean, not only about his own behavior, but about the culture of doping that he claims was like â€śwhite noiseâ€ť on the professional racing circuit. After being banned from the sport for two years, Millar came back as a "clean" rider and outspoken critic of performance-enhancing drugs.
"Fallen Angel: The Passion of Fausto Coppi" by William Fotheringham
In 1953, Fausto Coppi became the first rider to win the Tour de France and the Tour of Italy in the same year -- and then he turned around and did it again. But even as he pedaled towards becoming a national hero, he was being chased by demons. After filing for divorce in a deeply religious country where adultery was not only a sin but a crime, Coppi was excommunicated by the church and went from being the pride of Italy to a figure of national shame. His mistress was briefly thrown in jail, and Coppi died still tainted by the scandal. But more than forty years after his death, Coppi was voted most popular sportsman of the century, and today he is known as il campanissimo, champion of champions.