While columnists from Paris to Peoria debate the fate of Floyd Landis, awaiting the results of a second samplethe consensus is that indeed his victory in the 2006 Tour de France was aided by drugsit's not a bad time to step back and survey the history of the event.
In the midst of his seven-year reign as king of the Tour, Lance Armstrong published his autobiography with the cheeky title It's Not About the Bike. Of course, the book was also about his recovery from cancer, but from early success as a teenage racer to the domination of the world's most famous race, Armstrong's story cannot be told without the bike. At the time, I wondered if this book would spawn imitators:
Bill Gates: It's Not About the Computer
Mario Andretti: It's Not About the Car
Yo-Yo Ma: It's Not About the Cello
Jonah: It's Not About the Fish
Armstrong did not start a trend, but he should have loaned his title to Christopher Thompson, author of The Tour de France: A Cultural History. Thompson should have called the book It's Not About the Race. Alas, although chock-full of interesting bits about the man who founded and promoted the Tour, this book is almost completely free of information about the race itself. The cover features a splendid black & white photo of the 1947 winner of the Tour climbing a mountain with enthusiastic spectators running alongside pouring water on their hero. A reader could assume the race would appear somewhere in the text. It doesn't, except in the introduction. In the opening paragraph Thompson says he has been a fan of the Tour since he lived in Belgium as a teenager. He may have been a fan, but he was not a racer. In the first paragraph he gets the action of the race very wrong.
He writes of riders "swerving acrobatically" ...