If you, like this reviewer, watch the Tour de France for the scenery, Sophie Smith's book will give a greater insight into the race. The various roles of the riders, the people who manage teams, the health professionals - all feature in this engaging book.
The Tour is an amazingly demanding sporting event. This year's race will cover around 3,300 kilometres, about the same as from Melbourne to Perth, with several mountains thrown in. Smith has reported direct from nine Tours so far, and the book contains extracts from many interviews with well-known riders, ranging over topics such as how they cope with the intense scrutiny, to team tactics and motivation.
At least until COVID, there is no sporting event in which the competitors are as close to the press and crowds. Even the time at the hotels, which "range from five-star to feral", are usually in shared rooms. Smith includes comments from Cadel Evans - Australia's only yellow jersey winner, to date - recounting times he locked himself in the bathroom just to get some time to switch off. The intense focus and lack of privacy continues for three weeks.
The chapter "Breaking Point" details some of the injuries suffered by riders, including Marc Soler, who finished a stage with two broken arms, after a collision with a sign held by a spectator. Throughout the book there are a worrying number of references to broken bones, including contestants riding with broken backs and ribs. Unlike in football, there are no substitutes in cycling. Smith writes that there comes "a point...where glorified suffering becomes outdated. It has in other sports; it has in other races." Not in the Tour, it seems.
Some riders will never win a stage in the race, but are there to protect those who will. The necessary self-confidence of sprinters, and the fine line between confidence and arrogance, are threads that run through Pain & Privilege.
The book touches on advances in nutrition, sport psychology and technical aids to riders even over the last few years. There's also detail around role of the physiotherapists, and the soigneurs, who do everything from massage, to preparing the bags filled with snacks for the riders, to on-the-job psychology. The mind-boggling amounts of money that power some of the major teams are worth noting; last year the Ineos team had an estimated annual budget equivalent to AU$77 million.
Smith has produced an entertaining book that examines all aspects of the world's biggest annual sporting event. Easy to dip into, Pain & Privilege contains a wealth of information, presented in an immediate and appealing way.
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