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Who Wrote the Book on the Tour de France

On the face of it, the Tour de France is a simple endeavor -- the first bike rider to cover one "lap" of the country in the fastest cumulative time is the winner.

By Dan Giesin, Chronicle Staff Writer

But as with so many other sporting events, there are deeper, more subtle nuances to the Tour, and even the most ardent and knowledgeable fans can sometimes miss the forest for the trees.

As for Jane and Joe Average American, that's why prime-time TV telecasts of the Tour in the United States can be -- and have been -- so maddening: You get a lot more travelogue and/or all-Lance-all-the-time than race action because the casual sports fan here generally isn't hip to the inner workings of the Tour peloton.

However, now that Lance Armstrong, with his record six straight Tour wins (he's currently shooting for a seventh), has raised the collective consciousness of the race in the States somewhat, maybe it's time for folks on this side of the Atlantic to up their cognoscenti factor a bit.

At your favorite bookstore are four publications -- two new, two reprints/updates -- that will fill in the holes in your knowledge of the sport.

-- "Lance Armstrong's War" by Daniel Coyle (HarperCollins, $25.95) is a marvelous tale of Our Hero's run-up to and competition in the historic 2004 Tour de France, where Armstrong became the first rider in the 101-year history of the race to win the maillot jaune -- the Tour leader's yellow jersey -- for the sixth time.

Providing more than a outsider's look at the inner workings of Armstrong and his coterie of U.S. Postal Service teammates, officials and hangers-on, Coyle, a former editor at Outside magazine, delves into what makes professional riders tick. He takes a well-crafted measure of Armstrong's biggest rivals (and some close friends): Jan Ullrich, Tyler Hamilton, Iban Mayo, Floyd Landis, the "notorious" Dr. Michele Ferrari et al.

Coyle uprooted his family from Alaska and moved to Girona, Spain, the residence of choice for most American cyclists who compete on the European pro circuit. The months he spent there gave him insights into the training methods of the Postal Service and other pro teams; the arcane politics of the peloton; the medical, psychological and just plain superstitious practices (and sometimes malpractices) of racers; and the ambitions of Armstrong and other Tour competitors that drive them -- and sometimes their loved ones -- to the brink.

Not quite a paean to Armstrong, Coyle's book is more of a revelatory glimpse at the workaday world of professional cycling, 21st century style.

-- The title of "Tour de France for Dummies" (Wiley, $16.99) speaks for itself.

Modeled on the innumerable "For Dummies" publications, this one crams just about everything a casual -- or even rabid -- cycling fan needs to know about the Tour and bicycle racing in general into 261 tidy pages.

The three people responsible for putting the book together -- Sacramento free-lance writer James Raia; Phil Liggett, the so-called voice of the Tour; and photojournalist Sammarye Lewis -- are unstinting in presenting, in highly entertaining and readable form, just about every factoid, minutia and trivia of more than 100 years worth of Tours de France.

Want to know the different types of riders? Check out Chapter 4 ("It's All About the Team"). Yearn to know what makes them tick? Flip to Chapter 7 ("Who Are These Guys, and How Do They Do It"). Curious about the games riders play? See Chapter 6 ("Understanding Race Strategies").

It's a great resource to consult when OLN goes to its overabundance of commercial breaks.

-- Last year, Bob Roll, the OLN commentator and one-time Tour competitor (late 1980s-early '90s), collaborated with cycling author Dan Koeppel to produce an always readable, sometimes irreverent primer to the world's greatest bicycle race.

The recently released "The Tour de France Companion 2005" (Workman Publishing, $10.95) is basically a reprint of the '04 model, with some photos and words from last year's race tacked on.

Still, it's worth the price.

-- "Lance Armstrong: Images of a Champion" (Rodale, $24.95) is another retread, an updated version of the '04 model.

But like the Roll-Koeppel book, it still packs a pretty good punch, a forward by Robin Williams notwithstanding.

Armstrong supplies the commentary, but it's the photos taken by the incomparable Graham Watson that give the soft-bound coffee-table book it poignancy. Watson, a Londoner who has photographed every Tour de France -- and just about every other significant bicycle race since the mid-'70s -- has supplied us with a pictorial history of Armstrong, from his days as a brash young pro in the early 1990s, to his bout with cancer in mid-decade, to his comeback in the late '90s and to his ascendancy as the cultural icon he is today.

With this book, you'll see why Armstrong is the Watson of cycling.

E-mail Dan Giesin at

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