Slaying The Badger, Richard Moore (2011)

A gripping account of the Tour’s most extraordinary rivalry

Yellow Jersey 9780224082907 Paperback 296pp £12.99

As the 2011 Tour reached its gripping conclusion, I convinced myself that it was one of the best editions of the event ever. It had everything – or so I thought. Competition for the main prize was red hot till the last few days, every jersey was keenly contested and the twists and turns on the mountain stages provided a compelling high-wire drama.

Reading Richard Moore’s latest offering, I realise that 2011 fell a good way short of the greatest. The 1986 Tour saw an epic rivalry played out, a truly great champion battle to the end to take the crown and the seismic watershed when an English-speaking rider won for the first time. Along the way there was a promise – possibly broken – a team divided, talk of secret, underhand deals, and the intervention of one of modern French history’s most colourful and charismatic characters.
Sporting micro-histories are one of the publishing sensations of our age. There can’t be a football rivalry, an Olympic campaign or a World-title grudge match in the ring that has not been subjected to this treatment. Cycling has provided some particularly rich seams and on the evidence of this book, it will be some time before reserves are exhausted.

To make sense of this clash of the titans, Moore’s story plots the trajectory that brought the main protagonists to their gladiatorial final duel on Alpe d’Huez. Wrapped around this are the stories of the rest of the cast – director sportifs, soigneurs, team owners and even the rider’s wives. In doing so – a little like Samuel Abt’s tour books of old – he brings to life the whole crazy soap opera that is the Tour.

Moore is just old enough to remember this edition – the first that Channel Four televised, and the inspiration that it provided him is clearly still fresh. In his seeking out of all those who made the drama so compelling – and he does a pretty comprehensive job – and digs deep into a mythology that he has burnished for quarter of a century.

He brings to his research the same dogged method, keen ear for a tale and easy writing style that is familiar from his earlier biographies. If anything, his writing is growing more confident. He is unafraid to show how he works and allow those stories to enrich his tale.

There is something in this book to interest those with only a glancing interest in cycle racing, and enough to entertain even the most knowledgeable aficionados. Indeed, so well does Moore do his job that I wondered whether, given time, he might craft a compelling read from one of Miguel Indurain’s metronomic victories.

PS Sep 11

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