Le Tour de France: The Official Treasures
Sunday 26 May 2013
"Minors must provide written authorisation from their parents or guardian in order to take part," reads Article Three of the 1910 Tour regulations; there must have been some tough kids around in those days. This is one of the mass of facsimile printed ephemera included with this deluxe edition by Serge Laget, Luke Edwardes-Evans and Andy McGrath, produced to celebrate this year's 100th race – it was first run in 1902, but two world wars caused some barren years.
While well-written, and lavishly illustrated and designed, this doesn't pretend to be a comprehensive history of the event – if that's what you want, get hold of The Great Bike Race by Geoffrey Nicholson or, more recently, Geoffrey Wheatcroft's Le Tour.
What it does offer is fascinating incidental detail in a far more immediate, tactile way. Read through the entry form for 1955 and you discover that the organisers would actually provide a bike for entrants if required, as well as accessories such as helmets, sunglasses, even a suitcase, but specified draconian fines if any of it was not returned.
Spectators have had a better time of it, as a chapter on the publicity caravan that precedes each day's stage explains. "Noisy, polluting, vulgar, fun," the 200-vehicle procession hands out more than 16 million gifts over the three weeks, and here we find replicas of jaunty paper hats from 1935 and 1955, the latter advertising Amora mustard, and face masks from Cointreau featuring famous cyclists of the day.
Photographs, posters and postcards from every era abound, including a limited-edition illustration by Salvador Dali – who knew the moustachioed one was a fan? The list goes on, including: letters from the organisers; a 1947 bill from a wholesale grocer detailing the provisions he supplied; a rare 1925 diploma honouring the first Frenchman home; commemorative stamps; and press passes, all culled not so much from the dustbin as the desk drawer of history. Enjoyment comes at a price, but it doesn't have to be the hefty recommended retail one, as an internet search in the obvious place will soon reveal.
Published in hardback with inclusions by Carlton, £50
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