Roule Britannia by William Fotheringham

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The Independent Culture

Admittedly, the race will never take hold of the country in the way it does in France, but for many who have grown to love it, there is no event that can match the drama, intrigue, myriad sub-plots and feats of human endurance the Tour provides every summer.

While the presence (or absence) of British riders has had only marginal impact on the interest of Tour aficionados, the story of those who have taken part is a fascinating one. They have often had to defy the odds, though matters have improved since Bill Burl and Charles Holland became the first Britons to ride in the Tour in 1937. Burl pulled out after crashes on the first two days, while Holland retired after a series of punctures, the result simply of a warped washer in his pump valve.

It was another 18 years before Britons competed again, but from 1955 until 2003 there was just one year (1976) when there were none in the field. They have also enjoyed some success. Brian Robinson was the first Briton to take a stage, in 1956; Barry Hoban regularly won stages between 1967 and 1975; Robert Millar won the King of the Mountains competition in 1984; and the leader's yellow jersey has been worn by Tom Simpson (who died on Mont Ventoux during the 1967 Tour), Chris Boardman, Sean Yates and David Millar.

William Fotheringham's book is painstakingly researched and gives a fascinating insight into the workings of the Tour. We may still be waiting for a winner from this side of Calais, but there is no doubting the contribution Britons have made to the world's greatest bike race.

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