Summer reading: Tour de France

Lance Armstrong still sells books

Lance Armstrong retired from competitive racing in July 2005 after winning his seventh consecutive Tour de France. The Texan still sells books and magazines, though, as evident by our own Procycling Magazine and two new books:  "The Tour Is Won on the Alpe: Alpe d'Huez and the Classic Battles of the Tour de France" and "We Might As Well Win: On the Road to Success with the Mastermind Behind Eight Tour de France Victories".

Give me a moment to come back up for air after typing such loooooong titles.

The first book, "The Tour Is Won on the Alpe", written by Jean-Paul Vespini, is a 208 pager focusing on epic battles lost and won on the infamous Alpe d'Huez stage of the Tour de France. First introduced in 1952, Italian champion Fausto Coppi flew to victory on his way to winning the Tour. All the Tour legends are mentioned, from Coppi to Armstrong, himself a double winner of the monster climb that includes 21 back-breaking switchbacks.

"The Tour is Won on the Alpe" by Jean-Paul Vespini. 208 pages, US$21.95, www.velopress.com

The title of the book itself is somewhat misleading; only Coppi and Armstrong won the Tour while winning the Alpe d'Huez stage, but that shouldn't keep cycling fans from enjoying the book. Eddy Merckx, Greg LeMond, Bernard Hinault, Miguel Indurain, Gianni Bugno, Andy Hampsten and Marco Pantani are all heroes of the Alpe, and as the 2008 Tour returns to Alpe d'Huez for Stage 17 after Frank Schleck's amazing victory in 2006, odds are that angelic climbers like Schleck, his brother Andy (runner up in the 2007 Giro d'Italia), Damiano Cunego, Riccardo Ricco, or Cadel Evans could grab victory, but only time will tell if they'll score the overall Tour victory in Paris as well.

"We Might As Well Win" by Johan Bruyneel. 224 pages, US$25, www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com

The second book, "We Might As Well Win," was written by Armstrong's team director Johan Bruyneel, himself a wearer of the yellow jersey while racing for ONCE in 1995. The Belgian, who retired from pro racing in 1998 after 10 years in the peloton, was coaxed to direct the relatively unknown Unites States Postal Team in 1999. He relates his behind-the-scenes planning and strategizing throughout the book, and can be quite candid for a director still active with the Astana team. I've read several books by and about Armstrong, and have a pretty good understanding of the depth of Bruyneel's intellect and organization, which is part and parcel with this 224-page book. No team manager has had as much success as Bruyneel, winning the Tour eight times in nine years (Alberto Contador won in 2007 with the Discovery Channel team; his Astana team wasn't invited to the 2008 Tour).

Johan Bruyneel, in yellow after beating Miguel Indurain on July 8, 1995.

So, if you're wondering what to read on the beach between rides this summer, especially during the Tour-crazy month of July, look no further than these two books. I plan to donate my copies to the local library so others can enjoy the story telling behind the world's greatest sport.

Confession time:  I didn't read my first novel until my senior year in high school. Yep, comic books, magazines, newspapers and anything BUT books for nearly 18 years. Once I decided on journalism school, I became a voracious reader, thanks to my wife and her parents, who gobble up books like oxygen. The book I read in 1983? "Christine" by Stephen King, a story about a 1958 Plymouth fury with a taste for blood.

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