Étape is the fifth book by sports journalist and author Richard Moore. In it, he looks beyond the headlines to delve deep into a selection of enduring, intriguing and less celebrated tales of the Tour de France.
While the winner and yellow jersey of each stage are welcomed onto the podium and celebrated for their exploits, those victors never have a monopoly on fascinating stories. And it's the stories beyond the podium that Étape seeks to reveal.
There are some tales that you may be familiar with: Andy Schleck's 2011 heroics on the Galibier, for example, or Greg LeMond snatching victory (by a mere eight seconds) from Laurent Fignon in 1989.
Others will almost certainly be new to you: Bernie Eisel's chaperoning of Mark Cavendish through the mountains, or the longest solo breakaway in Tour history, or how a ‘holiday’ in a small seaside town was actually a recce for a stage win a few months later. These might not have been newspaper-shifting topics, but they offer priceless glimpses into what goes on in the peloton when the cameras aren't rolling and the scribes aren't typing.
Moore's idea for the book was to "to tell the stories of selected stages of the Tour de France through the recollections of the protagonist", and he does that across Étape's 20 chapters.
The book looks back at the "heroes and villains, the stars, journeymen, and one-hit wonders" who have all left their mark on the Tour.
Moore isn't only concerned about what happened in the heat of the moment though, but with what came before and after too. It's the second of two chapters with Lance Armstrong that best showcases the strength of this approach.
During Armstrong’s Tour reign, the idea of doping in the peloton little more than a suspicion, since there was no proof at the time that riders were using performance enhancing drugs. It wasn't until Armstrong's 2013 confession to Oprah Winfrey that the extent of his doping was revealed, and his seven Tour wins were seen in a new light.
Following the interview, Armstrong agreed to talk to Moore openly about his past, specifically the 2003 stage to Luz Ardiden.
"Honestly, I wouldn't have talked to you about this, for this book, if you hadn't asked me about 2003, and the fact that you want me to talk about something that a bunch of dickheads swear didn't happen. That convinced me that I should talk to you about it," Armstrong says in the book.
Back in 2003, any journalists asking Armstrong about drug use would have been blacklisted, but Moore, with the benefit of 10 years having passed, is able to extract precisely what he wants from Armstrong, with no fear retribution or consequence. Armstrong still wants to talk about his 'glory days' on the bike. While Moore allows him that, the reader gains an insight into the heady days of EPO use in the early 2000s. Armstrong won the 2003 Tour but the strain and pressure that he was under to do so was never really evident in the press reports of the time, and that's partly because he couldn’t talk about doping as he freely does in Étape.
Enriching and inspiring
Where Moore's book excels is in unearthing the unknown, the forgotten and the untold of the Tour without requiring the reader to have an intimate knowledge of the sport.
In investigating beyond the headlines and race reports, Étape enriches the sport of professional cycling. It will cause you to fall in love with cycling over and over again and remind you that it is a sport that produces endless storylines. They yank at our heartstrings and questions our faith, but still inspires us with their beauty.
We recently featured Étape in a list of 10 great cycling books.