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The Tour de France

A Cultural History

Christopher S. Thompson (Author)

In this highly original history of the world’s most famous bicycle race, Christopher S. Thompson, mining previously neglected sources and writing with infectious enthusiasm for his subject, tells the compelling story of the Tour de France from its creation in 1903 to the present. Weaving the words of racers, politicians, Tour organizers, and a host of other commentators together with a wide-ranging analysis of the culture surrounding the event—including posters, songs, novels, films, and media coverage—Thompson links the history of the Tour to key moments and themes in French history. He argues persuasively that this hugely popular sporting event has been instrumental in French attempts to grapple with the great challenges they have confronted during their tumultuous twentieth century—from World Wars, political divisions, and class conflict to economic modernization, women’s emancipation, and threats to public health. Examining the enduring popularity of Tour racers, Thompson explores how their public images have changed over the past century. He concludes with a discussion of the longstanding practice of doping and considers the complex case of the seven-time champion Lance Armstrong.

1. La Grande Boucle: Cycling, Progress, and Modernity in Twentieth-Century France
2. Itineraries, Narratives, and Identities in Twentieth-Century France
3. The Géants de la Route: Gender and Heroism in Twentieth-Century France
4. L’Auto’s Ouvriers de la Pédale: Work, Class, and the Tour de France, 1903–1939
5. The Forçats de la Route: Exploits, Exploitation, and the Politics of Athletic Excess, 1903–1939
6. What Price Heroism? Work, Sport, and Drugs in Postwar France

Appendix: Racers’ Occupations
Christopher S. Thompson is Associate Professor of History at Ball State University.
"Impossible to put down! . . . This is a fascinating and exceptionally well written book . . . social historians of France will find Thompson's study a treat."—Eugenia Kiesling French Politics, Culture & Society
“The Tour de France has now been run for more than a hundred years, but only in 2006 has it at last received the full-scale scholarly attention it has long deserved. As Christopher Thompson rightly observes in his splendid study of this cultural phenomenon, the history of the Tour has always, in a way, been about the history of France. . . . By setting twenty-first century dilemmas within a century-long historical narrative, Thompson has made the Tour's societal and cultural connections more comprehensible than ever before. One is tempted to write that this is first-rate sports history. Plain and simple first-rate French history will, however, do.”—Michael B. Miller H-France Review Of Books
“Released during the 2006 Tour, Thompson's work raises significant questions that only loom larger in the wake of the doping scandals that rocked the Tour this year . . . Thompson's great contribution to the current debate reflects his process throughout the work. He does not offer pat answers and saccharine bromides about the inherent values in sport that will transcend current controversies and eventually win out for the good of sport and society. Rather, he takes a hard look at how sport, and specifically the Tour, has served as a means for constructing, and contesting, a wide variety of social identities. He locates the tensions that existed, and exist, between competing narratives and teases them out for us. Ultimately, he reminds us that the current controversy regarding doping and the Tour is an important one; for in the face of ever-expanding genetic breakthroughs and the possibility of genetic manipulation, ‘the Tour is likely to be part of a global conversation about an even more fundamental question: what does it mean to be human?’”—Chris Mack H-German
“A well-written and engaging cultural history.”—Michael Zimmerman Indianapolis News & Star
"Shows that sport has been for us moderns the ultimate tabula rasa into which we pour our hopes, fears, prejudices and self-interest."—Robert A. Nye, author of Crime, Madness, & Politics in Modern France and Masculinity and Male Codes of Honor in Modern France

"A true gem of a book. A terrific scholar and an engaging writer."—Dean MacCannell, author of The Tourist and Empty Meeting Grounds

"A major new interpretation of France's most famous sporting event. For the first time the Tour de France has been fully and carefully placed within the wider context of French history."—Richard Holt, author of Sport and Society in Modern France and Sport and the British

"Chris Thompson has written an engaging, nicely-paced account of France's world-famous cycle race: his writing is lively and full of detail and excitement. But he has done much more than simply narrate the story of the Tour. His book sets the race—its history, its participants and its meaning—firmly in its shifting national and cultural contexts. The sections dealing with professional cycling as a form of labor and with the Tour's place in France's troubled twentieth century are absolutely first-rate: insightful and original. This is the best history of the Tour that we have and are likely to have for many years, a work of scholarship that deserves to find a broad general readership."—Tony Judt, author of Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945

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