Three weeks eight seconds; the epic Tour de France of 1989 – Nige Tassell

A Stage by Stage, accident by incident telling of the battle for the yellow jersey between Pedro Delgado, who was supposed to win it, Laurent Fignon, who thought he’d won it, and Greg Le Mond, who started out as a no-hoper and who did win it.  This is the story of a remarkable race.

This is about more than just these three cyclists though as there were a number of exciting break aways and Stage finishes on the 1989 Tour.

The book begins with the shooting accident in 1987 that almost caused the end of LeMond’s cycling career.  He was accidentally shot by his brother-in-law, seriously injured and, in early 1989, was struggling to find fitness and form going into the Tour de France.  He found form during the Tour and he and Fignon were both battling to gain and keep the yellow jersey.

Delgado was in top form and defending his Tour win from the previous year but there was controversy about a failed drugs test and he got his time mixed up for the Prologue time trial and turned up late.  He spent the rest of the Tour trying to catch up to the front-runners.

Fignon, a Frenchman, was not universally popular in France and he and his team didn’t help themselves by not adopting new technology, such as tribars for time trials, teardrop shaped helmets and how disc wheels are used.

The battle for first lasted all the way to the Champs Elysees and Greg LeMond won by 8 seconds.

I really enjoyed knowing what happened on the 1989 Tour.  It is unlikely that in today’s world of team radios and solid team tactics such an exciting race will happen again.  It’s also a story of a simpler time when cycling teams weren’t as media savvy as they are today.

What the book does lack, however, is the humanity of the race.  The facts are presented, the breakaways and spills related but it just doesn’t ever quite come alive.  At the end of the book I have no more sense of the three main protagonists as people than I did at the start of it.  And none of them are cited in the acknowledgements, which makes me think they weren’t involved in the book and which might explain its 2-dimensional nature.

I am pleased I read it. I know more about the 1989 Tour than I did. I won’t be looking out for any more books by this author.

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