Likely to be one of the most popular cycling books in the run up to Christmas, the latest title from ITV’s Ned Boulting is here, reviewed by Brendan Gallagher exclusively for TheTour.co.uk

Following on from the footsteps of How I Won the Yellow Jumper and On the Road Bike, the latter a nominee for the 2013 SweetSpot Cycling Book of the Year, ITV’s cycling frontman Ned Boulting returns with a  look at the 2014 Tour de France, reviewed below by Brendan Gallagher.

And don’t forget, if you want to find reviews of further cycling titles, scroll on down to the foot of the page for more, and keep an eye on the website for news of the 2014 SweetSpot Cycling Book of the Year poll.

101 Damnations – Dispatched from the 101st Tour de France, by Ned Boulting
Out now, published by Yellow Jersey, £14.99
Review by Brendan Gallagher
Available from all good book stores, and online here from Amazon

NED BOULTING is possibly making a rod for his own back here, bashing out compelling and humorous cycling books on an annual basis! At some stage he will need to interrupt that run and give himself a couple of years out for contemplation while the well refills . . . but in the meantime he keeps rolling on like Tony Martin on a solo break. 

Boulting's default setting is humour, both slapstick and the gently mocking, as he examines the endearing absurdities of cycling and the sports heroes and villains. And indeed some of its journalists and followers who serve up an endless stream of half volleys and long hops that need dispatching to the boundary. Cycling in general and the Tour de France in particular is simply a people watchers' heaven, that is its biggest appeal of all. No question.

I'm sure somebody told me Boulting once did a stand-up routine at the Edinburgh fringe or some such. He's certainly got that natural comedian’s confidence and courage to pursue a gag all the way through to the punchline, which then needs to be delivered with panache.

Like most comedians though there is always a struggle with the inner straight man fighting for recognition, a Shakespearian heavyweight wanting to cast aside his more normal music hall personna. Humourists are such acute observers that inevitably there comes that moment when they have something serious to say. 
 
Occasionally, in fact rather more than occasionally in this book, Boulting switches seamlessly into serious mode and much of his best writing is done in this vein.
 
The premise of 101 Damnations is wonderfully simple and probably took ten seconds top-whack to convince the publisher. A romp through the 101st edition of the Tour de France from a man with enviable access to the great and good in his role as ITV's Tour newshound and main interviewer. It doesn't set out to be much more than that but quickly starts offering up all sorts of treats and inside track anecdotes.
 
For this reader at least it fills a huge hole because although I scarcely missed a minute of the 2014 Tour on the TV for reasons too complicated to go into, I didn’t get to cover a single stage. Armed with 101 Damnations you can join all the dots and get the completed picture.  Well as much as you ever can on the Tour de France, where nobody ever gets to see, know or hear the full story. 
 
Where to dive in first? Well the Yorkshire Depart I suppose and the force of nature that was –  and remains – Gary Verity, the man who made who sold Yorkshire to ASO and therefore the world. Boulting's affectionate take on Verity is bang on and will strike a chord with everybody who has either met the man himself or attended one of his press conferences.
 
The first chapter to hit you full on and stop you in your tracks though is a remarkably candid and honest interview with Peta Todd, aka Mrs Mark Cavendish, occasioned by his nasty crash on Stage One of the Tour, the moment that every partner of every cyclist lives in dread of.
  
Boulting is clearly hugely fond of both Mr and Mrs Cavendish but in the interview that follows Peta leaves nobody in any doubt that being married to one of the most mercurial sportsman on the planet has its “moments”. When he's good he's good and when he's bad …etc.
 
Luckily Cav's better half is mature beyond her years, understands being married to a sporting genius is not always going to be a bed of roses, and is no stranger to calling a spade a spade herself. The result is a truly revealing insight. Boulting doesn’t pull his punches elsewhere either – his cameo on a weary Thomas Voeckler compulsively turning his ‘cheeky chappie’ smile on and off at the appearance of a TV camera speaks volumes about a sportsman in the autumn of their career.
 
The quirky characters of both David Millar and Peter Sagan are manna from heaven and Boulting ‘gets’ Sagan, who is a complete one-off, like few others. Their chapters are very entertaining but again it was the more serious Boulting who unerringly finds the bulls eye with his retro look at Roger Riviere, a visit by the Tour to Riviere's home town of Saint Etienne providing the perfect excuse.
 
Riviere was good looking, flash and a wonderfully talented rider but was also horribly vain, egotistical and the most reckless doper of his era. The Frenchman  ruined his career and life when, high as a kite, he crashed spectacularly out of the 1960 Tour when seemingly set to challenge for podium honours, perhaps even the win. In trademark fashion he tried to blame his mechanic but happily his bike was found to be in prefect working order.
 
Painstakingly digging out old interviews and clips on YouTube – and casting his professional TV eye over them –  Boutling unflinchingly tells the tale of a note very pleasant man who died a sad and lonely death from cancer at the age of 40 in 1976. 
 
The temptation on these occasions is to be retrospectively kind, to seek out a redeeming feature or at least to romanticise the waste of a considerable talent. But Boulting, in full straight man mode, refuses to go there, and just relates the full horror story which seems particularly modern and cautionary.
  
If you want to scratch a bit beneath the surface of the Tour this would be a splendid place to start. Amidst all the 'characters' and stories you also feel the exhaustion and heat; the sweat pouring onto your laptop; the rain and cold, the endless cramped drives, the boring hours scuffling while you wait for the inevitable explosion of action and drama; the agony of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the ecstasy of being in the right place at the right time; the frantic search for something edible late at night; the bliss of head briefly hitting pillow; the groan of the 6am alarm.
 
The memory deletes most of that, or rather the brain simply can't compute it at the time, but with 101 Damnations it all comes rushing back

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