Book Review: Ned Boulting's 'How I Won The Yellow Jumper'

Cycling is a sport of many emotions: the sympathy as the day-long breakaway gets caught, the adrenaline as the final sprint unfolds, the sense of pride as ‘your’ teams takes the victory. Unfortunately, sometimes, the disappointment and feeling of being cheated, as another doping scandal unfolds.

The mix of emotions is what makes the sport so engaging, so addictive, and so special. Ned Boulting’s ‘How I Won The Yellow Jumper’ captures the full spectrum of emotions that follows the Tour de France every year, and makes it the heart of global cycling culture. His ‘Dispatches from the Tour’ cover everything from the joy and perseverance of road-side fans, the fight and fury of the pent-up sprinter, the comedy of Le Tour’s toilettes, and the shame and disgrace of drug cases. This book has it all, but most important of all emotions, it also has humour.

Ned’s obvious naivety upon starting his coverage of the Tour de France in 2003 is almost painful to read at first; a football commentator come cycling reporter, you just have to wince and smile as he stumbles his way through his first tour, and unknowingly disparages some of the tour’s greatest features (calling the maillot jaune the “yellow jumper” is just the starter).

It is captivating though; Ned learns fast, and so do you as the reader. You are absorbed into the complex and often surprisingly unglamorous world of the backstage Tour de France. The persevering interviewer, the hotel reviewer, the foodie, the camper, the investigator; Ned is all of them rolled into one. He provides a view of Le Tour that I haven’t observed before. A perspective that is at times brutally honest, at times very personal; but fundamentally, a story of someone that has developed a fundamental love for the Tour de France, and passes that on to anyone that reads his words.

‘How I Won The Yellow Jumper’ manages to cover every aspect of the mega-event that the Tour de France has become. Yet, it does it in a manner that is great fun. Ned shows that whilst cycling is a great mix of emotions; the occasional disappointments, challenges and frustrations only work to emphasise the great. The book is a celebration of an event that has become a part of so many people’s July; and in a world of cycling literature which lately seems to be overwhelmed with confessions of doping, it is a hugely welcomed respite into a fun and light-hearted world.   

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