Duncan Steer

Revealed: where the Tour stashes its cash, and other backstage stories. Part 2 of our June books round-up

The peloton on the last day of the 2021 Tour de France. The Tour brings in around $100m revenue each year - but where does all the money go? Photo: Getty Images

Duncan Steer on a brilliant new book that reveals the rarely-told tale of the Tour de France’s ownership and finances – plus Steve Cummings’ likeable memoir and Sophie Smith’s full-immersion backstage guide to the Tour.

Each year, the Tour de France generates a turnover of around $100m in sponsorship and TV revenues for the publicity-shy Amaury family, who are its sole owners. But while the family take a dividend of some $20m annually, each team riding the Tour receives only around 50,000 euros towards their costs. Alex Duff’s Le Fric: Family, Power and Money: The Business of the Tour de France reveals how cycling’s (and arguably France’s) main attraction came to this unusual arrangement. The early chapters are a cinematic evocation of clandestine Resistance newspapers, backroom deals and people like Emilien Amaury who were in the right place at the right time. Later, we move into modern sports politics and the 2010s mootings of teams to get a bigger share of the cake, by setting up their own World Series of Cycling. If the immediate post-War years are the highlight, Duff’s sparse style drives the whole story forward, a business history with the rhythm and suspense of a mystery thriller and plenty of curious revelations you will surely be repeating in conversation.

Sophie Smith had only seen the Tour de France twice on TV before she went full-immersion, travelling from Australia to Europe to, first, write for Cycling Weekly and Cycle Sport and then, to become a familiar TV face. Now, after nine Tours, she shares her impressions in Pain and Privilege: Inside the Tour . From riding in the race on the back of a motorbike, to getting rivals for the green jersey to explain their tactics, Smith shares the experience of being inside the Tour, while bringing in expert witnesses to explain its nuances. Riders’ voices – Mark Cavendish, Chris Froome, Richie Porte, Cadel Evans, Sam Bennett and Michael Rogers among many others – weave in and out of the text, but we also hear from unsung Tour mainstays like Seb Piquet, the voice of race radio, on whom all teams rely for up-to-date info. Pain and Privilege works as a beginner’s guide to the Tour, buoyed by amazing access but finds its real energy when Smith puts herself into the story – falling out with a rider over an ill-conceived Tweet; arguing with her cameraman about the news angle of the day; or giving up on covering the final stage from a motorbike, because she feels she is intruding on the peloton’s demob boys’ party.

In cycling, Steve Cummings has seen it all: an Olympic track medallist at the 2004 Games, he was a part of Team Sky when it launched in 2012 and went on to win stages of the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana. He started 14 Grand Tours and finished them all, the last the 2019 Tour, at the age of 38. The Break: Life as a Cycling Maverick, written with Alasdair Fotheringham, is his autobiography, a pacy and candid read that shows us exactly what being a top rider involves. Cummings gives insight into what it takes to be a breakaway specialist – and into why he found his individual talents and inclinations thwarted within Sky’s rigidly controlled approach. (These days, Cummings is back at Team Ineos as a DS…) His famous breakaway stage win, riding for the African team Quebeka, at the 2015 Tour at the age of 35 is a high point here. But the likeable Cummings’ honest testimony makes this a more-ish read all the way through.

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