The 1987 Tour de France saw Irishman Stephen Roche triumph, including one of the most memorable scenes in the Tour’s history – his dramatic recovery during the stage to La Plagne, followed by his physical collapse after he crossed the finishing line.
It also saw the first British team compete for 20 years, ANC Halfords, whose rather shambolic attempts now look even more poignant given that it was over a couple of decades later that the professionalism and resources of Sky saw a Brit win the Tour de France two years in a row.
1987 is notable for a third reason – it was the tour covered by Jeff Connor’s book, Wide-eyed and legless: Insider the Tour de France, rated by Cycle Sport as the top cycling book of all time.
It’s a deserved accolade for the book energetically and clearly covers not just the race but many of the wider issues around road racing, including why so many riders ended up regularly cheating with drugs and why too the sport’s authorities were often so reluctant to take meaningful action.
Although cycling has changed in many ways since, it is still recognisably the same sport, complete with problems over cheating, prima donna cyclists, vast crowds, oppressive media attention and near-impossible physical challenges for the riders. Some of the lack of professionalism of “professional” teams back then has, however, thankfully been overtaken by bigger budgets and better treatment of the cyclists – at least for male cyclists.
The book itself is a great read, though its structure – an overall account of several stages at once, before doubling back to cover each of the stages in some detail – can make the flow of the story a little confusing at times.
A tip about the audio version of this book: it is missing some of the appendices at the end, even though they are amenable to be read out loud.
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