by David Shields – reviewed by Rick Price
I think I reached chapter seven before I realized that I was reading a novel, and not a biography of a Tour de France racer. I picked up Dave Shields’ book, The Race, because I liked the idea of learning more about the Tour de France and having a U.S. rider’s perspective of life on the Tour. Living in Italy the media’s focus is on European riders so I was excited to appreciate the differences in point of view. I missed the word “fiction” on the top left of the back cover and believed I was reading about a lesser-known racing cyclist. I found myself taken by Shields’ accurate and adrenaline pumping accounts of racing in the most important bike race in the world.
Shields’ is not a literary master, but his writing is lively and vivid. He succeeds in telling the story of an American boy who falls in love with road cycling, despite his father, and becomes a racer. Ben Barnes, Shields’ protagonist, goes on to race in the Tour de France despite crashes, unmerited failures and dishonest rivals. While the end of The Race is left to the reader’s imagination, the plot occurs over the course of several stages of the Tour de France with unprecedented success by the protagonist.
Despite the fact the story is somewhat cliché, a fallen hero rises and beats the bad guy, I was captivated by the play by play narrative of racing in the Tour de France. I felt that I was with Barnes speeding up and down the Alpe d’Huez. Shields’ describes the peloton from an eagle’s eye view and a rider’s perspective as greenery and spectators wiz by in a blur. He puts you inside the rider’s head as he plays mental games in an effort to distract his body from the torture of the race. Shields also touches on team politics alive in the massage rooms, at meals, and on the course through the omnipresent earphones.
Shields does an excellent job of introducing cycle racing and the Tour de France to non-racers. He explains how Tour stages, general classification (GC) and the overall scoring for different jerseys works. His novel will also appeal to avid cyclists or racers because it’s about world familiar to them. Despite its sometimes formulaic plot, The Race is a quick, educational, and enjoyable read. Whether you enjoy recreational cycling, race every weekend, or are thinking about joining ExperiencePlus! to Chase Lance in the Pyrenees I recommend The Race.