Indoor Adventure The droll Bob Roll takes cycling fans on an entertaining and informative tour of the Tour

June 27, 2004

THE TOUR DE FRANCE COMPANION
By Bob Roll
Workman Publishing Info
182 pages, $11

Passport? Check. French-English dictionary? Check. Tent for
camping out on the Alpe d'Huez? Check.

Tell you what else I'll pack when I leave to cover the world's
greatest bike race next month: Bob Roll's Tour de France
Companion. In this rollicking 182-page primer, the man known in
velo circles as Bobke shows readers how to get their arms--and
minds--around what he calls la grande boucle (the big loop).

The aptly named Roll is singularly qualified for the job, having
raced in and completed the Tour, in 1986, '89 and '90, and having
covered it in gonzo style for the Outdoor Life Network. "Just as
Lance Armstrong has figured out how to win the Tour as an
American," writes Dan Koeppel in his gracious foreword to the
Companion, "so Bob has learned to explain the Tour as one."

The book will help you follow the Tour whether you're watching it
on OLN or en France. Roll is passionate about this event, and
he's never patronizing as he shares its lore and illuminates its
esoterica. He clarifies the definition of domestique. (It doesn't
mean servant or maid; it's closer to infantryman.) He explains
who gets to wear the polka-dot jersey (the leading climber) and
divulges the true identity of El Diablo, the guy who dresses up
as the devil and exhorts racers with a pitchfork (Didi Senft of
Germany). Roll also reveals how riders answer the call of nature
while never dropping below 15 mph, and he opines that the best
freebies dispensed by the publicity caravan that precedes the
peleton are Haribo gummy bears.

The book previews the 2004 course and dispenses advice on where
to look for lodging. There is a glossary, a Tour de France
timeline and the author's "Unauthorized, Unexpurgated Tour de
France Alphabet." But the Companion is at its most enjoyable when
Roll isn't imparting practical info. Here is Bobke on what it
feels like to stand by as the riders bear down on the
Champs-Elysees: "It is almost scary: nearly 150 riders, whizzing
by with an audible snap--the roaring sound of air being pushed
through 5,000 spokes."

Early in his comeback from cancer, Armstrong put in 10 days of
hard training in the Appalachians near Boone, N.C. He asked Roll
to fly out and ride with him. Reading this book, it's easy to see
why Lance called. Bobke is great company. --Austin Murphy

COLOR PHOTO: COURTESY OF WORKMAN PUBLISHING

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)