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Le Grand Tour

There’s normally a flurry of publications just before the Tour de France starts, capitalising on the hype surrounding the grandest Tour of all – so a book called ‘Le Grand Tour’ appearing now must be about le Tour? Actually, no: it is about touring round France, but it isn’t about the Tour de France. 

Author:             Andrew Sykes


Date:                1/5/24

Format:            Paperback

Pages:             372

ISBN:              9781399985253

Price:               £15

Reviewed by:   Richard Peploe

cover le grand tor andrew sykes review

Andrew Sykes is one of those people who chooses to undertake a cycling holiday with the express intention of writing a book about it later – as opposed to deciding afterwards that the trip was actually worth writing about (like Otto Ecroyd did in his Northbound and Down). In fact, it’s the fourth time that Sykes has done this – and fortunately he is rather good at it.

There are comparisons to be drawn with a better-known practitioner, Tim Moore, and with good reason: each has found a successful ‘formula’ that works for them, and it provides a certain familiarity as to what is on offer. As a result, it is highly likely that anyone who enjoys one of Sykes’ books would enjoy his others: I also feel that any fan of Moore’s work would feel right at home with Sykes’ oeuvre.

Authors like to have a theme to provide a structure for their narrative, but Sykes’ initial plans were thwarted first by Covid, and then by the Ukraine war: the ‘Plan C’ result is an anticlockwise ride around (mostly) France.

Like many of us, when good cycle routes were available, Sykes would use them. Once again, the increasingly comprehensive Eurovelo network was invaluable, and when combined with other local facilities sometimes “facilitated (almost) idiot-proof route finding”. 

map andrew sykes review le grand tour

Any prospective author probably hopes to encounter a few challenges along the way, because it all helps to add a bit of drama to the story: you can always rely on closed facilities somewhere, a bit of bad weather when you don’t want it, and some intransigent bureaucracy is almost inevitable. 

These (and other) challenges are recounted with wit and humour, interspersed with numerous tangents and distractions – and there is pleasure to be had from both. 

Just in case that didn’t provide enough suspense, Sykes allows himself the use of an occasional train. A bike on a train: what could possibly go wrong? The answer is enough to help with the story, but not enough to disrupt his plans too much.

On the other hand, friendly locals and unexpected hospitality are equally predictable: we know that such delights often benefit self-propelled travellers, and are a large part of the reason why we do it.

I find that travelogues normally provide more in the way of inspiration than actual detail on equipment or routes – and that is the case here. There’s a few comments about the Rohloff hub, Gates belt drive, and Schwalbe tyres that were used - and some useful tips and general information that could be of interest to future travellers.

Later this year I will actually be visiting the same areas of Switzerland as Sykes did, and did get some helpful advice about a visit to the World Cycling Centre in Aigle, the UCI’s “world headquarters of cycling”.

Sykes takes the opportunity to compare aspects of this trip with his previous journeys, and looks at how things have changed. The use of technology is an obvious example: there’s more of it, more time spent ensuring that it works, and a greater reliance on it. It all creates opportunities for potential hazard, which in turn provides more to write about!

An important reason for increasing the tech quotient is that Sykes wanted to produce regular podcasts throughout his trip, which you can find here . That’s another thing that marks out those for whom such a trip isn’t a normal holiday, because there’s always work to be done.

If you want to get a flavour of Sykes’ trip (and writing), you can look at an article that appeared in the Cycling UK magazine, and on the website – with one caveat: the article is illustrated with some rather good pictures, whereas (disappointingly) the book has none at all. 

After teaming up with a publisher for book number three, Sykes is back to being self-published this time. Sykes uses the Amazon ecosystem for printing, which I find normally produces a slightly low-budget result – including a cover that needs no encouragement to curl up, and paper thin enough to allow some ‘show through’. 

Taking the Amazon route also means that the all-powerful behemoth will take most of the sales – although if you want a signed copy, go can go straight to Sykes’ own website

‘Le Grand Tour’ joins Sykes’ other three books in being an entertaining travelogue that should have appeal to anyone who enjoys wry humour and good storytelling: there’s little here to frighten off non-cyclists – although with luck they will realise that it’s only the use of a bike that makes the adventure what it is.





Ryton On Dunsmore

Coventry  CV8 3FH


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