Fifty years ago, ten Britons crossed the Channel and made history. For the first time, a team of British cyclists took part in the Tour de France, the most gruelling event in the sporting calendar. It was a struggle beyond their worst imaginings. The riders had little idea of what to expect - many spoke no French; most had never even seen the Tour before - and, eleven days in, the team had been reduced to just two men. Still, those two men would bring British cycling to the attention of the world and make countless friends. Both finished the race. One of them, Brian Robinson, even made the top thirty. As Cycling magazine put it, 'This is indeed a great moment in our sporting history.' Roule Britannia celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of a Briton first completing the Tour, and the half-century of cultural exchange and British cycling's fight for recognition that followed. During those fifty years only two Tours would take place without at least one Briton on the start line, and more than fifty British cyclists have taken part.
Through exclusive interviews with and profiles of all those who have competed, William Fotheringham gives us the definitive record of their achievement, from those first stumbling efforts and the death of Tom Simpson, to the golden era of Sean Yates and Robert Millar, right up to Chris Boardman, David Millar and the present day, when the issue of banned drug use has clouded the great race. It is a story of joy and suffering, tragedy and courage.
William Fotheringham writes for the Guardian and Observer on cycling and rugby. A former racing cyclist and launch editor of procycling and Cycle Sport magazines, he has reported on fifteen Tours de France. His biography of Tom Simpson, Put Me Back on My Bike, was acclaimed by Velo magazine as 'the best cycling biography ever written'.