This novel answers a question most cyclists have asked themselves: Could I, a mere mortal, finish the Tour de France? The answer Moore walks away with is yes, you can probably Forrest Gump your way through--provided you play free and loose with the route and the rules.
As you begin the book, however, it seems as though it will take Moore a lifetime to reach this conclusion. The first few chapters read less like literature than the winning essay in a "Can You Fit a Gag in EVERY Sentence?" contest. At times it takes paragraph after excruciating paragraph of wacky hijinks for Moore to complete the most mundane task, e.g., picking up the bike and walking out the door--you may find yourself ready to scream "just get ON with it!" more than once.
Once Moore gets his act together and starts rolling, however, so does the book. Moore makes no secret of the fact that he is an absolute beginner when it comes to cycling, and this really helps the book remain fun. Rather than getting bogged down in technical jargon and precise details, Moore simply bumbles his way around France, using a liberal dose of caustic English wit to chronicle his journey and reflect on the unique, at times baffling enigma that is French culture. And he does bring to light some head-scratchers; why do the French post a permanent sign next to every chip, hole and gouge in a road instead of simply repaving it? In a country the size of France, how could a canyon 12 miles long and a mile wide possibly go undiscovered until 1905?
Moore's real genius, though, was in unearthing a treasure trove of arcane, fascinating Tour de France trivia. From the unimaginable suffering of the early tours, to the insane results of egos run amok, to the at times hilarious, at times heartbreaking lengths men go through to finish the Tour, Moore misses nothing and weaves it seamlessly into his own "Tour."
That's the good news. The bad news is the fun is concentrated in the center of the book; it loses steam in last few chapters. And while both Americans and Brits speak English, the English we speak is not the same, a fact made painfully obvious by Moore's liberal use of impenetrable Brit-slang. Combine that with dozens of French phrases, and you may go for sentences without a clue to what Moore is talking about.
A final irony is that this book will likely appeal more to those who don't cycle that those who do, because while Moore is a novice, he is also quite often an unbearable idiot. I found myself checking the jacket to see if this book wasn't written in 1951--why would anyone in this day and age attempt to ride 100 miles fueled up on candy bars, pate, espresso, cold medicine and liters of wine? I guess Moore loves the macho/romantic image, but excuse me if I don't think getting yourself--or someone else--killed while riding half drunk is cool, particularly when you've got three kids. I just found much of what he did so exasperatingly, pointlessly stupid I couldn't let it go.
But more seriously, it just didn't ring true to me; bluntly, I think Moore is often flat-out lying about his exploits. Knowing what I know about cycling, and given the massive dehydration, cramping, fatigue and overall havoc such a crap diet would wreak on his system, I find it VERY difficult to believe Moore could have finished as much of this ride as he claims he did.
But then, Moore didn't take his journey that seriously, so I suppose I shouldn't either. And, so long as you don't take it seriously, I would imagine that virtually anyone can enjoy Moore's ride. Flaws aside, a fun read.