How I Won The Yellow Jumper, by Ned Boulting (2011 book #28)

With the Tour de France over for another year, I decided to stretch out the experience of it a little by reading Boulting’s behind-the-scenes account of reporting on the Tour from 2003 to 2010. He’ll be familiar to viewers of cycling on ITV4 as the main field reporter for the Tour de France, and also as the presenter of the Tour Series and Tour of Britain (which means he gives Colchester the briefest of mentions late in the book).

This is the story of how Boulting went from being an out-of-his-depth football reporter dispatched to cover the Tour (the ‘Yellow Jumper’ of the title comes from his disastrous first Tour broadcast) to a passionate fan of cycling. It’s the sort of book that could have descended into Partridgean anecdotage, but while I haven’t checked, I don’t believe ‘needless to say, I had the last laugh’ features anywhere in the book.

Rather than going into the day-by-day minutiae of each Tour he’s covered, Boulting instead presents a series of vignettes about life on the tour, most of which go on to reveal a much wider picture of one of the world’s largest sporting events. We get to see what goes on to bring the Tour to TV screens worldwide, from how Gary Imlach keeps his clothing crease-free to how much of a task it is to feed a small army of journalists every day. In the process, we see how Boulting goes from being almost entirely ignorant of professional cycling to an experienced and somewhat cynical reporter. Indeed, it’s his honesty that helps to lift this book above the humdrum, and you suspect that if he was working in a sport that wasn’t as routinely scandalous as cycling, his candidness (about doping, the personalities of some of the sport’s stars and the somewhat bizarre world of Team Sky) might see him uninvited from future events.

Boulting’s an amusing writer, and one able to keep perspective on his situation. While there are complaints about what it’s like to live on the road in France amidst a moving army for three weeks, he knows that most of his readers will envy him his job and the privileges that go with it, not pity him for it. The one thing the book lacks, though, is a definite ending. When he talks about the first rumours of Team Sky’s launch in 2008, it’s almost a foreshadowing of the end of an era, but the Tour remains on ITV4, with many of the same team who started covering it on Channel 4 in the 80s still there. For those of us who’ve been watching during those twenty-five years, it’s a good read and recommended.