Reviewed by Richard Tutin
I don’t think that too many people watching the Tour de France on their electronic devices or are lucky enough to stand roadside on the route of one of the stages give much thought, if any, to the behind-the-scenes makeup of the race itself. They see the riders giving their all as they ride, the support vehicles that are grouped behind them and the media diving in and out of the peloton aiming to get the best pictures and angles that are broadcast around the world. As well there are the marshals, judges and their support staff who make sure the race runs smoothly within the rules that have been laid down over the years.
By all accounts, it’s twenty-three days of controlled and occasionally uncontrolled chaos that is not easily controlled especially when spectators get too close to the cyclists who are travelling at often very fast speeds along roads that are narrow and winding. This has resulted in crashes with injuries to both riders and spectators.
It all provides the basis of a good book or documentary about one of the premier, if not the premier, cycling races on the European summer calendar. This though is not the aim of Alex Duff whose examination of the Tour de France digs deeper into the business side of the race itself revealing those who own and control it.
Few people realise that one family owns the race and takes millions of euros in dividends each year. The Amaury family has controlled the fortunes of the Tour de France since the end of World War II and still tenaciously hangs on to the power and the income it delivers.
As Duff explains in Le Fric, many have tried over the years to break that control and share in the spoils that it brings. Some because they have a great love of cycling and want to see the race improved and offer, through its extensive income, benefits to the sport especially in France. Others have tried because, like the Amaurys, they are more interested in “Le Fric” or the money than in the sport itself.
Along the way, the tour has imbedded itself into the French psyche. It has been seen as a morale booster to the nation. This was particularly true as France recovered in the post-World War II period. It has weathered changes in media technology as well as doping scandals and power shifts within the cycling world.
Duff has gone to great lengths to research and bring this story together. Overall, it makes good reading though he tends to suddenly jump from one scenario to another in a way that can be disconcerting.
He provides a detailed examination of how the Amaury family has positioned itself to avoid any move on the part of individuals and businesses to launch surprise takeover bids for what they see as their rightful custodianship of what they believe is a precious part of French life and culture.
Alex Duff is a distinguished sports business reporter. He worked for Bloomberg News for fifteen years, covering the business of the Tour de France, Formula One, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the World Cup, America’s Cup and the Olympics. His first book was Football’s Secret Trade (2017) that examined the money trail behind the finances of the football transfer market.
Le Fric: Family, Power and Money
by Alex Duff
ISBN 978 140871 670 0