- Selling the Yellow Jersey: The Tour de France in the Global Era by Eric Reed
Eric Reed’s Selling the Yellow Jersey is an important work that chronicles how the tour evolved from a French spectacle to a global phenomenon. Reed, associate professor of history at Western Kentucky University, is a known name in French and tour history. He is one of several scholars examining social, cultural, diplomatic, and business histories in France and the world that have taken increasing notice of the tour. In 2003, The International Journal of the History of Sport had a special issue of articles that served to mark the centenary of the Tour de France. The issue was turned into a widely used book on the tour. In 2006, Christopher Thompson published his Tour de France: A Cultural History with the University of California Press. Thompson examined the tour’s meanings in regard to class and gender. Reed, in turn, promotes a much-needed comparative global examination of the commercial aspects of the tour and how the race and its meanings evolved as French and dominant global media mediums went from print to television spectacle.
Reed uses a roughly chronological framework interspersed with various themes such as the tour’s impact on the provinces and the “French School of Cycling.” He begins by examining sport, bicycling, and globalization in the print era and moves through the hesitant but ultimately successful push to the age of television. Briefly, he begins his comparative development of modern cycling and bicycle-racing culture as a global phenomenon and especially examines Europe, North America, and Asia. He then investigates the tour’s founding as a media spectacle for Henri Desgrange and Géo Lefèvre’s L’Auto newspaper. He notes that the tour was founded as a print spectacle to keep L’Auto relevant and grow readership. Interestingly, Reed notes that the idea for the tour came roughly from six-day track bicycle races, as evidenced by the original tour’s having six stages. While there were scandals and [End Page 135] hiccups galore, the tour had an unmistakable positive impact on L’Auto’s circulation. Reed continues the story, examining how the French model of racing became dominant and how technological and contextual changes shaped and were shaped by the tour.
The great strength of Reed’s research is the global yet local context in which he places the tour. From examining its impact on French provinces to how the New York Times constructed narratives of the tour as a foreign spectacle in the 1950s and 1960s, Reed’s examination of the commercial aspects is creative and broad reaching. Further, the descriptions of the context—how the Vichy government tried to run a tour during World War II and how L’Auto, the founding paper of the Tour de France, was eliminated by the de Gaulle government for having operated during the occupation—is comprehensive.
As in all work, there are some things Reed could have explored more fully. While a book cannot be everything to every reader, one of the fundamental issues in sport and cycling today is gender equity or the lack thereof. Though Reed does examine the inaugural 1984 Tour de France Féminin and its American victor, Marianne Martin, I feel he could more fully discuss the exclusion of women’s cycling by tour organizers. This fact was recently underscored by the 2014 edition, in which organizers allowed women to race only on the last day of the men’s twenty-one stage race. I also believe he underestimates the global impact of endurance track racing during the first few decades of the twentieth century. Finally, for a book that examines the global impact of bicycle racing, commercialism, and technology, I was left wondering what transformative impact the Internet and social media have had on the Tour. Overall, however, this book greatly expands the vision of the tour as a commercial and globally important spectacle. Further, Reed shows...