Riding in the Zone Rouge
‘An evocatively thoughtful wider history of the race, the war and the peace’ GUARDIAN
‘Occasionally funny and regularly poignant, brilliantly focused in its research . . . His drive, wit and curiosity inform Zone Rouge . . . gently profound and genuinely moving’ HERALD
The Circuit des Champs de Bataille (the Tour of the Battlefields) was held in 1919, less than six months after the end of the First World War. It covered 2,000 kilometres and was raced in appalling conditions across the battlefields of the Western Front, otherwise known as the Zone Rouge. The race was so tough that only 21 riders finished, and it was never staged again.
With one of the most demanding routes ever to feature in a bicycle race, and plagued by appalling weather conditions, the Circuit des Champs de Bataille was beyond gruelling, but today its extraordinary story is largely forgotten. Many of the riders came to the event straight from the army and had to ride 18-hour stages through sleet and snow across the battlefields on which they had fought, and lost friends and family, only a few months before. But in addition to the hellish conditions there were moments of high comedy, even farce.
The rediscovered story of the Circuit des Champs de Bataille is an epic tale of human endurance, suffering and triumph over extreme adversity.
'As a way of remembering the war, the Tour of the Battlefields was perhaps too soon, and too brutal. The folly of it, though, is what attracts us to it today. Through research, imagination and recreation, Tom Isitt brings its story to life and allows us to once more marvel at men who raced their bikes along the Western Front' -- Feargal McKay * www.podiumcafe.com * 'I was intrigued to read about a new book telling the story of an utterly extraordinary - mad, even - endurance event that I was totally unfamiliar with, which was held in north-eastern France, Luxembourg and Belgium in April and May 1919 . . . fascinating . . . By rescuing this most deranged endurance event of all from oblivion, this book provides a welcome monument to their hardness' -- David Owen * www.insidethegames.biz * 'I loved the book, devouring it in a few nights' reading. As with so much to do with the war, the same page can often be funny and poignant. Tom has a good line in amusing stories and his tales of insufficient kit, hideous weather and a malfunctioning bike computer sat-nav raised plenty of chuckles from me . . . He has also cleverly included well researched information on the war's battles, key events and individual's stories. It all blends together perfectly, offering enough "nodding along" moments for current cyclists plus providing plenty of extraordinary information on early cycling, the race and the Western Front. Neither cycling fan or war nerd (and I count myself as falling into both camps) will be disappointed . . . Highly recommended' -- Jeremy Banning * Cycling the Battlefields blog * 'Isitt has written his first book and it is worthy and sometimes daft, occasionally funny and regularly poignant, brilliantly focused in its research . . . His drive, wit and curiosity inform Zone Rouge . . . gently profound and genuinely moving when considering the battles, the fallen and the graves that lie over acres of the Zone Rouge and beyond . . . There is the fun and obsession of cycling at the heart of this book. But there is a recognition, too, that its excesses are largely innocuous and can be life-enhancing. Malevolent madness, on the contrary, is the preserve of wider mankind and continues to colour the world with Zones Rouges' -- Hugh MacDonald * Herald * 'Isitt's subject is "cycling's toughest ever stage race", the little known 1919 Circuit des Champs de Bataille, which traversed the battlefields of Ypres, the Somme and the rest of the Western Front less than six months after the Armistice was signed. Isitt combines the story of the gruelling tour itself with an account of his own cycling trip along the same route nearly a century later to flesh out an evocatively thoughtful wider history of the race, the war and the peace' -- Nicholas Wroe * Guardian *
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