Tuesday 4 July 2023

Book review: Le Fric: Family, Power, and Money: the Business of the Tour de France - Alex Duff

This isn't a newly released book, given that it went on general sale last year. I finally got around to reading it at the beginning of this year as part of my research prior to doing an interview with members of the Amaury family. 

They are the top brass behind the Tour de France, plus other well known names in sport - the (Paris) Dakar Rally, Paris Marathon, L'Equipe newspaper, as well as other well-known cycle races such as Paris-Roubaix and Paris-Nice.

I had previously interviewed the then CEO, Marie-Odile Amaury for Cyclist magazine. This year I interviewed her children, Aurore and Jean-Etienne, who have since taken over the reins at the head of the family business, for Rouleur magazine. The feature article is now out in the current issue of the magazine (Issue 120). 

Alex Duff is a writer and journalist specialising in sport, and this is his second book, the first one being about the business side of football. Le Fric looks at the business end of the world's most famous cycle race for the main part, and therefore includes the story behind the Amaurys - the A in ASO, organisers of some of the most iconic sports events. 

The book traces the early days of the the publishing and printing business started by Emilien Amaury after the second world war, how the Tour de France was incorporated into the business, along with other pivotal moments - the printing strike at L'Equipe, a dispute over the family inheritance, the globalisation of the Tour de France, plus attempts by third parties to acquire the event. It also talks about other business interests, mainly other (former) publications such as Les Echos and Le Parisien newspapers. 

All this is told across the timeline of big sporting moments in the race - the Greg Lemond vs Laurent Fignon 8-second margin, the Women's Tour de France in the 1980s, the Lance Armstrong doping scandal, the emergence of British cycle racers as a dominant force, including the first Brit to win La Grande Boucle, Bradley Wiggins. 

Duff also describes how the business of the Tour de France is run, or at least how he interprets it. The book portrays the running of the Tour as being a parochial family business, with the executives having a hotline to the French government, given that this huge summer sporting event is an integral part of French society and culture. 

He is not very flattering towards the family, portraying Marie-Odile as a tough cookie who is totally intransigent in her discussions with cycling team managers. He also describes Jean-Etienne as looking like "a choirboy reading from a church lectern" when he gives his annual speech during the presentation of the Tour de France route.

Overall, it is an interesting read, regardless of whether you are a cycle racing aficionado. It would be of interest tovthose who are interested in how sport works, as well as the life stories of the Amaury family, and key players in professional cycle racing. There's quite a detailed account on EF Education Easypost team manager, Jonathan Vaughters, as well as stories on the racing and managerial career of Groupama-FDJ's Marc Madiot.

Ironically, for a family so heavily involved in media, they are pretty media shy. They hardly ever give interviews. Their executive assistant told me that she turns away practically every bid from journalists. So I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to speak to Marie-Odile, Aurore and Jean-Etienne Amaury, and I note that they were very pleasant, amenable and open during the interviews.

When I spoke of Alex Duff's book to them Jean-Etienne was not too pleased about the uncharitable way they had been portrayed, and said that there were sections that weren't true either. They preferred not to ignore the book.

I like how the book makes for an interesting tour around the workings of past and present  professional cycle racing, and I did enjoy some of the anecdotes, particularly on people that I see today. But it seems that there may need to be a pinch of salt taken when reading the stories. 

Related posts 

Excitement at the reborn Women's Tour de France 

Book review: Where there's a will - Emily Chappell

Catching up with Groupama-FDJ

No comments: