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Check It Out: Roll into library for bicycling books

Last weekend, Alberto Contador of Spain won his third Tour de France in the last four years. Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, last year's runner-up, finished second again, only 39 seconds behind the winner. Lance Armstrong, in what appears to be his final Tour, finished a disappointing 23rd. Despite the announcement of a federal probe of allegations about past drug use by Armstrong, this year's edition of the storied bicycle race around France was regarded as perhaps the cleanest in years. No participant tested positive for any illicit substance during the race.

Certainly, the 2,263-mile course was one of the most challenging in recent history. Cyclists had to contend with brutal mountain stages and rain-slickened cobblestone roads. A number of riders were forced out of contention as a result. Still, the race yielded a dramatic finish — Contador's victory over Schleck was secured during Saturday's penultimate stage. Because of their respective ages —Contador is 27 and Schleck is 25 — both are expected to be Tour de France competitors for years to come.

Cycling enthusiasts, young and old, may find the following bicycle-related books of special interest. All are available to cardholders of the Newport Beach Public Library.

In "Blazing Saddles: The Cruel and Unusual History of the Tour de France," Matt Rendell chronicles each year of the great race, from its origin in 1903 to the present. Rendell's anecdotal account introduces readers to the colorful and sometimes controversial history of the Tour, including stories about famous rivalries, early attempts at cheating, sartorial trends in cycling, and more. The coverage includes portraits of many Tour greats such as Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, and, of course, Lance Armstrong.

Bill Strickland covers Armstrong's 2009 comeback in "Tour de Lance: The Extraordinary Story of Lance Armstrong's Attempt to Reclaim the Tour de France." The author relates how Armstrong returned to the race after a three-year absence. As a teammate of Contador, the eventual winner, Armstrong played a supporting role, though he did finish third overall. Strickland was given considerable access to Armstrong and the rest of team Astana, and he provides a penetrating glimpse inside the heart and mind of a great competitor.

In "The Lost Cyclist: The Epic Tale of an American Adventurer and his Mysterious Disappearance," David Herlihy retraces the journey of Frank Lenz, a 19th century cyclist who set out in 1892 to cycle around the world . A few years later, he disappeared while crossing Turkey, which was becoming increasingly restive during the waning years of the Ottoman Empire. A friend and fellow cyclist, William Sachtleben, set out to find out what happened to him. He eventually determined that Lenz had been killed by Kurdish rebels and attempted to bring the killers to justice. Herlihy's fascinating account is a combination of travelogue and murder investigation.

Jeff Mapes focuses on the more mundane use of the bicycle as a means for getting around town. In "Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists are Changing American Cities," Mapes provides a detailed look at several cities where transportation policies are being redefined to accommodate cyclists, including Amsterdam, New York, Portland, Ore., and even Davis, Calif. The author argues that the bicycle has an important role to play in lessening the effects of climate change, reducing our dependence on oil, relieving traffic congestion, and promoting healthier lifestyles.

CHECK IT OUT is written by the staff of the Newport Beach Public Library. All titles may be reserved from home or office computers by accessing the catalog at http://www.newportbeachlibrary.org. For more information on the Central Library or any of the branches, please contact the Newport Beach Public Library at (949) 717-3800, option 2.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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