Book review – Riding In The Zone Rouge, by Tom Isitt

In 1919, some madman decided to hold a race called Circuit Des Champs De Bataille – the Tour Of The Battlefields. The battlefields in question were that of World War One, and the route was deliberately designed to run through 2 000 kilometres of carnage.

This incredible book tells the story of that race. The heroism needed from any rider just to complete the race is astounding, regardless of what position they finished in, and most of all, the human cost of that astoundingly awful war remains shocking. It’s hardly surprising that only 21 riders completed.

Isitt cycled much of the route – some of the roads the race was meant to follow were bombed into churned-up mud, and didn’t exist anywhere except on out-of-date paper maps, at the time of the race, and several still don’t exist today. The real challenges he experienced when trying to cycle the route brings into sharp focus just how tough the riders in the race must’ve been.

Before reading this book, I thought I knew a fair amount about World War One, but somehow I didn’t know that there are parts of France – the Zone Rouge – that to to this day are dangerous to enter, and remain fenced off.

Isitt does an astounding job of bringing the riders to life, and the book doesn’t read like a history text-book at all, but instead is nail-biting and gripping. I found it extremely hard to put down. In a dignified manner, he tells the story of a race that really should never have been run, never skirting away from the horrors of WW1, but also never turning it into a book about the war.

See also  Coffee First, Then The World

I think that, if any of the original riders were alive to read this book, they would approve of it as much as I did, and that is perhaps as high praise as anyone can give this book.

My 1st copy of this book I was given, by someone who’d finished reading it and posted it on social media. In line with that, I gave that copy away too, after having read it, but purchased a copy for myself. You can get this book from any good bookshop, or online from here.

It is an incredible book, and I cannot praise it enough. You really must read it. While you’re at it, the author is on Twitter, so consider following him.

1 thought on “Book review – Riding In The Zone Rouge, by Tom Isitt”

  1. Great book, surely should be a film or documentary. I too hadn’t thought or was taught about the full aftermath of the war. So many cemeteries, so many lost lifetimes.


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