On June 29, 1919, one day after the Treaty of Versailles brought about the end of World War I, nearly seventy cyclists—most former soldiers who had come straight from the front—embarked on the thirteenth Tour de France, uniting a country that had been torn apart by unprecedented desolation and tragedy.
... for a narrative arc, the 1919 Tour de France presents an uphill battle ... But Dobkin is an elegant writer, and he makes a valiant effort with limited material. Readers will marvel at scenes of athletes setting off at three in the morning on stages that traversed 400-500 kilometers ... Here and there, Dobkin unveils poignant scenes of French fans reveling in the return of their beloved sport ... In brief and commendable digressions, Dobkin labors to introduce Black and female characters into an otherwise white and male narrative—another tough assignment, as none of the detours seems to intersect the main story ... Dobkin builds an eerie suspense near the end as the riders approach the Zone Rouge, scene of the bloodiest battles ... Dobkin himself seems never to have competed on a bicycle, and that is a strength. Many cycling writers are former racers, and books penned by cyclists tend to dwell on gear ratios and drafting tactics to an off-putting extent. Dobkin, by contrast, writes like an historian. The reader shares his wonderment ... that rare cycling book that will resonate with non-cyclists, and Adin Dobkin’s eloquent reportage will engage aficionados of the Great War.
Bicycle racing’s connection to World War I is less well documented [than World War II]. Hence the significance of Adin Dobkin’s Sprinting Through No Man’s Land ... In a telling aside, Mr. Dobkin, a journalist who has written for the Atlantic and the Paris Review, notes that the newspaper that organized the Tour 'had at least managed to secure extra sugar ration cards' for the riders ... The book picks up pace when, toward the end, the riders enter the Zones Rouges ... This is an epic tale, a timely reminder of the Tour’s umbilical connection with the communities through which it passes.
This is an evocatively written homage to the 1919 Tour, during which the scars of war on the landscape were visible to the competitors. The well-described cast of characters ranges from formidable race organizer Henri Desgrange, editor in chief of l’Auto, through the racers themselves ... Dobkin...captures the drama ... This inspirational sports story demonstrates the power of a race to unite a country suffering from the wounds of war and is immersed in wartime historical detail. Cycling fans will get more than an account of the race in this volume, which will also appeal to readers interested in WWI.