The book takes its title from its lead character, a twenty-eight year old British woman with a high sex drive, who has recently broken up with her boy friend of several years. He introduced her to bicycle racing. She became such a devotee of the sport that she named her two gold fish Djamolidine and Abdoujaporuv, after the notorious Uzbekistan sprinter known as the Tashkent Terror. She thinks Tour commentators Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen ought to have their own TV series or run for Parliament. She has just landed the dream assignment of covering The Tour for The Guardian. Though she's working as a journalist, she has to remember to be serious about her job and not be the adoring fan that she is.
The book may be centered around The Tour, but from the very start it is established that sex will be the book's prevailing theme. Before she leaves for France she is warned to be careful of going to the land of Alain Delon and Roger Vadim and being amongst all the racers, as "all that friction against the chamois lining of their shorts must make 'em horny bastards."
Amongst the racers her eyes are helplessly drawn to the bulges in their pants, just like the girl friend of one of the racers whose bulge is described as a "magnificent sunburst" that she was "hot for." He was big in all respects--"his baritone voice, his legendary thighs, his hands, his nose; they all complemented the biggest treat of all, currently concealed, but far from hidden behind his shorts."
Cat has a hard time falling asleep her first night at The Tour staying at the hotel of one of the teams. She has the deluded hope that a racer will come knock on her door. That doesn't happen until a few nights later, but it is a team doctor. She's not disappointed at all, as she has lusted after him as well. Though they go at each other with abandon, the doctor pulls away after several minutes and backs out of the room without going beyond kissing and groping, leaving Cat even more lustful, throbbing and on fire.
Cat isn't the only woman with sex on her mind. So does Rachel, the female soigneur of one of the teams. Her star rider delights her with a surprise smooch after a massage. She wants more, but he doesn't follow up with it. It is all she can do not to join him in his salt and vinegar bath. When she decides he may not be the one for her, she takes up with the mechanic of her team's chief rival, which has her bosses questioning her loyalty.
Surprisingly, the podium girls are left out of it, other than Cat catching one of them leaving the hotel room of her doctor boy friend. She is instantly infuriated and turns away from his room and won't respond to his calls even though she desperately wants him. It takes a couple of days before she learns that the podium girl had just gone to him for treatment of conjunctivitis. They resume their bedroom antics until the doctor hears from a journalist that Cat has a boy friend back home, as she had fibbed to the journalist so he wouldn't come on to her. Cat suffers a couple of days of rejected agony until she can straighten the doctor out. And then they fling themselves at each other with even greater passion.
There is a bicycle race going on, but that is secondary to all the sexcapades. Cat acknowledges she isn't "so much on the Tour de France, as in a Louis Malle film." Once when Cat and Rachel are discussing the day's stage, Rachel comments, "Enough about work. Let's talk about boys." Cat manages to file a daily story in spite of her preoccupation with the opposite sex. Real life riders are among the book's peloton, though fictional riders are allowed the greatest glory. Still, Tyler Hamilton manages to spend a spell in Yellow and Jonathan Vaughters likewise in the polka dot jersey. David Millar and Stuart O'Grady both win a stage. The author researched the book following the 1998 Tour with press credentials, as she was a legitimate writer having previously written three other romance novels--with similar titles of a woman's first name. The 1998 Tour was marred by the Festina scandal. There are no drug scandals in this book, though the subject of drugs is not ignored. One rider admits, "When I first took EPO my kidneys felt like balloons full of water bashing the base of my back. My vision went queer, my joints hurt, I'd get nose bleeds...but soon enough it was like waking in a new land. I wanted to train hard, I could ride with reduced suffering and I recovered quickly. What a drug."
In her acknowledgement of those who helped her with her research and gave her time during The Tour, North thanks many of the English-speaking riders, including Hamilton, Vaughters, Millar and O'Grady. She also thanks George Hincapie. In the novel he is described as "yummy" by Cat's sister when she comes to The Tour in the last week, and adds, "I'll do him."
Lance Armstrong did not ride in the 1998 Tour and he does not ride in this Tour either. The explanation is given that his wife is having a baby, one of the few instances of North using a not entirely credible plot device. That would hardly deter a racer of riding The Tour. She does allow Armstrong to win the World Championship after The Tour.
There are three made-up teams (Systeme Vipere, Zucca MV and US Megapac) that provide the main protagonists of the race, to go along with actual teams (US Postal, Baneseto, Telekom, Saeco, Kelme and a few others, but not Festina).
North has clearly read a history or two of The Tour and incorporates dollops of Tour lore into her story as well as legendary incidents from the history of the sport, though not necessarily with full legitimacy. It is a cold day when the peloton tackles L'Alpe d'Huez. North earns a point for spelling it with the French honorific capital "L." But she loses a point for having a rider piss on his hands because they are so cold. This has happened on at least one brutally cold stage of the Giro, but couldn't possibly happen on L'Alpe d'Huez in July with fans packing the route and the team cars being prepared for such conditions. Earlier Cat flabbergasts her sisters telling them that racers pee on their bikes--"They just whip it out," she explains. Even more shocking is the rider who has shit oozing down his legs, suffering from dysentery, but riding on--something Greg LeMond once did during The Tour.
North adds some sex flourishes that she may have dreamt up herself. The female soigneur enlists Cat and her sisters to help her wrap the team's snacks they will be given during the race in pages torn from a heap of pornographic magazines to cheer them up after a hard stage rather than in the usual aluminum foil. Since the novel is largely written from the female perspective, she doesn't describe the riders' reaction when they unravel their snacks. It wasn't the first instance of porno in the book. Earlier riders were using it to masturbate. Masturbation is explained as being preferable to sex for the riders as "no energy is thrown away on pleasuring anyone but himself."
Cat's uncle is watching The Tour for the first time on television back in Great Britain. He calls Cat on occasion to see how she is doing and to have The Race explained to him. He tells Cat that Liggett was talking about whores, not familiar with the term "hors categorie" for climbs that are so extreme that they are beyond the normal rating system of one to four.
Not only is the book sex-laden but it is profanity-laden as well. Hardly a page passes without the f-word or its milder English cousin--"bloody." The book offers a lesson in English lingo. The b's are well-represented--bloody, bollocks, bloke, bugger and blimey. Romance novels, even those as well-written as this with such delightful wordplay as "pain of pelting up peaks for points," don't interest me enough to read any of her other books to see if they equally abound with profanity or if that was how North wished to portray the world of bike racing, though Cat's tongue was as saucy as anyone's.
The book does not demean The Tour in any way. North was careful not to imply the prevalence of drugs or too belittle Cat's blind love of The Race, which she seems to share herself. The final line of the book is a sincere "Vive Le Tour."