I find myself part of a paradox. For twenty years I’ve enjoyed a minority UK enthusiasm, watching the Tour de France on TV. In 1995 I saw the Spaniard, Miguel Indurain (five consecutive TdF victories) beat the Swiss, Tony Rominger, both head-to-head, white encrustations round their mouths, in the Alps. Bjarne Rijs (Denmark) finally beating Big Mig, The beginning and end of the Armstrong (USA) era – seven TdF wins. I’ve applauded wins by Andy Schleck (Luxembourg), Cadel Evans (Australia) and, on Sunday, Bradley Wiggins (England).
I never proselytise on behalf of the TdF. Those who approach it casually see a boring, long bike race redeemed by helicopter coverage of French scenery. They miss the fact that some bike racers can go well uphill, some against the clock, and some in savage sprint finishes – but none can do all three. That the TdF is broken down into stages which favour these three disciplines. They are unaware that the concept of accumulated time imposes special demands and special stratagems. They cannot appreciate the implications of team riding. Fair enough. The TdF is a complex proposition and there is always soccer which is more easily understood. Snob that I am I’ve taken comfort in the TdF’s international cast list, its minority appeal in the UK, its Frenchness. Also that those who avert their eyes would react similarly to chess, and for roughly the same reasons.
But all that changed on Sunday. Suddenly I’m one of a crowd. Don’t get me wrong: Wiggins, Froome and Cavendish are part of my Pantheon, but then so are Indurain, Armstrong, et al. And in the end what matters is the Tour itself. Not vox pop interviews about beer drinking from fatties waving the union flag on the Champs Elysées