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Monday, 23 July 2012

Long live Le Grand Boucle

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 


  1. Your last paragraph says it all. They didn't even pick up on his existence at all until the last few stages, now they're talking about giving him a knighthood.

    I don't really follow the Tour because I appreciate the complexity that you write about, and have never taken the trouble to understand it properly; I'm quite sure the UJ-waving, beer drinking fatties certainly haven't done so.

  2. Lucy: 'tis but a tiny blemish on an otherwise fruitful and rewarding relationship. After all, I wasn't able to respond usefully to your post about onions.

    Boiling it down somewhat, I hate superficiality, opportunism and the ineluctable tendance in sports reporting to reduce everything to the same set of clichés.

  3. I have been bonded to the couch everyday from 2:00 to 4:30.

    It started for me when, with you and Mrs BB, we visited Tommy Simpson's memorial on Mt. Ventou , then a year or two later, after reading a biography of Tommy on the plane I ascended Le Ventou (in TdF parlance) with some emotion, on foot during one of my Grande Randonnée trips.

    This year the demonstration of the value of teamwork has been inspirational, as well as the absorbing interest in strategies and logistics, and all this with the bonus of a helicopter trip round France.

  4. A few years ago the race when part of the route led through our green and pelasant land. I watched it sweep though Tunbridge Wells. No one was waving union jacks, but there was no reason to then.

  5. Sir Hugh: Astonishing that Sky was able to gather all those stars and make them work as a team. Won't happen next year. It's wrong that Cavendish should be denied opportunities for sprint finishes (and, thereby, the green jersey) because his team was committed to the GC.

    Plutarch: I was trying to make the point that TdF remains a fascinating event even without English contenders.