7 Reasons I Have A Le Tour De France Heart Shaped Problem
I have a problem. Le Tour de France is French. I know. Shocking isn’t it? But that’s not really my biggest problem. The biggest problem is that I like Le Tour de France. A lot. I always have. Ever since Gary Imlach was born. This all means that I like something French. Bad times. Here’s why:
1. Time. This isn’t just a case of me liking France for eighty-minutes (I have been known to support them over Wales, Scotland & Ireland in the past – purely for England’s gain you understand). This is a case of liking France for three whole weeks. Three! Weeks! That’s nearly a month! It’s 5.7% of the year! That must be against the law.
2. The Countryside. I hate the way TV directors cut to aerial shots of the French countryside. The sprawling fields. The streams. The chateaux. Even the vineyards – and I’m not a wine fan – look appealing. And the sun’s always shining. The sun always shines in France. And in that minute I forget myself. And I fall in love. I fall in love with France.
3. Village. On ITV’s coverage they send Ned Boulting off up the road to a small remote village that last saw pair of shorts in 1972. In a matter of hours 180 cyclists are going to zoom through the place, so Ned enquires with the locals as to how the preparations are going. Are they excited? Do they know what a bike is? Usually they seem somewhat bewildered. Which is understandable. Given Boulting’s passing resemblance to Matt Allwright, through the haze of Gauloises one could be forgiven for thinking they are about to star in a poor man’s Rogue Traders. It never happens though. Boulting just talks about bikes. And the old man continues smoking. And I fall in love with this place. And I want to go there. Right that instant. I want to go to France.
4. Art. If I went outside with my chalks and started wrote ‘Allez Claire!’ on the hill, I would get some funny looks. I’d probably also get a visit from the Police. During Le Tour however, anyone can write anything on the roads apparently. Particularly in the mountains. I can only assume this is because the Gendarmes can’t be bothered to go all the way up Alpe D’heuz to slap a €100 fine on someone who will have long gone. The art itself is brilliant. It’s like wordle. On a road. genius. I want to be a French graffiti artist.
5. Supporters. I have seen Le Tour de France live twice. Once in 1994 when they went through Sussex – and I lived twenty minutes away – and once in 2007 when they rode around Buckingham Palace and I lived a ten minute walk away. In terms of effort, it didn’t take much on my part. The French though, they head up mountains in their caravans and then wait for days until the peloton (plus the stragglers) pass them. It’s a whole lot of effort for a few minutes of live action. And I love them for it. Because they’re stupid. I love the French public.
6. Laurent. You might be startled to hear this, but my favourite rider is the late Laurent Fignon. A Frenchman. And it has absolutely nothing to do with his ability as a rider. It’s because he wore glasses. It’s because, due to his glasses, he was nicknamed ‘The Professor’. It’s because he looked a bit like Christopher Walken. Without his glasses.* So what? Well, in the days before I wore contact lenses, I wore glasses. And let me tell you, riding your bike, in the rain, with glasses on, is terrifying. It’s also thrilling. Which is why, whenever I went out cycling in the rain, I would pretend I was Laurent Fignon.** And every year, when Le Tour is on, I am reminded of this. I am reminded of the time I loved pretending I was a Frenchman.
7. The Run In. The final stage of Le Tour sees those who have managed to stay on their bikes for the duration cycle towards the finish on the Champs-Elysees. The best thing about this is that it is tradition for all the riders to drink Champagne on route. Then, when they’ve knocked backed the bottles, they put their heads down prepared for one last race around downtown Paris. An eight-lap course which features a significant section of cobblestones. This is French ingenuity at its best. Not only have you pushed your body to its absolute limit with little more than bum blisters and crack rash to show for it, now you’ve been intoxicated with alcohol ahead of one of the most dangerous surfaces on which one could possibly ride. Well done France. You’re funny.
*At this time A View To A Kill was my favourite Bond film. The first half of it anyway.
**Wondering who I pretended to be when I played cricket in the garden? Listen to the all-new 7 Reasons podcast this forthcoming Russian Roulette Sunday. ***
***This may or may not happen.