The Romance of the Tour de France

Posted on March 1st, 2010 by Tim Bell in Tour de France

Growing up my sister and I were the musicians and my brother, older than me by five years, was the cyclist. While he was being dragged to various town halls to see us play, I needed no persuading of Le Tour’s charms. We grew up on the Wirral, as did Phil Liggett, so Channel 4’s Tour frontman gave their coverage a reassuringly northwestern lilt. His sidekick Paul Sherwen was from Cheshire so it all seemed like a family affair. But the opening title sequence was where it really kicked off. Imagine if Jean-Michel-Jarre and Laurent Garnier had been locked in a room together and told they weren’t coming out until they had collaborated on something, while unbeknownst to them Danny Rampling had been spiking their drinks (something more than a few cyclists seem to have experienced). This bring back any memories?

Bernard ‘The Badger’ Hinault, Greg ‘Buckshot’ Lemond, Pedro Delgado,  Stephen Roche, “Big Mig” Indurain; these were the big names that got me into the sport, and then you had the more specialised gifts of Claudio ‘El Diablo’ Chiappucci, the dour Scot Robert Millar, and the two Seans – Kelly and Yates, each with something of their own to offer. And I can’t forget surely the greatest name in the history of cycling: Djamolidine Abdoujaparov.

The Tour de France was to sport as Milton was to literature. Something profound, difficult and intimidating that cast its shadows long. Three weeks of marathons, three races within the race. The ultimate endurance event. Back then they still offered the combination jersey to the best all-rounder, and Eddy Merckx remains the only man who would have had to choose between that and his white jersey, if they had both been on offer at the time. Sorry Lance, but he’s still the man – they did call him The Cannibal after all.

Eddy Merckx riding in the Tour du France

Eddy Merckx: The Cannibal

But apart from the legends of the Tour, of whom much, much more to come, the real star of this show has always been the set. France is very good looking. The most visited country in the world knows that however appallingly it treats the supplicants tourists, they will keep coming back for more. The glistening harbours and sparkling slopes may be overrun by oligarchs now, but time has never worn the helicopter shot that pans along the peloton, snaking through a mountain tunnel. Through country villages dressed in Sunday best, up vertical Alpine climbs daubed in paint, split at bollards manned by suicidal gendarmes; the lurid grace of the bunch reminds us that every great picture needs a quality canvas.

Tour de France peleton aerial shot

Peleton from above


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6 Comments on “The Romance of the Tour de France”

  1. zynga

    i was starting to really feel i could possibly be the sole human being whom cared about this, at the least at this point i acknowledge i’m not odd 🙂 i’ll make it a point to look into various different threads when i get a tad of caffeine in me, it is really challanging to read without my coffee, I was until the wee hours of the morning last night enjoying myspace poker and after polishing off a few ales i finished up melting away all my facebook poker chips cheers 🙂

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    Its interesting that you talk about commentary veteran Phil Liggett, he’s rather good, especially with Paul Sherwen next to him but if you can get Eurosport they occassionally have a commentator on who goes by the name of David Duffield who has an inate ability to talk full on for 5 hours on a mountan stage and leaves other cycling commentators in his slipstream.

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