Posted on: 06 Jul 2012
Written by: joel
This year’s Tour de France is now five eventful days into its first week. No British rider has ever won le Tour, but this year our very own Bradley Wiggins has been installed by almost everyone in the know as favourite. As well as causing British spectators to watch the opening stages through their fingers in fear he might crash out (as he did last year), Wiggins’ chances have caused a swell of home interest in the race.
But I’ve always been fascinated by the Tour, despite said fascination being sparked during the 90s, when it was a miracle should a British rider even manage to reach Paris. The tour was different; it was unapologetically European. Even when Anglos invaded the sport, as Lance Armstrong did to such devastating effect, it was they who were subsumed into the culture of continental bike racing, rather than cycling slowly being conformed to the Anglo sporting landscape.
And it is in language that this is seen most clearly. For it’s impossible to talk about professional bike racing without using the language of the peloton (a French word literally meaning ‘little ball’ which is used to name the largest group of riders on the road). Teams are run by directeurs sportifs, and soigneurs give out bidons to domestiques. Rouleurs dominate stages on the flat and grimpeurs dart up iconic hills such as Alpe d’Huez.
Watch le Tour this year. Watch because Britain could well have its first ever winner. But more than that, watch because it is uncompromisingly and joyously French. Watch because when spectators at the summit of Alpine passes urge riders on with cries of ‘allez! allez! allez!’ it does something that ‘come on’ never could. Watch because although an English speaking rider will probably [steady on - Ed.] stand atop the podium in three weeks time, it will not be the Yellow Jersey he wears… it will be the maillot jaune.