Le Tour de France is watched and followed every year by Millions of spectators. People cross the world to be among the lucky roadsiders, waiting for hours in the heat -and sometimes cold- of the European summer.
After moving to Australia I soon became aware of the far-reaching influence of the Tour. Aussie cyclists all geared up with the recognisable logos, SBS’s extensive broadcasting of the race, and more surprisingly, people planning a trip to France just to see the Tour! Why should Australians care that much?
Okay I’m not going to lie to you. As a kid growing up in France, I unashamedly, utterly and vocally hated the Tour de France. And if I remember well, I think most kids around me felt the same way. Not that we weren’t into sport, we were very keen on soccer, rugby, tennis or athletics. Not that we hated cycling either: We did spend days on our bikes, looking for new adventures further away from home to the despair of our Mums.
I think the first and main reason for my rejection was that ‘beurk’, the Tour was boring.
You could watch that thing for hours without anything to happen, except for guys pedalling, more guys pedalling, ‘hey a horse’, and even more guys pedalling. I thought the Tour de France was merely a trick invented by adults to make the kids go play outside.
Growing older, well, the love didn’t show up. Yes, there was the 1-minute awareness that those guys really put in the effort, that they’re amazing athletes, ready to put their own lives at risk to gain a few seconds on the clock.
I remember a hot summer afternoon in one the delightfully picturesque ‘cabanons’ of Giens where we were spending some well-deserved family holidays. As I was watching a stage on TV with my wife’s uncle, the latter explained that he watched the Tour de France to enjoy the beautiful lanscapes and discover new regions of France. I have to admit in twenty-something years, it had never occurred to me. I didn’t realise how lucky I was to be able to drive to most of those amazing places throughout the year.
To me -the grown up this time- the Tour was still not fun. Every year or so, the National Road down my street was blocked for a day, and no one could get to the other side of that many-kilometer-long line, which was a real pain, even more so as I had a lot of very serious things to do on the other side of that very road.
I did try to love it. Like that day I dragged my reluctant tribe along to watch the race from the side of the road, like all those people did -after all they looked so happy… Four most uneventful hours in the scorching sun later, the cyclists zapped past in a few seconds and I think I saw the maillot jaune. Not exciting.
And then we moved to Australia.
We moved to Australia and you would not believe how excited I was when I first turned on the television to travel through it to all those amazing, familiar places, bringing up memories, fragrances and feelings of over 30 years and as many summers that I didn’t know I was already missing.
Since then I have rarely missed a stage, and I’ll be on the deck tonight, while the tour crosses the land where I was born.