I don’t really get sport, but J’adore Le Tour de France
Let me preface this by saying I am not a sports fan.
When it comes to the throwing, passing or kicking of a ball, I’m legs akimbo. There is nothing more unnatural-looking than me running, or doing any sort of coordinated activity. I’m also oblivious to sports played by other people. I couldn’t tell you which team ranks the highest on which ladder, or even what the ladder is.
But when it comes to the Tour De France, I am hooked. And here’s why:
The Tour de France is so much more than just a bike race. You wouldn’t think watching a pack of fairly unlikeable characters pedaling around the départments and arondissements of France would be all that interesting. But Le Tour is a lesson in history, geography and fine cuisine, with some rolling footage of guys pedaling up hills for good measure.
Thanks to Le Tour, I’ve become one of the most interesting smarty pants wankers at the dinner table. I know about obscure chateaux they won’t take you to on a bus tour of the Loire Valley. I know that sunflowers tilt their smiley yellow faces to chase the sun all day. I know it’s impolite to toast someone without sipping from your glass, and that you can only lower your glass after three people have sipped.
Which brings me to the food. Oh the food! Every Tour De France, French chef, Gabriel Gaté, is entrusted with the responsibility of travelling around the countryside, sampling traditional cuisine from around the provinces and broadcasting it to the masses. It’s a hard job but somebody’s got to do it.
Gaté‘s presentation and style ensures that even unadventurous Aussies are secret foodies by Tour’s end. Gaté is a one man Michelin Guide to food. Gaté makes you want to go to France and sample the dishes. He makes you want to know more about the food. Far from elitist, he brings the viewer into the experience. I’m actually salivating while I write this, just recounting his TV segments.
That’s the thing about Le Tour. It’s all about presentation. And when it comes to presentation, nobody does it better than that commentary duo, Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen.
I could listen to Phil and Paul talk cycling for hours – so soothing are their tones. But it’s not just those bedroom voices that do it for me. As a former cyclist and journalist, Sherwen has ridden with and covered most of the cyclists that have come through Le Tour in recent years, and he has their histories burned into his memory. With every controversy or spill, he is there, ready and armed with a history of rider tantrums or doping scandals.
The two of them can recount the cyclists’ every achievement back from their earliest days in cycling. No rider is free from their epic memory. They also know an awful lot about all the regions of France and their politics going back to the Middle Ages. They’ll recount Marie Antoinette’s travels across the country, and monarchical conflicts across time. By the end of the tour you’ll be the France wikipedia page.
The Tour De France commentary is different from most because it’s a three week race. You can’t narrate it the way you would a horse race or a rugby match. There can be times where there isn’t much action for hours on end. Occasionally someone will fall down, chuck a tantrum or gets accused of doping – and when that happens you’re in your element - but in between that, it’s just a bunch of guys cycling past yet another vineyard.
You’ve got to supplement that with something interesting that makes people want to keep watching.
And Liggett does it so well. So well, in fact, that I worry what will happen to the popularity of the Tour De France once he retires.
God forbid SBS ever have an All-Aussie commentators lineup. Matthew Keenan does a good job warming the chair for Sherwen and Liggett, but let’s leave it there.
I love the Tour De France. It‘s a perfect example of how sport should be done. It transcends mere athletic achievement. It makes you understand why it is important, and why it should be valued.
If it can attract a sucker like me to tune in until the early hours of the morning for three weeks of every year, that’s saying something.
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