Sport on TV: Don't whine, it's just another pile-up on the French roads
Sunday 10 July 2011
There are so many jerseys and podiums and girls dressed as airline stewards in the coverage of the Tour de France (Eurosport), it's amazing they find the time to do any cycling. There's the yellow jersey, the green, polka dot, white... The only shirt that's missing is the red top, but they have rather gone out of fashion.
Wednesday's race on the bumpy roads of Brittany was fraught with incident and accident. Bradley Wiggins told ITV4: "It was a really, really horrible stage. The worst day so far." And there was worse to come when he broke his collarbone on Friday and had to leave the Tour. It's all starting to resemble the Jean-Luc Godard film Le Weekend, in which a couple go away for a break but get stuck in traffic jams for days on end in the French countryside behind a succession of gruesome crash scenes.
Early on in Wednesday's stage, Wiggins suddenly jumped off his bike and threw it in the hedge. The riders seem to veer off the road at regular intervals anyway without doing it on purpose. The pursuing team car screeched to a halt inches behind him and gave him a new bike, which was lucky because he would have been a long way behind without one.
Then last year's winner, Alberto Contador, crashed and was pictured forlornly fiddling with his helmet straps by the side of the road. It's not often the average punter can identify with these titans of tarmac, but when it comes to sheer endurance we've all agonised over our straps and buttons as the rest of the world speeds by.
Despite the monumental effort involved, the scenario is familiar. Mad men on bikes not heeding the rules of the road, speeding cars with sirens blaring, road rage and pedestrians shouting at cyclists; just a normal day in a British city of your choice. The crowd, however, love every moment – they have to, since the peloton is past them in a flash. For their two seconds of spectacle, however, it's no surprise to see the French setting out a picnic. Any excuse for opening a bottle of wine.
Eurosport's commentator, David Harman, was struggling to keep up with the chaos. "Crash after crash after crash! The wind playing havoc! Brajkovic battered! He's out! Not to be back in!" He seemed befuddled, as if he might have been ingesting a few banned substances. "There's street furniture, flower pots, a raging tailwind!" he added, clearly hallucinating that the riders were being chased down the street by Bill and Ben and some café tables and chairs.
As it happened, he had no idea who won the stage. "It's gonna be a straight fight between the Spaniard, the Belgian and the Australian. Oh no, it's Cavendish!" He quickly added the rider: "You have to say, he came out of nowhere." Another hallucination?
The drugs endemic in the Tour can only make the road rage worse, of course. But even the riders who are clean can get caught up in the general sense of paranoia. Mark Cavendish, who had been gesticulating furiously during the race, was ranting wild-eyed afterwards about attempts to impede him. "I got bashed by a guy that's six foot two the other day! What do I do?" Grab a baguette on your way past and beat him with it?
Nicky Sorensen was another victim, knocked off his bike by a motorcyclist who was apparently sacked on the spot like some tabloid hack. Like the journalists, just another case of a cyclist in the gutter.
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