Robin Scott-Elliot: Harmon all talk as French Tour hopes turn to Ashes

View From The Sofa: The Ashes/Tour de France Sky, Eurosport
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The Independent Online

"What goes on tour, stays on tour" is one of sport's oldest unwritten rules. Its beginnings can be traced back to WG Grace fashioning one of his benchmark expense claims from an early trip Down Under (Razors, 79 gold sovereigns, all-you-can-eat salad bar, 79p) and has blossomed into a long and glorious history in English cricket, from CB Fry refusing to bring home the throne of Albania to England consistently declining to return with the Ashes. When it comes to the tour of tours, aka the Tour de France, the cynic might say that it is the golden rule.

It was broken, though, last week by Duncan Fletcher. The former England coach revealed that Michael Vaughan was part of a "Who let the dogs out" sect when away with England. This meant that whenever a member visited another's room, the visiting member had to bark rather than knock while those inside sang the club song with gusto. Once the preliminaries were observed they all settled down with a bottle of something or other to put the world to rights. On that bedrock the 2005 Ashes were won, so it is not to be sniffed at. Unless you really are a dog.

Watching Vaughan's utterly joyous celebration of the 2005 victory at Edgbaston – Freddie Flintoff's ears took one hell of a battering – as part of Sky's build-up to this week's main event (an approach that is less drip-drip than Noahesque) couldn't but raise hopes for what lies ahead, although it should also act as a salutary reminder that England don't actually win the Ashes that often. For every moment of Vaughan delight there are a lot more winning Waughs. "Pedigree, real pedigree," said David Lloyd, effortlessly picking up the dog theme, as he watched Ricky Ponting & Co at Worcester last week.

If it is any consolation, and it should be, the French have a far worse recent record in the Tour of their own backyard than England do in the Ashes. There are elements in each sport that overlap, not least the long periods when nothing much happens, which makes commentary a challenge. In cricket, the art is one of silence, but not in cycling. There it is talk, talk and talk some more. David Harmon is Eurosport's cycling man and he can talk the talk. Eurosport has an air of being held together by sticking plaster but they carry on with happy fortitude, Harmon talking over the cracks. "You can't move here for people in cars and buildings," he said as we watched aerial shots of Monaco on the Tour's opening day. Saturday was supposed to be about Lance Armstrong, but Harmon stole the show. "Armstrong playing second fiddle is not second nature," he said as the great one arrived at the start line. "Armstrong puts his shades on," added Harmon, his voice rising an octave.

Once the Tour hits open country is when the skills of Harmon and his ilk really come into their own, when they have hour after hour to fill as we stare at what soon becomes the hypnotically dull sight of the peloton rolling through fields of sunflowers. His predecessor, the incomparable David Duffield, used to discuss the previous night's wine list before breathless outbursts as some rider scuttled away, bottom stuck in the air and legs pumping like crazy. "Rough end of a ragman's trumpet," was one of his favourites. What it means, who knows – that is something that stays forever on Tour.