Robin Scott-Elliot: Is France ready for another beating by the boys from over the water?
The View From The Sofa: Tour de France ITV4
Monday 16 July 2012
When London was awarded the Olympics seven years ago it was at the expense of Paris. The broadly held opinion ahead of the vote in Singapore was that it was Paris's for the losing; instead they were thoroughly upstaged by a group of Britons in beige. Not only did Paris lose to a country that can't muster a decent degustation, they did so to one that dressed its entourage a pith helmet short of resembling colonial civil servants dispatched to govern a forgotten corner of Africa.
The Paris bid was supposed to be the moment France confirmed its sporting superiority over its cross-channel neighbours. It didn't happen and the ignominy could soon be completed in the most hurtful fashion.
On Sunday the Tour de France rolls in to the capital, and it may well have the Union Jack fluttering at its front. That would be the final link in a chain that confirms sporting superiority has headed through the Channel tunnel quicker than you can say "train a grande vitesse"*.
Since winning the Games, Britain has overtaken France in the Olympic medal table for the first time in a generation, while their formerly world-beating footballers have sunk to similar levels of incompetence to ours (and they haven't had a Tour winner since 1985).
Come Sunday, as the peloton hares through Paris, Phil Liggett, or possibly Paul Sherwen, as I'm never altogether sure which voice is which, might, just might, have the chance of a lifetime. "Brigitte Bardot, Gérard Depardieu, Cyrano de Bergerac, Gustave Eiffel, Monet, Robespierre, Charles de Gaulle, Eric Cantona, your boys took one hell of a beating."
It is a treat to spend a lazy afternoon in the company of Liggett and Sherwen watching a group of lean men show off the flexibility of pipe cleaners as they bend in and out of the saddle.
Cycling is not an accessible sport, but like any flagship event the Tour is different because this is it. And part of the appeal is the commentary. For long periods nothing much happens. Unlike cricket, where silence in the commentary box is an art, the Tour needs words, especially as the helicopter camera swoops over yet another chateau.
Until it comes to the finish – or the occasional pile-up – the Tour tour guides are the best bits; Phil or Paul pointing out that this chateau's bell tower was added to the original building in the 19th century, and doing so in a voice that says "I just happen to know this and am not reading it from the guidebook".
The helicopter flew over a quarry. "There's a quarry," said Phil or Paul. Before adding ever so casually that this was where bauxite was discovered, "the ore from which aluminium was derived". You don't get that from Clive Tyldesley or Andy Townsend.
At times the passion for what they are part of attaches itself to the surroundings, as when the peloton – amid which there are fleeting thrilling glimpses of Bradley Wiggins in yellow – crested a hill and caught first sight of the "Mediterranean Ocean". But then these are heady times for British cycling, in fact British sport, so a touch of hyperbole should be happily indulged.
* If/when the London Olympics turns into a soggy security and logistical disaster, all views expressed in this article will be denied quicker than you can say "leaves on the line".
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