Will Hawkes: Musketeers, massacres and monotone chat: Le Tour is back
View From The Sofa: Tour de France, Eurosport
Monday 04 July 2011
Some people think that Bob Willis, England fast bowler turned Sky pundit, has a boring voice. Not me. That's because I've watched cycling on Eurosport, where Sean Kelly – a four-time winner of the Tour's Green Jersey – takes tedium to a whole new level. To say that Kelly has a monotone delivery is an understatement. He could be telling you that you'd won a lifetime supply of beer – and your own island to drink it on – and you'd still be nodding off.
It was fortunate, then, that Kelly did not appear on Eurosport's coverage of the team presentation for this year's Tour. But even he couldn't have taken the gloss off Friday's events in the town of Puy-du-Fou. It was a gloriously weird event.
The two Frenchmen who kicked things off for Eurosport – and who did the honours at the ceremony – were clearly thrilled. One of them, Guillaume de Gracia, announced: "You're going to see a spectacle! You're going to see a show! Something you've never seen before on Eurosport!"
You mean something I might want to watch, Guillaume? In that, he was undoubtedly right. The event took place in a fake Roman arena and each team was brought to the stage by locals dressed in historical outfits. There were musketeers and Romans and, er, some more musketeers. The highlight came with a re-enactment of the 1627 siege of nearby La Rochelle, when around 20,000 Hugenots were slaughtered. Tour champion Alberto Contador took on the role of the poor pulverised Protestants.
Of course he didn't – there was no re-enactment, Protestantism fans – but he did get vigorously booed when he came out, no doubt because of the lingering doping allegations. Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins, Britain's two major hopes, fared rather better with the crowd as Stefano Bernabino probed them in that unenlightening way so beloved of comperes.
The Tour, of course, is also broadcast by ITV4, but they decided not to show the presentations live. They're also not going to show all of every stage – Ironside, quite properly, takes precedence – but even so, their coverage of the Tour (featuring the commentary of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, neither of whom is dull) is head and shoulders above the Eurosport effort.
It's not quite as otherworldly, though. Everything about Friday's broadcast was strange. As Cavendish – 'Le Roi de Sprint', as Bernabino put it – spoke, a little musketeer appeared unannounced and unexplained in the corner of the screen. When Wiggins arrived on stage, Eurosport co-commentator Brian Smith said: "Bradley, there, choosing to go with black shorts and black socks." Why that was a key bit of info remained unclear.
The highlight came, though, with the appearance of last year's Tour runner-up Andy Schleck and his team-mate (and noted cycling strongman) Fabian Cancellara. They were driven onstage in the sort of horse and cart that Asterix and Obelix might have used if they were making a long trip, say to Lutetia.
Which is quite apt, since every man who appeared on stage in tight lycra last Friday is intent on cycling up the Champs Elysées, and Schleck will be dreaming that he might finally do it in yellow. Sadly for Eurosport, many viewers will choose to make the journey with ITV4. The thought of three weeks with Sean Kelly could prove just too much to bear.
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