Nine things I learned from not covering the Tour de France
I’m sure the majority of those who are reading this wish they could take in the Tour de France roadside at least once. As a journalist (I use that phrase cautiously) working for CyclingTips over the past few years I’ve had the privilege not only to be roadside but to be part of the rolling circus. Like many priveledges, it’s hard to see them for what they are until they’re gone.
This year I was thrown a curveball, a curveball that knocked me on my arse. An arse that spent three weeks on a couch during July.
Multiple epileptic fits over the start of the year and one final fit frying my brain just two weeks before the grand depart lead to my doc strongly advising me to sit this year’s TDF out. To be honest, even before I walked into the docs surgery, I knew I wasn’t going. Opening my mouth, I’d stumble for words, lose my train of thought. I wanted to sleep multiple times during the day. It wasn’t the sort of health to enter a three-week slog of chasing riders about. I’d join Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin and post up a DNS.
The fits saw me miss my first Tour de France in six years. Instead, I’d enjoy the Tour like I used to, sat down in front of the TV.
The doc ordered me to leave personal screens alone. That resulted in a Tour minus social feeds and daily online articles. Magazines, paper L’Equipe and TV coverage were in. It was going to be a Tour pre-dial-up.
After three weeks, I learned several things.
It should be noted that I live in France. So this perspective is very much one from inside the Tour’s host nation. That means many of these lessons won’t really be of any use to anyone outside of French France. But hey! I’m back at work wanted to write something to get back in the flow, so here we are. Nine lessons I learned from sitting on my arse for three weeks in July:
Don’t insult French cycling stars while getting a hair cut
It will result in a terrible cut, plus you’ll still have to hand over the cash for said terrible cut and say “merci” to the hairdresser.
In other news, I’m now trying to strike a sponsorship deal with Alpecin.
French TV adverts are truly terrible
I honestly don’t know how much TV publicity mid-stage costs but from the brands that advertise mid-stage it can’t be that much. Either that or the French public are pretty damn gullible, as well as being 5-10 years behind the rest of the modern world.
You want dodgy-looking electric shock gizmos that firm and hone those muscles while sitting there eating your Cornetto; you have it. You want a random small-time 90’s (French) celebrity to sell you a diet plan, you have that too. And it’s relentless! I mean seriously relentless, both ads twice in every ad break. It’s painful.
Staying off Twitter adds to the race
Honestly, I stayed clear (for most parts) of Twitter for the whole of the Tour. Not getting multiple tweets from people just like myself sat on their couch at home on what I’ve just seen unsurprisingly allows you to watch a stage uninterrupted and take it all in. Who’d have guessed?
Have a toddler? Hide the remote
Pretty self-explanatory if you want to watch the final 10km without random channel hopping interrupting it.
It’s amazingly easy to fill 5hrs of TV coverage…when you have slow-mo
Quite clearly, the French 2/3 TV editors love a slow-mo shot, or 15. I don’t know what it’s like on Eurosport, NBC or SBS but here in France, it’s like someone gave a toddler a new musical toy, overused to the point where it’s bloody annoying.
On the upside, they sure know how to produce an after race program. Dissection of the race from experts, guests from the peloton, fly on the wall documentaries (from inside french teams), plus lighthearted games about random locals with cycling connections makes for some quality viewing. It’s all good.
French TV producers love the French. No matter if it’s 200m to the finish line or not
You’ve got 200m to the line. There’s a breakaway, two riders battling it out for the win, it’s a standoff on gravel. What to do in these closing meters? Stick with a nail-biting finish or cut to Bardet’s derriere going out the derriere?
Obviously, you cut to a long drawn out shot of Bardet’s arse slowly getting dropped for 150 of that 200m! And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Your body will adapt to the 60km-to-go wake up
Napping from 160km to 60km on a 3-week basis is an art form. It takes dedication to dig the sort of hole I dug in the months beforehand, but this dedication will pay dividends. You’ll miss most of the boring part of the stages and be wide-eyed and fresh for when the action starts.
You want a replica team kit, you’ve got it. If you have a chequebook
You may not know who Marcarini Sports are and that’s understandable. So please let me explain, as I’m sure you’ve had similar in your country.
Marcarini is a Brittany-based bike shop; they specialise in team kits. But instead of jumping on the internet, you cut their full page spread out of a magazine and send it on in. It’s a dizzying list of cycle clothing they have in stock, everything from Total-direct Energie socks to FDJ Canadian Champs jersey. Tick the correct box, write a check outpost it in and days later you’ll be ready to post on Twitter with the hashtag #makeproteamkitscoolagain.
It’s beautiful to see that it’s still alive and well in France. I have fond memories of scrolling through the list when I lived here as an aspiring amateur wishing I could afford a set of Mapei arm warmers and a Seaco winter Gillet.
L’equipe is the best newspaper out there…when the Tour’s on
Not being able to check out CT’s coverage because of my screen ban was a bit gutting. So the next best thing is to peruse the paper coverage. And this may not come as a surprise to anyone, but French sports daily L’Equipe knows how to cover a race. Having daily stats, stories and data in paper form is pretty damn sweet. The same goes for magazines.
That gives me an idea, we here at CT should do something like that now and again. [Are you volunteering to write it, Dave? – Ed.]
There’s more to the race than the final 30kms
As journalists on the ground at the race, you’d think we get to take deep dives into the daily action. Pull the race apart km for km. But to be blunt, by the time you’ve been to the start, jumped in the car after roll-out, taken the Hors Course route to the finish, stopped at an Autogrill service station for a dirty jambon sandwich or poulet salad (again), navigated the closing kilometres, argued with a gendarme then found the press room and a spare seat in the press room there’s little of the race left.
So to sit and watch as much or as little as I wanted was a real treat. I didn’t realise how much we actually miss.
There we have it. I know it’s very french heavy, but hey the race is French after all. I thought watching the Tour from afar would be a bit of a downer, a bit of an anticlimax from the excitement of being part of it for a few years now. But I enjoyed myself; the race was the best edition I remember. That definitely helped. But lazy days on a sofa gave me a renewed energy not just for getting back out there to races but also appreciating what privileges I have that come with this job. We’re lucky here at CT, and I don’t want to forget that, I want to use my arse sitting lessons for good. A bit like Superman — he could be a right bastard with his superpowers, but he chooses to help. I may not have the ability to fly, melt stuff with my eyes or freeze items with peppermint cool breath but I do have an AIGC press card, and that’s pretty damn close in my book.
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