Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Tour de France goes Cockney

The cycling theme continues today with the fantastic news that London is to host the opening stage of the 2007 Tour de France.

Now that the world's greatest race will be coming to Britain's shores for the first time in 30 years, the profile of cyling in the UK should experience a much needed boost, which will hopefully mean increased media coverage, which has sadly been lacking in recent years.

A few years ago it seemed that "le Tour" had all but disappeared from British terrestrial TV. It was good to see ITV begin covering the event, even though they had scant regard for those of us without access to the ITV2 channel or those of us who have to get up for work in the mornings. Even the recently resurrected Tour of Britain has received only minimal coverage of late, which is a poor reflection of British sports broadcasting when it has such a casual attitude to an event of this magnitude occurring on its own soil.

If the BBC can show extended coverage of grossly overweight, tattooed neanderthals with the fitness levels of a tub of lard throwing darts – and call it a sport – surely they can make room in their schedules for cycling. And I don't just mean screening the odd track event at the Manchester Velodrome - why not the Giro d'Italia or Vuelta a Espana?

What we really need is a return to those unforgettable summer evenings of the late ’80s/early ’90s on the Channel 4 dailyteatime slot with the great Phil Liggett and co at the helm. When names like Kelly, Roche, Yates, Indurain, Delgado and Fignon rolled off the tongue. We would have the spectacular aerial shots of the peloton winding its way along poppy fields, then Alan Peiper the Tour's joker-in-the-pack resident Aussie wise guy would turn to the camera and make his smart-arse observations, then after more highlights, interviews and a bit of gossip we’d have Phil’s closing words of wisdom from the finish line and that brilliant electro-pop keyboard/French folk fusion theme tune to accompany the closing credits, safe in the knowledge that they'd be back tomorrow to do it all again.

London certainly does not have the scenery of the Loire or the Dordogne. It may not have fields of sunflowers in abundance or Alpine mountain passes or Pyrenean slopes, and Highgate Hill (although a bloody pain in the backside for lesser mortals to cycle up - both literally and metaphorically) is unlikely to seriously test any budding king of the mountains, the English capital is an excellent starting point for the world’s greatest annual sports event.
I'm not usually a big fan of mayor Ken Livingstone’s policies, but this has to be his finest hour since taking office. I attended the London stage of the relaunced Tour of Britain in 2004, my first eye-witness experience of a professional bike race in the flesh and was blown away. Even though it was only 40 odd laps of Whitehall, the multicoloured flash of lycra and carbon-fibre flying past at blink-and-you'll-miss-it speed was a spectacle to behold. It will however pale in signifance when the big boys come in 2007!

This could be the best news I’ll hear all week. So, as the cold, grey winter days slowly drag on, all I can say now is roll on summer…(summer 2007 that is!)

As an interesting footnote to the previous posting on who will wear yellow in 2006, it seems that Lance Armstrong himself has tipped Jan Ullrich to win, according to a report on the BBC website taken off the the website of German magazine Bild. A serious prediction or merely a ploy to flatter Ullrich? Time will tell.


Rationalist said...

I totally agree, it's great that the Tour's Grand Depart is coming to London, but it's not exactly breaking news, as it was unofficially announced quite some time ago. In fact William Fotheringham in the Guardian describes it as "perhaps the worst kept secret in the cycling world in recent years", referring to the report in the same paper in November 2004.

r.piasecki said...

And here we are July 2007 and le Tour is upon us, the Grand Depart was a huge success, we've had ups and downs already, the maillot jeune is there for the taking, the scenery is as breathtaking as ever and the tremendous commitment and bravery of these athletes still can't be argued with and yet we've now been reduced to viewing this spectacle on ITV 4, and it's absolutely littered with adverts. No justice and certainly no respect.