It’s 9.30 pm, Saturday night, and my favourite annual sports event is about to start. What is it? The Tour de France, the world’s premier pro cycling event.
Yes, I love the AFL and NRL grand finals, but the two teams I follow don’t reach that ultimate game each year, so my interest is high, but my passion low. But the Tour? It’s on every year.
I’ve been a fan since the early 1980s. Back then all you could see were brief segments on The Wide World of Sports, or short films before films at the cinema. Then in 1991 it all became a little easier to be a fan, with Australia’s SBS broadcasting the race. The channel showed a little more of the race over time, to the point now that each and every stage of the race is shown live.
And what a race! It takes place over three weeks, starting 4 July, and finishing on Sunday 26 July, in what is the 102nd edition of the race. All up there are 21 stages, two rest days, 22 teams of nine riders, and by race end the riders will have powered their bikes along 3,359.8 kilometres to the finish line on Paris’ iconic Avenue des Champs-Élysées.
Why do I love the Tour de France so much? Firstly, I love it as an incredible sporting event. Yes cycling has a tainted history, what with drugs, blood doping, and the infamous bullying tactics and doping in recent years involving seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong (his seven titles have subsequently been stripped), but even so, to make it into the race, and then finish, is I think still a monumental achievement. Individual race tactics, team tactics, astonishing mountain climbs, death-defying descents… it’s an incredibly exciting sport.
Second, you can love the race as a travel series. If nothing else the Tour de France is the greatest three-week advertisement for the country of France. The broadcast frequently cuts to landscapes, chateaus, villages, and some of the shots from helicopter and motorcycle are absolutely stunning. On top of the images, the race commentators provide information on the landmarks and places of historical significance. So if you like travelogues and history show, there’s something in the Tour de France for you.
Next, Australians have what is now a long and proud history of competing in the Tour de France. From Hubert ‘Oppy’ Opperman in the late 1920s, to the barnstorming, successful Phil Anderson in the 1980s, and on to Cadel Evans, who won the Tour de France in 2011, we love the Tour de France, and the Tour de France loves us.
This year there are 10 Australian riders in the Tour, including one Australian-owned pro team, Orica-Greenedge. And in a special nod to Aussies and our ANZAC heritage, the race organisers this year have this year arranged that the race go through the village of Villers-Bretonneux, the site of incredible bravery in World War 1, and where the Australian National Memorial is situated. This will be during stage 5 of the race, on July 8, finishing in Amiens.
If you want to catch the race, SBS broadcast every stage live, but that is a commitment to 10pm or so starts, and 2am finishes. Or there’s the easier option of highlights packages the following day – check your local SBS program guides.
Finally, on top of all of this, I like the social media aspect of the Tour de France. There’s a solid crew of Aussie Tour de France fans on Twitter, and we all stay up until all hours, discussing the race, the scenery, and even the cows. Some cook up snacks pertaining to the region the race is in, and others replicate TV chef Gabriel Gaté’s recipes that feature in a segment at the start of the race, Taste Le Tour. We’ve all been doing this for 5 years or so, and some of us have met ‘in real life’ and become firm friends.
All of that and more is why I love the Tour de France. And right now I’m loving it just a little more as an Australian is leading the race after the first stage. Vive la Australie, and vive le Tour de France!
How about you… what is your favourite sporting event? Are you too a Tour de France fan? We would love to hear your stories.