How my grandfather Albert liked his Tour de France! Every afternoon in July, he would take a break from working in the fields, turn on the radio, and sit down at the kitchen table to listen to the live broadcast. When they finally got TV reception at the farm in the mid-60s, he could actually watch his favorite riders comme en vrai. Jacques Anquetil, Raymond Poulidor, Eddie Merckx were his heroes. Personally, I found the race extremely boring and saw enough close-ups of hairless legs pushing on pedals to last me a lifetime.
I've changed my tune, though. Not because I suddenly developed an appreciation for la petite reine: I just enjoy the scenery. The increased use of helicopters transformed how the race is filmed and won over a new group of spectators: armchair travelers who discover the variety of the French regions without leaving their living room and the 64” flat screen. It’s cheaper than a plane ticket and, if you care at all about the race itself, it gives you a fantastic overall view of the stage leaders, the peloton, and everyone in between. Muscular calves are getting short-changed but I don’t mind that.
Le Tour de France is believed to be the most popular sporting event in the world: where else can millions of fans watch champions compete in the most prestigious bicycle race sans débourser un centime? Just line up along the road; catch goodies thrown from la caravane, arm yourself with a bottle of sunscreen, or an umbrella. The weather can be unpredictable even in the middle of summer.
In July 1997, Rick and I spent a few days at my sister’s apartment right outside of Paris. That third Sunday of the month was the final stage of the Tour and the riders were scheduled to barrel around our corner right after lunch. The guys walked down the street to catch the action and a glimpse of le maillot jaune. It was a hot day. Francoise and I decided to stay in. We turned on the TV, hoping to spot our husbands’ sexy calves. No luck…
La Grande Boucle: The Great Loop, nickname for the Tour de France
Comme en vrai: in person, lit. like in real (life)
La petite reine: nickname for a bicycle, lit. the little queen
Sans débourser un centime: without spending one cent, free
La caravane: the (publicity) caravan, a procession of advertising floats and vehicles that precede the race and distribute giveaways
Le peloton: the pack
Le maillot jaune: the leader of the race (he wears a yellow jersey)