Food Poisoning, Lycra, And Parking In Fields!

(broadcaster’s footage with the logo cleverly covered up!)

Today, I went to see a stage of the Tour De France, a famous French bicycle race, because ‘France’ apparently consists of Essex these days. It was odd for me, because as a fan of cycling, I am interested in things like time gaps between breakaway riders and the peloton, and minor rankings in the King of the Mountains classification, and seeing the race live amounts to five seconds of clapping, twenty seconds of cheering, and a day spent avoiding coverage of the race so that I’d be in a constant state of anticipation for when the riders came past, a bit like a kid waiting for Christmas presents, whose parents have told them Santa will come one any day between the 23rd and 30rd of December; none of these things actually informed me about the state of the race.

But it was great fun being there; seeing cycling fans (those wearing lycra and leaning on expensive racing bikes) and non-fans (a group of obnoxious eleven year-old religiously chanting ‘TEAM SKY’ whenever anything bicycle-shaped rode past, regardless of its affiliation to the British cycling team) enjoying an event together was encouraging, because these people were only united by a desire to encourage athletes completing an event, which makes you think that humanity can be quite nice some of the time.

Universal optimism aside, the day was strewn with minor irritations; we had to park in a field, skirting around the paradox of driving to an event where all of the access roads to that event are closed so the race can actually take place, and I got food poisoning and diarrhoea from a Domino’s pizza, the first Domino’s I’ve ever had and sadly, considering it’s good taste, low price and impending student poverty, not the last. But this all added to the fun of the day; this was not just about watching some people ride bikes, or even engage with the Tour as a distant, sporting event, in which its competitors are analysed and scrutinised, but about being a person simply enjoying the sporting performances of other people, with all the imperfections of being alive thrown in: it’s fair to enjoy a bike race if you have to pay for it with regular bathroom breaks.

Going to see the Tour was also more personal than watching it on TV; the police and race officials waved out of cars and motorbikes as they passed before the riders, the ‘caravan’ – a bizarre display of consumerism where race sponsors stick young, attractive interns on parade floats and instruct them to lob free samples of Yorkshire Tea and Fruit Shoots at random members of the public – was a laugh, and I got to see the riders in person, although Vincenzo Nibali hid behind his sunglasses and Tommy Voeckler wasn’t pulling any particularly amusing facial expressions.

And even the annoying things weren’t too bad: the tinny pop blared from the caravan’s speakers all blended into one, easily ignorable, mess of high volumes and energetic voices; the singing kids, while punchable, were ultimately enjoying themselves in something others could engage with; and the fact that I only saw five seconds of actual cycling was still cool because the peloton brought with them a great gust of wind, making the whole experience feel like an approving and content sigh of a god, or at least a riding on a rollercoaster in lycra.

I should totally go live in France.

We’ve taken footage ourselves, but I lack the technological knowhow to stick it on this blog in the same day as the stage itself, so there was a screenshot of some TV coverage with the broadcaster’s logo cleverly covered up. Only my parents are in that shot, but me and my sister are just behind them, as you look towards the riders; we saw the riders before they did, but are obscured by them in this shot.

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