It’s that time of year again . . .

. . . sore neck from impromptu sleeping on the couch, waking up bleary-eyed in the wee-smalls just in time to catch the SBS logo and slo-mo shots of the stage finish sprint you just missed – yes, Le Tour De France (click on the little Union Jack in the top RH corner for parle d’Anglais) parades its way across our TV screens, thanks to the good folks at SBS. They’ve really pulled out all the stops this year, televising nearly every minute the bikes are on the road. My mum says that it’s about as interesting as watching snails drag race down her garden path (hmm, I must try to catch that), but she watches test match cricket – yep, I don’t want to call my mum a kettle or a pot, and she definitely isn’t a non-Anglo, but you can see where this argument is going . . . I think Phil Liggett is as good as any of the more droll and eccentric cricket commentators that liven the airwaves in in summer, he has even spawned a new literary descriptor: a Liggettism; a slightly abstruse and colourful tangent upon on what he’s watching and commentating. He blows Bob Rolls, the only American contender, into the weeds. They can ride bikes better than the Poms, the Yanks, but they can’t describe what’s going on in any but the most banal way.

I used to (sort-of) enjoy rushing home trying to catch the 6pm highlights half-hour (you still can, if you want), but now there’s a 5 min wrap-up at 7.20am of the previous (nights, for us) stage, and yes, the hard stuff: 10.30pm to 1am (or later, especially on long, slow stages like Tuesday’s). The 6pm 1/2 hour had a sense of occasion, a sort of ritual communion, even if you were net-savvy enough to log onto and get the results so you could appear knowledgeable to your (often uninterested – but it’s slowly changing) colleagues.

But there’s little gems that you catch from watching the full version, such as “nature stops” as the French discreetly call them, whilst the camera pans modestly away (how do 180 cyclists stop for a wee at an average speed of 40 km/h? I hear you ask) , Tour-inspired roadside art and sculpture, informal chats between les motocyclistes and the riders, more bingles (not just the big ones), Gabriel Gate’s cholesterol-blockage cookery spot (“back by popular demand”, Mike Tomalaris informs us, miam miam, more camembert please), and any amount of bucolic and not-so-bucolic European scenery (witness Paul Sherwin, Phil’s Dudley Moore, showing his true greenie credentials as he spends airtime slagging the French nuclear electricity program as the race passes a reactor – I think Phil had popped out for a mo), more quaint cobbled villages, churches and chateaux than you can poke a stick at. It’s a treat. Global warming au go go, as 5 (5!) helicopters and any number of motorcycle cameras follow the (?) action. When there is any, before the last 3 km.

So I might have to go into detox soon, and kick the late-night habit. It’s taking its toll. I think I peaked a bit early, and should have saved it for the tough riding, up in the mountains in weeks 2 and 3. I feel a bit run down for real racing now, the one where you actually go out and ride your bike, not just watching other people do it, however good they may be.


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