It's all so serious this Tour de France malarkey. Everything you hear, read and are told about is of shiny, important riders who are uber professional. The truth is that by the time you've survived all the pre-race build-up and the presentation your brain is bursting from all the new information. You get new bikes, new sunglasses, new helmets, new jerseys, new cars and plenty of new experts telling you it'll be a new contract if you do well. It's a never ending new this and new that. But all it adds up to is new stress. More stress on top of the personal stress you've already brought with you. It's all the more worrying because after being bombarded with all the latest options you realise that the only thing you don't get given as a rider is new legs. And that's probably the main component you really could do with.
To survive the relentless mental anguish you devise a coping mechanism, a relaxation strategy if you prefer. A part of your day that brings something else into the equation, even if it's only for a brief moment. It can be a bit of music, a coffee and a laugh with your friends or my favourite, a quiet read of the paper just to remind me that there really was another world going on outside. The fun part wasn't reading the stories but watching Laurent Fignon who was also hiding in the same tranquil spot, tell any interlopers where to go when he was disturbed. It's sad but true when subjected to outrageous pressure simple things like swearing and childish modification of pictures in hotel rooms also help keep you sane.
I used to do the standard ripping out the pages of the road-book, so I knew I was getting through the days, I started with all the useless propaganda and advertising to make it less daunting straight away but nowadays those books probably end up on Ebay and if all that's left in Paris are the outside covers they won't fetch more than 99p.
Of course the frazzling of nerves isn't just limited to the peloton, everyone from the scaffolders to the time keepers ends up like a zombie and that got me thinking why in this day and age of social media isn't there something that all the Tour followers, victims, fans and sufferers can have a moment of fun with. And I have a suggestion. The Tour de Tat.
I know it's a catchy name, it'll hash-tag nicely. There are two or three thousand people being dragged round on the Tour de France gradually having the joie de vivre squeezed out of them. Most of them will be on Facebook and Twitter, telling us how important they are or what they had for breakfast. They'll all have been subjected to, endured or enjoyed a bizarre moment during their day whether it's at the start, in the middle of the stage or afterwards when all the singing and dancing is meant to have died down. So why not have a competition where they post up a picture of the weirdest, funniest, tackiest thing they've been given in a press pack, seen or been involved in that day?
Perhaps something directly or remotely related to the race. Doesn't matter if it's good or bad tat, it just has to inspire a snigger or a smile. Nothing cruel because that would be spiteful and that's not what we are looking for. Nominations at #tourdetat are to be celebrated for their ingenious entertainment. It doesn't matter what, who or where they are. A key-ring that plays the Bonanza theme tune, a montage of wheelie bins that looks like Bernard Hinault, a group of spectators mooning dressed as nuns, it's all good stuff.
Fun comes in many forms. I remember the day the race visited Lourdes not for the religious or spiritual feelings it generated but for the sheer amount of flashing, sparkling, plastic crap being punted to the tourists. I was so touched I felt obliged to buy a bottle opener in the image of the baby Jesus and then much to my dismay lost in the next hotel when I used it on a cider I'd shamelessly appropriated from some local producers that morning. Of course I had a bad head the following day but I can't be certain if it was the alcohol or the after effects of sleeping in amongst all the neon signs promising salvation and miracle cures.
And that's the thing, there are so many strange sights and sounds to be experienced at Le Tour, whether they be in the publicity caravan, at the side of the road or a freebie in the start village from someone making effigies of champions past from recycled bidons. It would be a shame not to share a few of them with the wider world. We can have some sort of classification. Tat of the day, best aspirational tat, best eco tat and then at the end of it an overall winner.
We'd just need someone to present the winner with something suitable tacky. Hmm now who would be the best person for that job?
Robert Millar was one of the last pure climbers of the Tour de France, winning several stages in the mountain stages and finishing fourth overall in 1984. He is also the only English speaker to have ever won the prestigious polka-dot jersey climber's competition jersey.
Millar retired in 1995 but has continued to follow the sport closely. He was often critical of the media and quickly cuts through the excuses and spin to understand why and how riders win and lose.
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