popularity can be something of a double-edged sword. economics would dictate that just the right amount of popularity will bring, if not untold riches, certainly enough to be going on with. i know not whether it is purely a british trait to build someone or something to the point of fame and fortune before deciding to knock it down again on the basis that it/they are now too popular or famous for their own good. we've been doing it with pop groups for some considerable time, and latterly it's a national trait that seems to have entered the sporting fray. witness the hero worship poured upon tim henman only to resign ourselves that wimbledon was always going to be an ace too far. and having lumped untold pressure upon the hapless chap, scorn was heaped upon his every failure.
i'm sure there are a myriad of other situations which fit this particular bill, and i fear that the tour de france might be about to fall foul of the same process, if it isn't already too far over the summit.
every year, on the approach to july, amongst the pelotonese there is great debate as to who's in form, who might conceivably have fallen foul of a drugs test performed in the late eighteenth century and whether the dutch will ever regain their crown on alpe d'huez. this year, for me at least, has been considerably worse. i am as enamoured with the tour as any other, but only the tour, by which i mean each successive day's racing. i have little time for the never-ending punditry that disseminates each stage kilometre by kilometre, advising the great unwashed as to which particular rider the parcours might suit for the win.
let's just sit back with a brie baguette and a glass of something french and see what happens. please.
but the 2014 grand depart, as if you didn't already know, takes place in yorkshire over a couple of days before predictably heading to london. those in the country's capital city would no doubt storm off in a huff if something this sportingly important were to bypass the road to the queen's house. and yorkshire itself has seemingly gone to inordinate lengths to incorporate factors so far removed from cycling as to beggar belief. i know that i come across as the equivalent of cycling's victor meldrew, a deliberate pose for once, because it troubles me greatly that the tour de france is in serious danger of outshining the very reason for its existence. as a sporting edifice it has become schizophrenic; and in the process of becoming so, its endlessly increasing importance has diminshed its relevance to the average cyclist in the coffee shop.
if i really must offer evidence for this, it is perhaps by way of this hapless book, the complete history of the world's greatest cycle race. in spite of all i have just said, it is an excellent book, chronologically narrated from the tour's beginnings in the early 20th century through to its 100th edition in 2013. and since this is the tenth edition, the author and publisher could hardly be accused of jumping on an increasingly bigger bandwagon. or could they? on the top right of the cover is a small union jack accompanied by the words grand depart yorkshire 2014. i'm willing to bet it didn't say grand depart corsica 2013 on last year's edition.
on the cover's inner flap, the last paragraph: "Road racing has never been more popular and this stunning book provides all the stories of courage, endeavour, scandal and controversy that make the tour the intense spectacle it is today." the telling points are 'never been more popular' and the intense spectacle it has become today.'. the very words to strike terror into a veclocipedinal victor meldrew's heart.
if further evidence were required of the tour's parabolic commercialisation, you need only take a look at the yellow jerseys worn even since the year robert millar won his polka dots. on page 117 is a photograph of a smiling bernard hinault beside four yellow jerseys on a washing line bearing compact and bijou, tour, l'equipe and le coq sportif logos. there's a great deal of yellow.
that said, it's an exceptionally good book. using a columnised page layout reminiscent of the newspaper that fostered the race in the first place and a type size that might just give trouble to the hard of hearing, marguerite lazell's narrative offers a comprehensive precis of each and every running of the tour since 1903. add to this several interruptions to accommodate nominated tour legends, a superb array of imagery and a very thorough index at the back and that £16.99 starts to look like very good value indeed.
i would be unlikely to argue against anyone who said i ought to discard my questionable preconceptions and embrace the tour with all its foibles and arrogance. and i apologise to the author and publisher for framing their book in the midst of my disfavourable prejudices. for those whom the tour is the be all and end all of existence, you'll be hard pushed to find a better illustrated history of the tour.
until next year.
tuesday 27 may 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................