Jun 30, 2017

F**K LE TOUR

  • F**K Le Tour

A cyclist could start an argument in an empty room. There’s plenty for us to row about, a plethora of topics for us to take opposite sides over. Sock length, correct peak position, whether its ok to wear replica pro kit… the list goes on. And on. Some clever dicks have written a well-known set of rules for the cyclist which, by their own existence, divide more than they do unite. It’s not that we’re aggressive or difficult to share time with, only that we’re intensely passionate; from the best kit to the best place to stop for coffee — even the best time for certain coffees. Have you ever experienced the stare of death when ordering a cappuccino after 11am? Chill out, lads. It’s a milky drink not the Good Friday Agreement.

Our every day debates are part and parcel of the fun of belonging to a tribe, but once a year things get extra spicy. Cycling’s main event is the Tour de France and, perhaps surprisingly, it’s a race that divides rather than unites fans of cycling. Nowhere is that more true than here at Chapeau. Below we give you the argument against, and you’ll find the counter argument here. Read on, take sides, take up arms and fight your corner!

A feast of cycling where we gorge on a glut of greedy merchandising guff whilst Ned Bouting tries to fill 7 hours a day with facts about monasteries.

— F**K LE TOUR

It’s that time of year again, time for the self styled greatest show on earth. Paint the town yellow, dig out your bunting and your polka dot pants and become the biggest cycling fan on your street. Tedious trailers fill the television, tenuous special offers fill social media and ITV4 try to fill 7 hours a day with trite commentary. Do me a favour.

You won’t find me shaping a virtual fantasy Tour de France team in my dinner hour nor sitting in my living room on a sunny Saturday whilst David Millar explains how Alejandro Valverde is ‘a proper bike racer’. For three weeks Skoda tell us about how their car has played an integral part of cycling history but their adverts become sweet relief from the never ending historical soundbites about a monastery or chateau. “Consecrated by Pope Eugene III in 1147 and now home to the peanut roasting plant in Burgundy…” Give it a rest.

The yellow juggernaut leaves me cold with it’s smiling, key fob lobbing dancers and heavily sponsored winners podium, we’re forced to consume so much more than a feast of cycling. We gorge on a glut of greedy merchandising guff. Let’s be honest, it was invented to sell newspapers. The greatest show on earth is the greatest billboard on earth. As early as the 1930s vans and lorries preceded the peloton with artfully handprinted murals shouting about their wine, tyres or bicycle wheel businesses. In more recent decades there isn't even the pretence of a connection to cycling; advertising glue and pencils and baguettes. The 1980s saw Ford Sierras with huge cereal packets and telephone receivers mounted to their roof racks. It's a commercial mardi gras. My Dad's Sierra once carried a flat pack shed on the roof, nobody lined the streets for that.

July is one of the few times we can almost rely on the Great British weather to be kind to us. For the three weeks of the Tour you will find me on my bike, zipping along the lanes, following the wheels of my friends, popping along for some park laps and quite possibly finishing in a beer garden. This year, with ITV4 showing every minute of every stage, I know that from about noon until 4pm every weekend I’ll have the lanes and cafés to myself. Just me and my favourite riding partners enjoying the open road, the gentle breeze and the sound of a freewheel. Maybe we’ll stick baguettes in our jersey pockets and hipflasks of brandy, just to enter into the spirit of it.

Riding my bike is what makes me happy, it makes me happy all year round. In all conditions. 'Festival of cycling' is all well and good, but I'm revelling for 52 weeks not 3. When I listen to an ex-pro explaining the suffering the riders are going through it feels so far removed from what I do on my bike. These people have concluded a lifetime of skin rash, extreme diet, drug pressures and contract worry. They see cycling through the prism of an endurance athlete and it becomes about pain. But cycling isn't pain for me, it's the exact opposite. Sometimes cleaning my bike is a pain, or getting three punctures and only have two tubes. Planning a big ride and having to go to a wedding instead is a pain. Getting lost on a new route is a pain, but stumbling on a new pub because of it is the kind of serendipity cycling has the power to produce. It's also the closest i'll get to a victory salute. Three pints of Podium please, no need to kiss me.

When I was small my mum would tell us off for watching Why Don't You when it was sunny outside. We'd be ushered out to play 'Wembley' or pretend to be Chips on our BMXs. Just like clearing my plate, cleaning behind my ears and saying please and thank you these life lessons have stayed with me. Less so 'tidy your room', but no-one's perfect. The first chance I get I'm out there, playing on my bike — not pretending to be a traffic cop — but seeing the countryside and feeling the wind rush past my immaculately cleaned ears. It's as likely that i'll watch six hours of bike racing as watch CCTV footage of other people on a rollercoaster.

My local coffee stop is a brilliant little café — decent coffee, flapjacks, pastries and a big window so that I can keep an eye on my bike. They nod and smile when I politely order my refreshments, a grown man in a lycra babygro and shoes he can't walk in. I take a bit of pride at their confusion, they're impressed when you say you've come 15km, mistaking that for a long distance. I want that to myself, I don't want them to put up yellow and polka dotted bunting and try to engage me with cycling conversations. This is the respite bit. The part where I get to order a couple of espressos and a cream covered scone because I worked hard. I'll do the cycling part, you do the cakes bit. It's what we're best at. I don't come in here dressed in a "I'm a baker and I can prove it" t-shirt, offering Paul Hollywood style advice on showstoppers when GBBO is on the telly.

I implore you, if you enjoy cycling, not to fall for the hype. Don't be drawn to the pixels on the television, be pulled to the pedals on your bike. Stay strong, pull on your bibs, clip in your feet and pedal. In less than a month it’ll all be over and we can have our sport back.

Mettre Fin. F**k Le Tour.