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Why I will never watch the Tour de France again

By Kim Huynh - 28 July 2016 25

Col de Manse, France- July 16, 2013: The peloton pedaling on a plain road after the ascension to Col de Manse in The Alps during the stage 16 of 100th edition of Le Tour de France 2013.

Despite being an eager cyclist, I’ve never really watched the Tour de France until this year. And unless something radically changes, I’m unlikely to ever do so again.

While there are many reasons for Canberrans and Australians to enjoy the Tour, here’s five reasons why I don’t.

Firstly, remnants of the feudalism upon which European medieval castles were built can be found in this race. There’s a hierarchy of athletes in every elite sport, but road cycling is peculiar in the complete servitude that riders are expected to show to their designated team leader.

The “domestiques” (servants) are not just there to provide a human shield or set the pace. In treacherous conditions they will survey the road ahead and ensure a safe line of travel for the leader, only to drop back once the finish line emerges. If a leader is low on food or drink, then his domestiques will give up theirs. Team leaders who don’t like being weighed down by clothes or provisions have several porters close at hand. And when a leader’s bike is faulty or broken, then his underlings will offer up a wheel or his entire bike if need be. Any domestique who exerts 1,000 calories and sacrifices 1,000 seconds so that his lordship can save 1, has fulfilled his duty.

Secondly, there are very few triumphant underdogs in road cycling. It’s impossible to pull off a Stephen Bradbury over a 21-day grand tour. But on flattish stages there’s always an exuberant breakaway that teases the naive cycling fan with the prospect of a bold and unexpected victory. I know now that the peloton almost always reels in the breakaway, often only just before the finish. Modern technology and sports science means that team managers are like engineers who know exactly how much fuel is left their riding machines and when to press “turbo”. An animal simile is also useful: the peloton is like a giant python that toys with its prey before invariably consuming it.

Thirdly, there are many customs and conventions in the Tour that are perplexing and frustrating, not only to the newcomer, but also to many experts. The array of jerseys, points systems and time bonuses means that it’s often not clear who’s racing whom for what.

Like most age-old institutions, the Tour is governed by vague conventions. There’s the unspoken rule that if the yellow jersey suffers misfortune or needs to answer the call of nature then all those who are nearby and in contention should stop and wait. This year during stage 12, Australia’s Simon Gerrans tragically fell and took out three Team Sky riders who were supporting Chris Froome, the race leader. Froome signaled to all that he needed to relieve himself, which allowed his teammates to collect themselves.

Later that day in what was the most famous and farcical incident of this year’s race, Froome’s bike was crushed by a motorcycle near the finish line. This time everyone rode on leaving the yellow jersey desperately running up the mountain. Eventually the commissars compensated Froome, which allowed him to maintain his lead. But make no mistake, it was utter chaos.

Fourthly, in many ways the outcome of stage 12 was exceptional in that a measure of justice was meted out. Most injustices and misfortunes are left unaddressed.

On the first stage, Aussie favourite Richie Porte suffered a flat tire that arguably cost him a place on the podium three weeks later. Crowd insanity or inadvertence, mechanical failure, road debris and a myriad of other examples of bad luck can change or even end the Tour for a cyclist and hand victory to someone less deserving. And then there’s an embedded injustice whereby the smallest mistake or ill-focused moment over 3,000km and 90 hours of riding can change everything. There’s no fair go in the Tour de France.

Finally, there’s something distinctively un-Australian about Le Tour. This is a dangerous term that is best confined to sport and explained in context. To this end, the Tour represents an old sport and old culture that does not sit well with Western frontier countries like Australia and the US.

Big new countries tend to esteem rugged, pragmatic, outcome-oriented individuals. Notwithstanding the incredible strength of heart and mind required to ride the Tour, many Aussies are simply opposed to lycra, which they regard as effete. Nor do they appreciate any cycling notion of “attacking” when compared more stark examples of scoring points on a court or crashing into opponents on a field.

Australians tend to be aspirational about sport, viewing it as a means to advance the human body, spirit and society. Sport should thus be fair and ordered, precisely because life is not. Older sports and cultures tend to accept sport-as-life, which means that along with all the good things that the Tour de France celebrates, it also incorporates boredom, bastardry and calamity.

What do you think of the Tour de France? Would you rather watch paint dry or is it worth staying up for? And what about blokes in lycra?

Kim Huynh teaches international relations at the Australian National University. 

Pictured is the peloton pedaling on a plain road after the ascension to Col de Manse in The Alps during the stage 16 of 100th edition of Le Tour de France in July 2013. Photo: iStock

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25 Responses to
Why I will never watch the Tour de France again
Kim Huynh 10:02 am 29 Jul 16

Allow me to add a few points.
1. Roksteddy: good point. There is a contradiction there.
2. CJ: thanks for the idea about why not to watch the Olympics. If you don’t write that article I will.
3. On a more meta point, I think that a lot of the critiques of my stuff are based on a view that I’m trying to make slam dunk cases. I don’t view cultural analysis in that way. It’s more like throwing up a three pointer and appreciating the arc of the ball and the uncertainty of outcome.
4. Overall, I rate RiotACT comments very highly in terms of incisiveness and insight (much better than the more popular media). Better to stay about from making personal assumptions though; they’re almost always unbecoming in relation to the assumption maker and inaccurate taboot.

CJ 11:15 pm 28 Jul 16

And they spread out all over the road and none of them pays registration. I died in the war to prevent un-Australian events like this.

Next week, Why I won’t watch the Olympics anymore.

Thank you and good night.

Roksteddy 7:33 pm 28 Jul 16

What a rubbish article. I haven’t got the time to pick it all apart so I’ll just point out the massive contradiction. You say “it’s impossible to pull off a Stephen Bradbury” and then go on to say “Crowd insanity or inadvertence, mechanical failure, road debris and a myriad of other examples of bad luck can change or even end the Tour for a cyclist and hand victory to someone less deserving. And then there’s an embedded injustice whereby the smallest mistake or ill-focused moment over 3,000km and 90 hours of riding can change everything.” So, what is it? The favourite always wins or anything can happen?

Leon 6:14 pm 28 Jul 16

Bicycle racing is particularly boring on flat stages because, unlike any other form of wheeled sport, it prohibits the use of “aerodynamic devices” such as those are so common on motorbikes that a motorbike without one is called a “naked bike.” It also prohibits the use of bicycle frames whose layouts were designed more recently than about 1910.

As a result, any rider who sits behind another rider gets an aerodynamic advantage until he/she tries to lead. So in a 100 km race the riders spend the first 99 km in a big peloton, and the real race doesn’t happen until the last kilometre.

If racers were able to use modern bikes, a strong rider could have a reasonable chance of staying ahead of the peloton even on a flat course, and the whole race (not just the final sprint) would become interesting.

There would also be flow-on effects that would improve the speed and efficiency of normal bikes.

Ezy 4:53 pm 28 Jul 16

I agree with everyone here – ban the Tour. What a load of nonsense it is.

Let’s promote and get behind sports that are more Australian and fit in with our culture… where the athletes take part in orgies and film it, put fingers in each others rear ends during a game, get in bar fights, urinate in their own mouths, perform sexual acts with dogs, assault your girlfriend and wife, drink drive etc.

Get around it people! This is what you all love and want!

Rollersk8r 4:01 pm 28 Jul 16

devils_advocate said :

Finally, there’s something distinctively un-Australian about Le Tour. This is a dangerous term that is best confined to sport and explained in context. To this end, the Tour represents an old sport and old culture that does not sit well with Western frontier countries like Australia and the US

Cricket, rugby, and AFL are all older than the Tour.

I’ll agree with you that ‘un-Australian’ is a dangerous term, in that it is inane and subjective.

Final three paragraphs are complete nonsense. Drawing a massively long and general bow to say Australians dislike the sport. We’ve had more than our fair share of champions.

Ezy 3:50 pm 28 Jul 16

MareaFatseas said :

Couldn’t agree more. Also look up mechanical doping on google, its the new drug cheating. They are all on drugs and they are also using batteries and motors hidden in their bikes as well these days.

Their tin foil hats are all carbon these days too.

Postalgeek 2:30 pm 28 Jul 16

Finally, there’s something distinctively un-Australian about Le Tour. This is a dangerous term that is best confined to sport and explained in context. To this end, the Tour represents an old sport and old culture that does not sit well with Western frontier countries like Australia and the US

Cricket, rugby, and AFL are all older than the Tour.

I’ll agree with you that ‘un-Australian’ is a dangerous term, in that it is inane and subjective.

Mordd 1:34 pm 28 Jul 16

Couldn’t agree more. Also look up mechanical doping on google, its the new drug cheating. They are all on drugs and they are also using batteries and motors hidden in their bikes as well these days.

Ezy 1:21 pm 28 Jul 16

pink little birdie said :

That, and they’re all on drugs.

… Because cycling is the only sport that has had an athlete test positive for drug use.

tooltime 1:11 pm 28 Jul 16

Nothing about the limp wristed administration that allows this drug soaked lycra orgy to continue unabated???

It’s a credibility free zone for mine…

Rollersk8r 12:44 pm 28 Jul 16

I’m also a keen cyclist who doesn’t pay much attention to the Tour. Would love to ride those roads (and those bikes) myself – but I don’t see cycling as much of a spectator sport.

However, I also don’t see your points as reasons not to watch. All of the tours are team events – it’s just not possible for 3 weeks of racing to be a free-for-all each and every day. The rules, traditions and various competitions within the race are all further points of interest.

madelini 11:47 am 28 Jul 16

Is it surprising that a race called “Le Tour de France” is un-Australian? What does that phrase even mean? Is it because the process is more complicated than a standard running race? In a country where one of the national sports is played over five days with a complicated batting/runs/scoring system, you would think that Le Tour would fit right in to the Australian love of sports.

By the by, I personally think it’s time that we retire the Bradbury references. Remembering that he won by sheer luck, rather than his competitive skill. He was no Marcos Baghdatis facing Federer in the finals of the 2006 Australian Open.

rommeldog56 10:46 am 28 Jul 16

This is such a silly article, full of absurdities and extrapolations, that it is not worth commenting on.

Time for the author to get out of Academia and back to the real world me thinks…….

Holden Caulfield 10:23 am 28 Jul 16

That, and they’re all on drugs.

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