Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Life cycle

Hooray! Chris Froome or ‘we,’ as the press would have it, has won the Tour de France and  Andy Murray Wimbledon. I enjoyed the tennis. Cycling is another matter.

Firstly, it’s a costume thing. There are few sights more ridiculous than guys kitted up to go road cycling. We sometimes get parties of them stopping for a break at the café. Men in their fifties and upwards, in skin-tight shorts and covered in the same advertising logos as their sporting heroes, and who seem to be without any sense of either irony or shame. They often add a few accessories which only make matters worse. Have you ever seen a ‘Camel Pack,’ which as the name suggests, is a long bag worn down the spine,which straps on like a small parachute. It is filled with water, or other liquids, with a plastic straw poking over the shoulder, so that you can drink and ride at the same time.

Why anyone would want to go cycling around in 35 plus degrees of heat, is beyond me, especially when you consider that our departement, the Gard and the Herault next door, have just about the highest road accident rates in Western Europe. The French sometimes ask what cricket is about. I’m not going to defend cricket, but can see that some skill and athleticism is required. As far as I can make out with road cycling, it seems to be just a question of who can put up with the discomfort the longest.

I love useless statistics, mostly gleaned from BBC Radio 4. For example, rabbits can count to 4 and prawns have a memory of up to 30 seconds. Another is that Tour de France riders have an average life expectancy of 52 years. I confess that I heard this statistic many years ago, but I can’t really imagine that matters have improved for those who choose to go cycling round France in high summer, drugged-up to the eyeballs.

The Tour came through Sauve a few years ago. I went down to the D999, the route national which passes along the edge of the village. For about half an hour before the main event, guys came past in cars, advertising various products including mini-babybel cheese, samples of which they threw to the crowd. There were these little red ping-pong ball sized objects all along the route, along with key chains and other diverse plastic tat. A PA system gave the progress of the racers. Eventually, the commentary reached fever pitch and a guy in a yellow ‘jersey’ came into sight only to disappear again about fifteen seconds later as he raced across the visible part of the route. At the time, it was Lance Armstrong and a few others keeping pace with him. A few seconds after they disappeared, the peloton, or main body appeared. This is in some ways more impressive; high-speed close formation speed cycling performed by a few hundred junkies.

Not that I really have anything against drugs in sport. Maybe they should introduce new categories: a) no drugs b) as many drugs as you want. I saw very little of the Olympics last year as watching people run fast and jump high is not my cup of tea. According to the statistics I looked up, the men’s 100 metre sprint has been whittled down by a mere half second since the 1890’s. Wow! We need more action and drama.

What I want to see is someone run 100 metres in less than two seconds. They might explode at the tape, but it would make great reality television. Quite obviously, if a cyclist is prepared to reduce his life-expectancy to 52, just for the fame, then the sky’s the limit. As ‘reality TV’ seems to be just a synonym for ‘freak-show’ things could get really interesting if the participants were willing to risk their lives, live.

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