Beyond the nostalgia however, the TdF's appeal has always been a bit of a mystery as I'm not that into cycling myself. The sport is dominated by sinewy, affluent white blokes; it persists in a ridiculously sexist tradition of flanking the winner of the stage with shapely young "podium babes" (kudos to the organisers for putting all this year's models in a little black dress so weirdly unflattering it made every one of them look 5 months pregnant); and it has a terrible reputation for rampant drug-taking, so you can never be entirely sure whether you're witnessing the peak of human endurance, or a load of blokes doped up to their eyeballs. And yet... I love it. While watching this year, through my new analytical blogger's eyes, I began to understand why:
- Every single person riding that race is utterly, utterly nuts. I mean nuts within the context of still being officially sane, but still nuttier than the contents of a squirrel's undercrackers. Two weeks of cardiovascular overload, burning muscles, saddle sores, cuts and bruises, broken bones, heatstroke, sunburn... I find that level of masochism for such a small chance of any glory weirdly compelling. Faintly exasperating, but still compelling.
- Most of the supporters are also utterly nuts. Particularly the ones that like to run alongside the riders in their underpants as they head up 15% climbs, or 'help' their chosen cyclist along by waving flags in frighteningly close proximity to their wheel spokes.
- La Belle France - I studied French in the heady days of my youth, and have travelled all over the country. I always get a bit of a kick when I understand the technical language (Tete de la Course! I know what that means!) or recognise a place name. Sad, I know.
- ITV4's coverage is actually rather intelligent. Let's not get carried away - we're not talking Newsnight Review here. But for coverage of a sporting event, it's refreshingly highbrow. And also funny. Every highlights show is bookended by an insightful, urbane little monologue from Gary Imlach, who always manages to succinctly and sardonically sum up the race in a fresh way; "At the end of the day, he's just had a blinder" is definitely not his style. The channel's reporters also interview the competitors and team bosses in their native tongue. Yes, we're talking English people being able to speak multiple foreign languages here. Staggering. Ned Boulting in particular is impressively upfront in his interviewing style, and his little vignettes with Chris Boardman are both informative and highly entertaining, particularly when they struggle to get their middle-age spread (sorry guys) up mountains in an effort to illustrate the terrain for that day's racing. As for Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen's rambling test-match style commentary - it's frankly legendary (and improved further still by having the Excitable Terminator tones of Jens Voight joining them from time to time this year).
- The crazy tongue-twister names of some of the cyclists. When I was younger, the nom du jour would be repeated over and over while dancing about the living room (all together now, "Djamolidine Abdoujaparov! Djamolidine Abdoujaparov!"). Even now, I find myself repeating my favourites, like some kind of odd appeal to the cycling gods as I go about the washing up and nappy changes. This year's hits: Vincenzo Nibali (because Phil pronounces it 'Nibbly'), Tejay Van Garderen and Daniel Teklehaimanot (go Eritrea!).
- As a woman, I'm not supposed to like sport; particularly not something technical like cycling (dressage, or netball maybe...). I like liking things I'm not supposed to. I went to a hilariously middle-class kiddies' tea party at the weekend, and found myself caught between two blokes discussing the impending TdF finale in Paris. They wittered on for five mins or so before I asked a question about Alberto Contador and stopped the conversation dead as they processed the fact that I liked cycling, and furthermore, possibly knew more than they were pretending they did. Most satisfying.
- I quite fancy Chris Froome. I always have been a bit of a sucker for the tall and gangly lads.
Anyway, enough of that. Now the Tour is sadly all over, normal service (blogging about Duckling) will be resumed soon I promise. On yer bike and all that. The DD x