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Saturday, 30 June 2012

Tour de France 2012

Well folks, it's that time of year when Griff and I shave our legs, put on the bright lycra pants and don some weird headgear. No, we're not going to the shadier parts of Glasgow, but are joining the ‘worldwide peloton’ of cycling buffs, to immerse ourselves in all things French, and tune into this years Tour de France.

‘Le Tour’ is the premier event for cycling, and once you see the beautiful landscapes, the ribbon of brightly-coloured cyclists flowing majestically through it, and then the fierce determination needed to tackle the overwhelming height of the mountains, you can't help but be inspired by the beauty of the French countryside and the dedication of the athletes as they seek to test themselves against it.

“From Paris to the blue waves of the Mediterranean,
 From Marseille to Bordeaux, passing along the roseate
 And dreaming roads sleeping under the sun,
 Across the calm of the fields of the Vendée,
 following the Loire, 
Which flows on still and silent, 
Our men are going to race madly, unflaggingly.” 

-  Henri Desgrange (creator of Le Tour).

Today's Tour is nothing like the early race, which began back in 1903. At that time, riders themselves would fix punctures, drink brandy during the race, and would be required to ride through the night. Some were accused of cheating by hopping in cars, others took trains and riders were occasionally beaten up by rival fans. But one thing was sure, the unique atmosphere of Le Tour is such that it caught everyone's imagination and its popularity has continued to grow each year.

Didi Senft who, in a red devil costume, has been the Tour devil since 1993.
The Tour has inspired several popular songs in France, notably P'tit gars du Tour (1932), Les Tours de France (1936) and Faire le Tour de France (1950). More recently,  Kraftwerk had a hit with Tour de France in 1983 (covered 'here' previously on The Streetlamp) and produced an album, Tour de France Soundtracks in 2003, on the occasion of the centenary of the Tour.

In films, the Tour was background for Cinq Tulipes Rouges (1949) by Jean Stelli, in which five riders are murdered. It next fetured in the burlesque Les Cracks (1967) by Alex Joffé. Patrick Le Gall made Chacun son Tour (1996) and the comedy, Le Vélo de Ghislain Lambert (2001), featured the Tour of 1974.

I find it a little surprising that there aren't more cultural references to le Tour, especially given the massive significance of the event in France. Perhaps the insane, grandiose spectacle of le Tour is such that any artist considering it finds themself overwhelmed by its sheer scale and opts instead to just sit back and enjoy its unique giddy whirl. I know that's how I tend to react to it all.

Given the sad absence of modern songs associated with le Tour I've decided instead to end this piece with a video by an important French musician from the 1960s whose work is sadly under-appreciated in the English speaking world. I'm referring to Jacques Dutronc a musician whose rough and energetic garage-style rock  surely served as a template for the British punk bands who sprang up a decade after his heyday. Have a listen below:

Jacques Dutronc - Et moi, et moi, et moi

Hope that shook away the cobwebs and left you suitably invigorated for three solid weeks of nerve-shredding, energy-sapping, top class cycling. See you all on the other side.


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