Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Home again, and a brief ode to my beloved Tour de France

In an unprecedented display of airline efficiency, Air New Zealand managed to fly me from London all the way home without a single delay (this has never happened to me before). Oddly, although I have returned from summer into mid-winter, the weather here is better than my last two weeks in York and Leeds. Sure, it is cool, but the sky today is bright blue and the sun is shining with that intensity peculiar to the southern hemisphere, a far cry from northern England's rather dour display.

I have had good intentions of sending follow-up emails to all the great people I met at IMC Leeds, sorting out all my conference notes, doing some free-writing on the thinking I've been doing on my thesis topic, and blogging my Leeds experience. But so far, all I've managed is to unpack and do some (much needed!) laundry. Oh, and catch up with what has been going on in my beloved Tour de France (all the stages I've missed so far have been recorded, per my instructions). I managed to catch the first couple of stages on  the TV while I was still in France, but was surprised to find coverage in England pretty limited, especially considering that the Englishman Brad Wiggins is looking solid to take the overall victory! Tonight (NZ time), the riders are off into the Pyrenees. In just under 200km, they'll climb the Col d'Aubisque, the monstrous Col du Tourmalet, the Col d'Aspin, and the Col de Peyresourde (even the names give me a bit of a shiver down the spine). The best will play a six-hour game of extreme chess, testing each other's legs and hearts over and over as they attack up the climbs. For the sprinters and other non-climbers, it will just be a matter of survival, and cyclists that will compete fiercely against each other on the flatter stages will get together in the 'grupetto' and try to drag each other across the stage finish line under the cut-off time.

Many of my friends are a bit perplexed at my passion for this event, and it's hard to explain the unique combination of sporting endeavour, beautiful French countryside, historic resonance, and cultural quirkery that attracts me year after year. But a writer in yesterday's Guardian did a pretty good job of describing some of the Tour's characteristic charms:

" were to be seen parked in the roads leading to the village of Samatan, in the Gers, where the stage began, and which was putting itself on the Tour map for the first time. A field was set aside for a display of local produce, most of it presented under the bizarrely cynical slogan 'Canard heureux, canard savoureux': a happy duck is a tasty duck.

The break had already formed when the riders entered the village of Bassoues, population 350, where the Frankish army defeated the Saracens in the eighth century. A vast banner of welcome covered the facade of the 43m-high dungeon towering over the village, and the field passed through a medieval wooden hall that straddles the main street. On a relatively relaxed and brilliantly sunny day, in which they were no significant changes to the standings, this was a moment of pure magic such as only the Tour de France can provide."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

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