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Lee's Blog No 13

LEGENDS OF BRITISH CYCLING / GRAND DEPART

 

I never thought I’d see the day come when people in the UK actually knew what the phrase “Vive le vélo” means but following the success of Le Grand Départ in Yorkshire of the 101st Tour de France I realise that, if they don’t already know, then they will soon. Once seen as a minority pastime cycling has finally reached these shores and, given the size of the crowds and their appreciation, has captured the popular imagination. Quite frankly the numbers seen along the route of the opening stages were phenomenal and for a moment I had to be reminded this was actually happening here and not somewhere like Holland.

 

In Europe bike racing is a mainstream sport. It always has been and in certain countries it’s the sport but 30-odd years ago, when I left for France in pursuit of fame and fortune, the Tour was a curiosity covered by a five-minute report on ITV’s World of Sport on a Saturday morning. The printed press ignored it unless a Brit was involved directly at the pointy end and even then that wasn’t any guarantee of more than 50 words squeezed into a corner under the cricket results. If snooker or darts were having a regional competition, then forget it. Oh, how times have changed.

 

The deregulation of drinking hours was meant to introduce Britain to a more European lifestyle but it is debatable whether that has worked or not. The visit of the Tour de France, on the other hand, seems to hit the mark in a more subtle way. With towns, villages, businesses and houses decorated in yellow, green and polka dots there’s been a party atmosphere, just like you get in France when everything stops for the day and the locals watch the bike race come through. School kids get the day off, work stops for a while, neighbours and friends talk to each other and visitors fill the streets so there’s a sense of community and enjoyment of life. I think that’s more what the legislators had in mind – for a European style of living and that’s what we’ve seen along the route. Maybe we should have fewer town centre bars and more town centre races.

 

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