Other sports can learn from chilled out Tour de France

July 9, 2012

This has been my first Tour de France and it has been like going back in time.

Sport has become big business and egos have exploded too, while security restrictions have made visiting many stadiums something of a chore.

But not on the Tour. To say the French approach is laissez faire is an understatement. As a journalist you can practically go wherever you want with hardly any checks, even standing just behind the stage finish line. Yes you might get your toes clipped as the rider speeds past but the access to the cyclists is remarkable.

On the time trials, reporters are all but dragging the exhausted riders off their bikes for interviews seconds after they have finished. It is probably over the top and cyclists should be given a bit more privacy, but the difference with a sport like soccer is extraordinary. Nowadays jounalists are lucky if they get one news conference a week to speak to a manager or a player.

Cycling fans are also amazingly close to the action, with the madder ones running alongside the riders and almost touching them. Yes security is of course important at sporting events but the Tour is realistic about the limited means it has to police kilometres upon kilometres of road side. 

Apart from the anti-doping controls, there seems to be few of the restrictive rules which make other sports so soulless at times. Favourite Bradley Wiggins swore repeatedly in a news conference and appears to have got away with it. A rugby or cricket player can’t even look at a referee or umpire without risking a fine.

The riders themselves make modern soccer players who roll around on the ground at the faintest contact look like the wimps we all suspected they were. Cyclists, on a strength sapping three-week voyage, have been riding for hours with cuts galore and broken bones on this Tour. Footballers only played with fractures in the 1950s when they had two games in two days unlike now. 

To add to the antiquated feel, there is even a reporter on the Tour using a typewriter.

Perhaps I have given the impression that the Tour is somehow amateur. Far from it. The way they dismantle the start and finish lines, the stands, the food stalls, the TV apparatus and everything else and rebuild it in a place 200 kms away EVERY DAY is simply staggering.

A colleague said to me before the race that the Tour was chilled out. He was spot on. Sporting events this refreshing are getting rarer and rarer.

PHOTO: The pack of riders cycles past a horseman during the eighth stage of the 99th Tour de France cycling race between Belfort and Porrentruy, July 8, 2012. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

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