I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: road cycle racing is a lot like cinema. As the Tour de France will be making a whirlwind stop in our city in just a few weeks (19 days!!!) and many of you may not have fallen in love with it yet, I shall elaborate…
It’s epic. The Tour de France is much more than a couple of days in Yorkshire, wonderful though that is. It lasts for three weeks, with only two days off, and this year is a total of 3,664km. For the participants, this means being in the saddle for six hours a day, on average. Then doing the same the next day. They race through the countryside and up a variety of mountains, leading to incredible feats of human endurance and effort. We hope this is all conducted fairly, but as the tale of Lance Armstrong shows, you sadly never know.
The story that unfolds over these three weeks is full of drama – something different every day. The sheer pace of the journey astonishes me along with the switching in emotions, from elation to heartbreak in 500 metres.
The peloton (the name for a group of cyclists) has its characters, infighting and allegiances. Some cyclists have stupid nicknames (cf Spartacus, Porrito), there are heroes and villains – was Alberto Contador aware of Andy Schleck’s mechanical when he attacked in the 2010 Tour, aka “chaingate”? – and it’s transcontinental with participants from all over the world (though currently lacking in African and Asian riders). Spectators at the side of the road provide a lot of entertainment too: German Didi Senft has been dressing as a devil and leaping up and down since 1993.
As for aesthetics and cinematography… Well, it’s a three-week moving French tourist brochure, so they make it look pretty good. Not that they need to try hard; France is very beautiful, the Alps and the Pyrenees are dramatic, and the helicopter shot of a peloton sweeping round a roundabout brings to mind the swooping of a flock of birds. Add in a few sunflowers, some fields of lavender and the odd chateau, and the scene is set.
The Tour de France is just one of the grand tours to roll round Europe in the summer. The season kicked off with Il Giro D’Italia in May, almost as old as the Tour and preferred by some (it’s a bit more suave, perhaps). This year’s winner of the Maglia Rosa (pink jersey) was a little Colombian named Nairo Quintana who, when he was a boy, had to ride to school several miles away over mountains. In September the Vuelta a España is the last big tour of the season. It’s hot and dry and the riders are knackered.
Then there are several smaller week-long tours, like this week’s Tour de Suisse. Traditionally female cyclists haven’t had many similar races – although the Giro Donne started in 1988, it gets virtually no coverage for a wider audience. This is starting to change as recognition of professional women’s cycling grows.
To capture the spirit and get us all in the mood, we’re screening the French animation Belleville Rendezvous on Saturday 21 June, a screening with our first live soundtrack. Like the Tour, it’ll be a unique experience. But we’ll not demand that you race to the top of Mont Ventoux, promise.