Dr. Hutch: Tour de France coverage inescapable

There is a blast of nostalgia that accompanies the Tour each year. I spend three weeks humming the theme tune to the old Channel 4 coverage, and I know I’m not alone.

I remember it as a perfect 30 minutes. Except that, with breaks and titles, it was more like 22 minutes. With Gary Imlach’s (admittedly excellent) jokes, maybe 18. Throw in the obligatory introductions to the overall standings, the shot of the race rolling away from the start, and a feature on some curiosity (invariably the Tour’s barber), we probably had about 12 minutes of actual bicycle racing. And when it was all we had, we were happy.

There was no danger whatsoever of anyone spoiling things by telling you the result. Unbelievable though it will seem to a younger generation, even if you had wanted to find out who’d won before the programme aired, you’d have needed a ham radio set and a huge antenna pointed at France.
Satellite TV changed all that.

When I used to meet up with the local chain-gang of a July evening, each new arrival would coast to a halt amid cries of, “Don’t tell us what happened; we’re recording it!”

The main danger was my friend Bernard, who had covertly connected a TV in his office to a satellite receiver that his employers thought was long-broken. He was fired when he was discovered listening, transfixed, to one of peerless commentator David Duffield’s long, long digressions into the history of one of France’s regional cheeses.

“I don’t really mind you wasting the company’s time,” said his boss, “but I mind when you’re wasting yours too.” Bernard was distraught. “What am I going to do?” he wailed when he arrived at the chain-gang.

Blaming the Beeb
“What you always do, I guess: change your name and put some more lies on your CV,” I said. “Don’t be a simpleton,” he said. “I mean, where am I going to watch the Tour?” In the modern era, the mass of media means that anyone attempting to avoid the result till they can get home and watch a recording is in for a serious battle.


A couple of years ago, the BBC got complaints from fans (nutters) who felt that BBC Sport shouldn’t have mentioned the race on its homepage. A friend who worked there told me about one email that said, “While I appreciate the BBC finally covering the sport properly, I don’t want to know the result.” In other words, what he’d wanted all his life was a headline that went, “At the Tour de France today, something may have happened. Or not.”

Too many twits

Now, we’ve learned to avoid sports websites. You can avoid Radio 5Live, unless you drive a taxi. Most normal people don’t watch TV at work. But there are new means of spoiling your careful time-shift. Twitter is a serious hazard, because its users don’t even notice they’re blabbing spoilers. For many (like, ahem, me) it’s just a reflex.

Even if its chattering voices seem to be talking about 17 completely different races happening simultaneously, Twitter is still like an uncontrolled firehose of information. Even if you’re not personally in thrall to it, it’s parasitic. It exploits idiots, who mindlessly relate its nonsense to innocent parties who didn’t want to know.

I’d give up, if I were you. Embrace the spoilers. There are so many news sources available that you can live out the racing in real time, live. Every passing kilometre, every col, every Tommy Voeckler attack becomes knitted into your working day, and if you’ve never tried it you’ll have no idea how wonderful it is. All you’re really losing is the visual, and heck, we 
all know what a bike race looks 
like. It seems like a pretty good exchange to me.

Acts of cycling stupidity

Last year, a friend arrived at a race. I watched him start to get his bike out of the car, stop, mutter, “Crap, forgot my… ah… something,” put it back and drive off again. He returned 10 minutes later. Ten minutes wasn’t long enough to reach the next village and back, never mind home.

He has confessed. “I changed the pedals the night before, and was distracted by The Apprentice. Somehow I managed to install them on the wrong sides of the cranks, facing inwards rather than out. I was so embarrassed that I drove down the road to fix them, rather than do it in front of you, since I knew you’d put it in that stupid column.”
Wouldn’t dream of it, old chap.

Great inventions of cycling – Time immoral Caffeine
Caffeine is a bitter, white crystalline xanthine alkaloid, known for its stimulant effect in humans, and its toxicity to most other animals. It is the world’s most popular psychoactive drug, provides a metabolic boost, and is just damn delicious with a chocolate HobNob and a nice sit down.

Caffeine is used almost universally by every variety of cyclist. It has a mild performance-enhancing effect, though in truth it’s so hard to find a non-caffeinated cyclist that most of the studies might more accurately be said to show that they go slower without it rather than faster with it, and that’s probably just because they’re in a very bad mood.

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For many years, dope control rules set a top limit to the amount of caffeine a rider could have in their system. The amount required to get over the limit was gargantuan, and in recent times the rule was abandoned, on the basis that anyone who could consume that much and still ride a bike in a straight line deserved their success.

The majority of Tour riders knock back an espresso or three shortly before the stage. This is in order to keep awake during the early kilometres of the day, when nothing happens other than doomed attacks by small French teams desperate to get in front of the camera.

At the other end of the stage, caffeine is known to stimulate race-winning attacks. Generally what happens 
is I pop into the kitchen to put the kettle on, come back to the TV to discover that the day’s one exciting moment has happened, and it’s all over.

This article was first published in the July 4 issue of Cycling Weekly. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!