“The wolf is killing us” read the messages painted onto the tarmac in the Hautes-Alpes as the peloton rode through the first week of the 2020 Tour de France.
These scribbles weren’t considered political enough, or sufficiently Macron-related, to be rounded out with orange paint by race officials, who drive the route searching out profanities before the peloton arrives.
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Wolves used to be common in France before they nearly died out in the 1930s, then experiencing a resurgence in the decade before the turn of the millenium. Although there are only around 400 throughout the country, they’re killing of livestock is a particular irritant for farmers, despite the fact the state reimburses them well above the market rate of their animals.
This sort of irrational protest slots in perfectly to the illogical nature of the Tour de France.
Other banners along the race route cry out for the success of Thibaut Pinot and Julian Alaphilippe, the bountiful repetition of their chalked name weighing them down on the road when it’s supposed to uplift them. Pinot drops off the back of the peloton and when French television goes to a commercial break the first advert up is for back pain medication.
Passing the fans, of which there are far fewer than in normal years, the demographic is older, as if ASO have bussed a whole load of pensioners in, North Korea style, to show what a great and lavish harvest the Tour de France has to offer!
Really, it’s because of ‘La Rentrée’, which is what the French call sending their kids back to school. At the start of stage seven, they watched behind the bars of the playground as the publicity caravan passed, calling out the names of brands of laundry detergent and instant coffee so repulsive the brand must surely make a net loss from their marketing effort.
In the dying embers of summer, it is therefore those soon to slip off their mortal coil who cheer the peloton onwards, past the sunflowers who are also packing in. One of the best Tour moments is when the motorbike camera stops to film the bunch whizzing past a field of pristine sunflowers. Not this year. A couple of months past July and they’re all dried up and browning, heads bowed and crisp. They will soon be snipped, ready to be turned into oil. The Tour can only keep so much the same.
The weather has so far held up ever since we left the Cote d’Azur. The skies so clear the moon can be spotted in the sky most days. Since Julian Alaphilippe had his lead killed by the rule book, Adam Yates and Primož Roglič have barely been the most impassioned holders of the yellow jersey, which sort of makes the hard work it took to claim it more impressive in the fact it barely moves them and more so begs the question, what in the world could?
The howls of Sam Bennett after he finally took his first-ever Tour stage win returned some balance, giving the race the significance of meaning it deserves. Maybe that’s what riders also meant as they described stage 10 as the first ‘proper’ Tour stage of this year’s race.
The anxiety of the 500-roundabout route up to La Rochelle was preceded by more nerves of the rest day coronavirus test. But it turns out all the riders had to fear from their day off was Egan Bernal’s handiwork with a set of clippers.
With all riders supposedly virus-free, the last rider to test positive at the Tour is still Frank Schleck back in 2012. Although four team support staff members were quickly escorted from the premises, out of sight and out of mind, while Tour director Christian Prudhomme was also offered up as a sacrificial lamb, before quickly promising to be back in a week’s time. Who would want to miss any of this?