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La Grande Boucle


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"'s extremely important to be associated with the winner of the Tour"

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Roberto Dondi
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Archive 2000-01

La Grande Boucle
(Once Upon A Time In France)

(INTRO) The one and only time I saw the caravan of the Tour de France I was a little boy and that race had passed the border to reach my birth place in Italy. A winding road let me only intercept some moving frames of too many riders among them I couldn't acknowledge not even the yellow jersey of the day. All the racing bikes vanished in a hurry!
In Mythologies (1957), Roland Barthes gave the title of epos to the Tour de France because it was expressing and freeing the French people thanks to a modern fable where the relationships between the man and other mens and the man and the nature are ultimately cleared through the cycling show. 1971 that epos disclosed to my eyes as revealing heroic deeds. Luis Ocaña had just reduced Eddy Merckx to a human being at Orcières Merlette ( But the gods above, the same unveiled by Barthes, decided to help their favorite son and impressively broken out into a black and stormy stage... Ocaña forced to give up, was it a punishment? Certainly a warning. Please, read on about two modern myths of the Tour de France on this little masterpiece published by l'Humanité!

SET1 Tête de la course...
Prologue. The strenght of every cyclist comes from form or spurt. The form is a lasting balance of character, muscles and willing, it's human strategy. The spurt is an electric impulse like a divine gift, it's superhuman tactics. There is a terrific substitute for those quality, the bomb! Bombed cyclists will be sooner or later banished from the great Tour and deprived of the conclusive parade at the Champes-Elysées. Tough luck! Or retired men waiting only for entering the ancient Conciergerie Nationale?
Lexicon of champions --a remembrance list at random (1).
  • Luis Ocaña (Esp). The most devastating, and devastated, winner of all times.
  • Eddy Merckx (Bel). Very fighting cycler who could afford everything, even don't compute his own strengths. The Cannibal.
  • Raymond Poulidor (Fra). The eternal second on the general placings. The French loved him for his misfortune in stumbling across Anquetil's career.
  • Joaquim Agostinho (Por). Lonely and silent cycler full of Portuguese wisdom.
  • Felice Gimondi (Ita). The regular Italian. Fair and winning but without fire.
  • J.Manuel Fuente (Esp). The little climber, captain of the all Spanish Kas team.
  • Greg Lemond (Usa). The first American (first) in Paris.
  • Laurent Fignon (Fra). The intellectual one, Parisien tout court.
  • Cyril Guimard (Fra). The man of the last kilometer.
  • Joop Zoetemelk (Hol). High-fidelity racer resistant to long distance. Dutch persistence.
  • Bernard Hinault (Fra). The French leader of the 1980s and the last domestic hero before the never ending dominion of the strangers.
  • Miguel Indurain (Esp). Fascinating but too much calculating cycler. He ran only for excelling in the Tour: the typical winner of the new generation.
  • Marco Pantani (Ita). The angel of the mountain --only up there. Lightness to the max.
  • Laurent Jalabert (Fra). All but a sprinter, all but a climber... A lot of courage and experience. French pride.
  • Lance Armstrong (Usa). A fierce competitor from the New World. The greatest post-millennium achievement!

SET2 Poursuivants....
These days it's tough for anyone in cycling to avoid association with Lance Armstrong. In the last decade, he has become the dominant rider whose winning image has been sponsored by US Postal or Discovery Channel, equipped by Trek Bicycle Corp;, powered by Shimano Inc. etc... These companies are the Tour de France's other winners.
Inside the bike business, "it's extremely important to be associated with the winner of the Tour" as executives are used to say.
Until 1961 the competitors were grouped into the national teams. But bikemakers and parts suppliers should have gotten more importance and visibility to the end-users only later when the commercial marks began to be directly associated to the top racers. Most important équipes running and winning the Tour de France have been: Bic (1971, 73); Gan-Mercier (1972, 75); Kas (1974, 76); La Vie Claire (1985, 86); PDM (1988, 89); Banesto (1991, 99); Carrera (1992, 93); Festina (1994, 96); Once (1995, 2002); Kelme (2000, 01); T-Mobile (2004, 05) --source:
All these brands were also shot ahead the pack for their promotion, and in exchange decisive for helping many sporting directors set the standard in reliability of the international teams leading a global competition like the Tour. The real marketing and sales power lies with the big companies...

SET3 Peloton...
The legend tells a buffet of champagne, oysters, and foie gras awaited the king of the cronomen, Jacques Anquetil, after he crossed the finish line as victor! At first sight, it seems unlikely. As surely as the bubbles in a champagne glass, the poor food made the day of most cyclers at the beginning of the XX century, and so later when some Italian pioneers ran the Tour de France being somehow the forunners of the modern clothing, feeding, and cycling. I'm not telling about the legendary icons of Italian ciclismo --Coppi and Bartali-- but the almost unknown Pavesi and Gerbi. The former invented the role of coéquipier and as indipendent racer he was used to steal food from the tables placed for the official teams refreshments... The latter was grand avide of honey, milk, and rice, the best sporting diet in the modern times too.
Or did you really believe a top racer closed that energy gap in the salle á manger while one was running some terrific stages of the Tour? The roads to hell were often unpaved (Mont Ventoux), while the Alps and the Pyrenees rose in southern France very faraway from the opulent hills of Champagne where chardonnay vineyards have been growing both in quality and celebrity.
These days about 100 delivery trucks are going before the racers along the route. They are transporting supplies and provisions, and all the merchandise to be promoted through the stages crowded with disenchanted people.
The true race will come later as the still uncertain play where the fighting will resolve between the individual destiny of the characters and the collective morality of the group... (Roland Barthes).

(OUTRO) Summing up, a resting man consumes about one K calorie per minute, while the same man producing an high competitive performance consumes up to 25 K calories.
Are you a bike freak? To take a stroll down the legend of the Tour de France, follow the banner above. Don't be a dopehead, pardon my French!
It's all that compex whole of things doing me stop here... Among those old morning papers you have said: "We have to go to the cinema!". You do go to the cinema, go there... 'cuz I will stay here and wait for the Tour de France!
(1) For a suitable celebration of all the cyclers mentioned here it would be opened a case of Clos du Mesnil, sold by Krug at 370 euro a bottle... à votre santé! 

Cuenca 1945--Tour de France 1973

Première 14 juillet 2006. En définitive 22 juillet.©2006 Roberto Dondi -
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