Today, the Tour de France begins. Our government is cruel and incompetent and corrupt, and many countries all over the world are currently active combat zones experiencing major humanitarian crises, so right now it’s kind of difficult to focus on anything as frivolous as the Tour de France. But, as we look at the world through the lens of dystopian horror, it’s probably best to remember: In 2018, nothing is conflict-free. Sport is more political than ever, and the Tour de France is no exception; more than 100 years after the very first Tour de France, women are still not allowed to compete in the male-only Tour (in spite of recent herculean attempts). These are strange times we live in.
Still, the Tour de France, with all of its imperfections is, like the World Cup, a mesmerizing global event of uncommon human endurance, grit and skill and no one (lest of all me) could blame you for watching athletes cycle all over France for three weeks. I’m a cyclist (but not an athlete) and I can’t imagine cycling all day in the July heat, so the Tour is an incredibly compelling drama to watch, and hell, this week has felt like two years so maybe right now you need to make some tacos, sit in your most comfortable chair and watch very fit men in tight spandex cycling through some glorious summertime French geography. No one will judge you.
If you’d like to see behind-the-scenes footage of the Tour de France, there are many documentaries to choose from but my favorite is a short but magical film made more than 50 years ago. In 1962, Louis Malle, the acclaimed French filmmaker, filmed the Tour de France and made a short documentary, “Vive Le Tour!”A lifelong fan of the race, he wanted to get up-close to document the energy and messy spectacle that is the Tour de France. At less than 19 minutes long, he captured the essence of the enraptured crowds, the taste of the almost-religious culture surrounding the Tour, and the frenetic, brutal surroundings we mere mortals will never go through. It’s hard to imagine an elite athlete in 2018 coming to a slow-stop and falling off his bicycle from exhaustion, or an athlete stopping mid-ride to grab beer and champagne to drink while riding, but in 1962, the Tour was a very different race. In any case, relax for 20 minutes and Vive le France!
In French with English subtitles.