posted on July 08, 2007 12:33
Is it July again already? This year's Tour de France (which Jules mentioned a short time ago) has just begun... in London, on one of the Tour's regular showcase starts in foreign countries (including Dublin in 1998).
This weekend, France's sporting news centred on the British capital - although ultimately with a lack of French success. Apart from the Tour, at Wimbledon Richard Gasquet and Marion Bartoli exceeded pre-tournament expectations before both losing on Saturday. In the French media poor Marion's heroic march to the final has been eclipsed by the Tour circus in London - just as Amelie Mauresmo's victory last year was overshadowed by the World Cup Final.
Now that London is only two and a half hours by train from Paris, there's a real sense of the two capitals being closer together. French TV news now carries regular reports from London - not just recent headlines like the Blair/Brown transition or the foiled terrorist attacks, but also comparative reports on the cost of living, stories of French people in Britain, the adventures of Arsenal (now minus Thierry Henry but still with a large French contingent), new UK-side developments (there's considerable interest here in London's congestion charges) and the occasional 'and finally' story (for example, Damien Hirst's diamond-skull).
These days French people regularly zip over to London on the Eurostar - and many stay there. While the UK capital's rent prices are notoriously high, salaries in London are also higher than the heavily-taxed French pay packet. From this end of the tunnel, London often seems like the brighter light.
Coming in the other direction, London and its rock mythology have always exerted huge influence on the Paris music scene. Serge Gainsbourg recorded his greatest works in Swinging London. The Clash inspired every '80s French band to mix punk and reggae - usually with awful results (apart from Mano Negra, who were fantastic). And today The Libertines are the unlikely idols for the new wave of English-singing Paris bands.
As for le grand boucle ('the great loop', as the French call the Tour), it has perhaps lost a lot of its prestige and interest for many French people - not because of the omnipresent drugs scandals but simply because there hasn't been a credible French challenger in years (and no home champion since Bernard Hinault in 1985). That's hardly going to change this year - the local hope is national champion Christophe Moreau, who's probably too at 36 (to put that in context, retired 7-time winner Lance Armstrong is 35 this year).
Still, for anyone who remembers Stephen Roche collapsing on La Plagne in 1987 or Greg Lemond trumping Laurent Fignon by 8 seconds in 1989, the Tour is undeniably a great spectacle and something quintessentially French. In 2005 your blogger was across from the Eiffel Tower and watched Armstrong et al (within touching distance from us) coast leisurely into Paris before the final sprint up the Champs-Elysées. Last year the Tour even went through our suburb - though in a multicoloured blur that makes you understand how French painters invented impressionism.
To celebrate the great race, here's some, em, German electronica - Kraftwerk's 'Tour De France':