Will some Hollywood-style drama (and production values) and a jingoistic focus on bygone French figures help potential viewers to get past all of this past year's drug scandals and small-minded politics?
The Tour de France has a new PR firm. Or so it seems by the looks of this flashy new preview for the centenary edition of the race. I can just imagine the conversations around the boardroom tables at Amaury Sports Organization that lead to this gem.
“All this doping is killing us,” Jean Étienne Amaury, president of ASO, might have said. “We gotta do something.”
“How about some Hollywood-style drama,” Christian Prudhomme would have responded. “It worked for Lance on Oprah.”
And so we have this melodramatic trailer, which makes the upcoming Tour look as mythical as Narnia and as thrilling as a James Bond sequel. There’s stunning aerial landscape panoramas, gritty archival imagery of cycling legends, a sweeping philharmonic score, and—in case you’re still on the fence—cut-in footage of everyday people so that we realize that this race is for average folks like you and me.
I have to admit that it worked, too, at least to begin with. My first thought when I saw this clip was, “Damn, I’m going to watch me some Tour de France.” My second thought: “I wonder how I would have auditioned for the stop-motion segment?” Like maybe some crisp, slow-mo of me brushing my teeth in front of TV footage of a stage.
But on second viewing, my sentiments shifted. For one, the focus on all the bygone French figures—Louison Bobet, Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx (okay, he’s Belgian), Bernard Hinault, Laurent Fignon, they're all here—makes me laugh. I get that the French want to take back their race, but it’s been almost 30 years since a Frenchman won, so dwelling on these riders makes Tour organizers look out of touch and jingoistic. Just try and name a single, legitimate French GC contender.
Beyond that there’s a conspicuous—and purposeful—exclusion of some important personalities. Though I continue to dither over the justice of expunging Lance from the record books in light of suspicion of doping among other past winners, he’s about as appealing these days as, say, Mike Tyson, so its clear why he’s not here. But cutting Alberto Contador, the legitimate winner of two recent Tours, is glaring and petty. This sleight of hand shows the Tour continuing to try and manufacture it’s history. Omitting Contador, one of the most exciting grand tour riders going and the likeliest candidate to enliven this summer’s race, while including Andy Schleck, a technical winner who can barely finish any bike race these days, makes me wonder whether the Tour organizers understand what it will take to produce a great race.
I’ll watch the Tour this summer anyway. Drug scandals and small-minded politics aside, the Tour is one hell of a human spectacle. Realistically it’s no dirtier than any other sporting event—and it’s probably cleaner than most for all its anti-doping efforts. So I’ll tune in for some “Exhilaration. Courage, Fighting Spirit. Conquest ... Legend.” Frankly, after last year’s tepid three-week Team Sky victory procession, I hope that this edition lives up to some of that hype.