Sunday, July 27, 2008

Lily-white cyclists

No, I'm not talking about dope, but rather about their skin color. In an interesting article in the newspaper Le Monde, a journalist has drawn attention to the fact that the colorful peloton of Tour de France riders includes not a single Black, Arab or Asian. How can this be explained? In France, it's mainly a rural sport, rather than a suburban activity. Becoming a competitive cyclist requires a significant financial investment, and you need room to store your bike and associated tools and equipment. By comparison, it's cheaper for a youth to spend his spare time kicking a soccer ball. Consequently, boys of immigrant background who grow up in a low-income suburban environment of high-rise flats are unlikely to get involved in cycling. But I would imagine that the phenomenon of a lily-white peloton is likely to evolve considerably in forthcoming years.

Another journalist was intrigued by the fact that this year's winner, the 33-year-old Spaniard Carlos Sastre, appears to be such an unobtrusive fellow, whom people would probably not recognize if they bumped into him on the street. This is a reflection of the ingrained idea that Tour de France champions are necessarily forceful characters: attackers who exude power and authority, like Bernard Hinault or Lance Armstrong. This attitude is no doubt a remnant of the epoch when Tour champions such as Fausto Coppi [1919-1960] and Jacques Anquetil [1934-1987] generated a mythical and almost divine aura.

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