Friday, July 10, 2009

Winning or losing

Cycling is a subtle sport. There has always been only one way of winning: a brilliant performance, combining power and speed, strategy and imagination, along with some help from your friends and a bit of luck. A rider who wins is often the kind of competitor described in French as an attaquant (attacker). But, in cycling, there are two ways of losing: either you do little and don't make progress, or you run into big problems and descend in the results. Once again, the Australian Cadel Evans is settling in to his familiar status quo category, whereas the Russian Denis Menchov has spent the first week of the current Tour moving backwards in a spectacular manner.

So far, Lance Armstrong has impressed us greatly, whereas his team mate (?) Alberto Contador has played a waiting game. A French website says that the Astana team is sitting on a volcano... which might well go into eruption this afternoon, when the riders encounter the first mountain stage.

Once again, it's a huge pleasure to watch the world's third-greatest sporting event (after the Olympic Games and soccer's World Cup) on TV. Commentators on the France 2 channel like to make a subtle verbal distinction between the Tour de France and the Tour de la France. The first expression designates, of course, the cycling race. The second refers to the fabulous helicopter images of French landscapes, villages, castles, etc... not to mention the hordes of spectators lining the roads. It is a popular event, in the etymological sense of this Latin adjective, meaning "of/for the people". But it provides us, above all, with a bird's-eye vision of the beauty of France.

Observing these magnificent visions of the landscape and heritage in France, I'm not all that surprised when I hear that the French are considered (in a well-known poll) as the world's worst tourists. They never stop grumbling. They're perpetually disappointed, unhappy. Wherever they go, they'll always be tempted, inevitably, to compare what they encounter with their homeland.

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