14 July 2016

Farce And Tragedy On Bastille Day

Yesterday, I complained about the lack of drama in this year's Tour de France.

Well, I guess I should have known better than to write such a post on the day before Bastille Day.  It's the French national holiday and, let me tell you, it's not boring. At least, the Bastille Days I've spent in France weren't.

Today, though, provided the sort of drama that I think almost nobody wanted.  For one thing, defending TdF champion Chris Froome--along with Richie Porte and and Bauke Mollema--crashed into a motorbike on Mont Ventoux, just a kilometer from the Stage 12 finish.

Chris Froome
Chris Froome runs up Mont Ventoux

His own bike was wrecked, and his team's support car was five minutes behind.  So he ran until he could grab a neutral service bike; about 200 meters later, he switched to a bike from the Team Sky car, on which he finished the stage.

I have great respect for Froome's determination and conditioning.  But let's just say that when he's riding, he's no Stephen Roche.  Few elite cyclists ever looked more fluid and graceful while pedaling than the Irishman who won the Tour, Giro d'Italia and World road championship in 1987.  On the other hand, Froome's limbs seem to move at every angle except the one in which he's pedaling.  While running, he looked even more ungainly, if that were possible.

But the crash and Froome's run seemed rational and orderly compared to some of the roadside spectators.  Now, I have to make a confession:  On Chamrousse in 2001, I leaned within a tire's breadth of Lance Armstrong to take a photo of him riding to victory in the time trial.  Still, I am going to chide all of those spectators who simply had to get their .15 seconds of fame; one or more of them may have caused that motorbike to lose control.

Now, I've been in France enough to know that French people like spectacle as much as anyone, and they are not averse  to farce.  But I suspect today's events at the Tour de France might have been a bit much even for them--especially since it's their national holiday and they were hoping for a victory from one of their countrymen on a stage that ended with one of the Tour's most iconic climbs.

Then again, the French I know have perspective. (Wars, occupations and such will give you that!)  Anything that happened, or could have happened on today's Tour stage pales in significance with the tragic event in Nice.  Whoever drove that truck into the crowd, and whatever his or her motives, it was an act of terror:  It seemed to come out of nowhere and struck a place and people who were celebrating a holiday in one of the loveliest seaside cities I've ever seen.

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