Tour de force.

I guess you could say that a little sign of having at last begun to leave emotional kindergarten on your journey to Actual Adulthood is when you realise that romance isn’t just about emergency Valentine’s cards.

If you’ve only recently twigged that ‘romance’ is a code word for two very different things at once depending on which side of a relationship you’re on, I must point out that this doesn’t count. Grasping the fact that the word can mean ‘chocolate’ to one of you and Special Occasion Sex (SOS) to the other doesn’t qualify you as an emotional mentor. It just means you might understand your disappointment better. But, y’know. Perhaps even that’s a start.

No, the truth of the word romance is that it isn’t restricted to relationships at all, of course.

..Though, I should also point out that saying this in lofty tones on the morning of a significant birthday/anniversary/Valentine’s day, imagining the assertion to be your new style of gift to the occasion, still means you’re an idiot. Don’t ask why, just go buy some chocolates now.


But, ah – romance.

Romance is, of course, all at once a wildly flimsy, silly thing and a captivatingly wonderful, energising thing. You usually get it into your head in the absence of hard facts – often despite them, which is how robust this flimsy thing is. In fact more even than that, romance is rarely the friend of logic.

The magic of it is that, once you’re past the I Really So Love You Darling stage and have moved on to the Who’s That Bigger Person I’m Sure I’ve Seen Sharing The House With Me And My Kids stage, you can adapt the afor-mentioned silly flimsy feelgood to work on a place or a thing or an idea or… anything. It is, after all, an idea – a jolly scrummy, possibly fwuffy, undoubtedly impractical, proudly unempirically-appealing idea of something. And don’t it warm your cockles?

Of course, I can work it up about almost anything.

I’ll even get nostalgic for Charlie Brooker’s acidic, billious moaning, after he’s finally locked away for walking into Trafalgar Square with a flamethrower and red-eyed tears of regret for humanity’s lostness. ..See? I feel lump in my throat about it already. I love that man. That nearly broken man.

But right now, I am feeling it for a bike race.

We used to dream about driving the support cars in the Tour de France. Years ago, when we watched it after school. We used to turn up Pete Shelley’s strangely affecting theme tune to the Channel Four coverage and wish we were chasing the peleton across the swooping Gallic countryside for three weeks of the summer. Or even better, driving the motorcycle cameras.

For me, the romance comes in a kind of crossing of romantic lay-lines, converging on the world’s most iconic cycle fight. It’s the Wimbledon or World Cup of cycling. But without the BBC coverage. Or any upper body mass index whatsoever.

Really, think about it – what’s not to love? Almost a month of constant evolving road shots and helicopter shots of the French countryside, from coastal plain to mountain peak. A final stage that stops Paris for a day, as the measurably superhuman madmen still pedaling chase eachother over the cobbles of the Champs Elysés and round the Concorde.

And what superhuman madmen. An entire working day in the saddle almost every day for over three weeks. 3,500 KM. Just try to imagine that kind of endurance. Doing ONE day at thirty to forty KPH for over six hours would kill most of us. And then there’s the sprinting. The whole concept of actually racing each other. Knocking time off. ..Knocking time off? Off your life, mate.

And people do die on the TDF. If you’ve seen the speeds they come down the mountains on two very very skinny wheels in nothing but body paint, you’ll know why these chaps with Spielberg-alien stick-thin arms are Herculean bloody demi-gods of courage and physical achievement.

Freaks, in other words. And who doesn’t love a bit of mawkish freakshow? Really?

I think I could watch it on a three-week loop in a womb tank. What with Phil Leggit’s soothing tones – as synonymous with cycle TV as Motson to footie, or Walker to F1 – and all that road movie footage, sweeping past the poplars and swooshing past the streams of people delirious with joy at seeing this legendary, chain-shlinking titan reesh past their noses in under an Earth second. Well worth the enormous car park fee that second.

But also, I love it because it is an expression of that idea of Europe that I’ve manufactured for myself and insist on cherishing.

That silly, romantic idea, largely removed from reality’s brutal drudgery, of a sedate melting pot of intense historic culture, of cafés and quirky TV, of slick logos and rank oddness. Of groovy accents and fantastic food. Of… Europe. A collection of countries and outlooks that together create something wondrous in the bosom. At least for me. A great comfort of possibilities and fine living and just ponsing (or possibly pensing) about in an endless succession of spankingly lovely, uplifting places.

A comfort that dare not look upon the ugly truths of division and corruption and bureaucracy lest it forget itself and spend not its euros on holiday there every year.

Any notional love I profess for the Tour de France is not borne out by knowledge or commitment, of course. Don’t be silly now.

I still have no idea what consitutes tactics in cycling. Not Dying should be enough.

The bloke who crosses the line first on any day… wins? Right? Well no. Well, yes – he wins the coveted green jersey – given to the bloke who does indeed cross the line first to win that Etape or stage and get the most points. Fair enough – wheel on the French trophy birds, he’s less Not Dead than 150 other blokes that day.

But he could be nowhere in the actual race – the race for the sacred maillot jaune – the yellow jersey.

I know, I don’t really get it.

I always fancied the King Of The Mountains title. Not because I’d contemplate cycling those tarmacked cliffs in the Alps instead of nipping off to a cable car, but because the jersey is a very confident polkadot pink on white. Properly cool graphic style.

But if I am that extra bit taken with the romantic idea of this gruelling, bespoked madness, it is for one extra reason. Little did Géo Lefèvre – lunatic journalist with L’Auto magazine in 1903 who’s deranged vision the French frenziedly bought into – realise that his work would inspire another very firmly European idea, eight decades later. Electronic music.

Every time I watch the TDF, I think of Kraftwerk. A formative musical love for me that, as you know, provokes a particularly comforting, if inexplicable, swell in my bosom.

As the peleton morphs and flows through the rolling French scenery, I think of four German blokes and their seminal electro-pop 12″ Tour de France. And then I think of their love of cycling – and the fact that they buggered off from the studio for years, not for beer, bongs or birds but bikes. To go cycling.

And if that doesn’t make your warm little heart beat a bit faster, you have no romance left in you.

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