The Irish Times view on the Tour de France: Viewer beware

If your interest is in sporting excellence and you’re not inclined to suspend your critical faculties, you might want to reach for the remote control

Four-time Tour de France  winner Chris Froome of Britain rides during a training near Saint-Mars-la-Reorthe, France, on Friday, ahead of Saturday’s start of the Tour de France. Photograph: Peter Dejong/AP

Four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome of Britain rides during a training near Saint-Mars-la-Reorthe, France, on Friday, ahead of Saturday’s start of the Tour de France. Photograph: Peter Dejong/AP

 

If you fancy a front-seat view of the delights of the French countryside over the next three weeks, it will be hard to look beyond the television coverage of the Tour de France. As a global spectacle showcasing France’s beauty as well as the wares of the event’s corporate sponsors, there is nothing to compare. But if your interest is in sporting excellence and you’re not inclined to suspend your critical faculties, you might want to reach for the remote control. At least Judge Judy deals with facts.

When the Tour’s so-called Grand Départ rolls out of the Île de Noirmoutier today, an unwelcome spotlight will be on Britain’s Team Sky and its leader Chris Froome. This is an extraordinary reversal for professional cycling’s richest outfit which came to the peleton promising transparency and zero tolerance. Instead, the new broom is struggling to sweep away allegations of illicit performance enhancement that, like its hubris, are all too reflective of the sport’s dismal past.

First there was controversy around Bradley Wiggins and a mystery Jiffy bag, then a British parliamentary select committee concluded the team abused the anti-doping system; and then the disclosure that a urine sample from Froome en route to victory in last year’s Vuelta a España exceeded the permitted level of the asthma drug salbutamol. As Tour organisers tried to ban him from this year’s race, cycling’s world governing body said on Monday it had closed the case against him on advice from the World Anti-Doping Agency. Froome and team boss Dave Brailsford spoke of exoneration. They are entitled to do so and have been consistent in their denials.

Once again, however, cycling is associated with sport’s darkest science. So if you can’t resist Tour coverage over the next three weeks, you might try a different approach: perhaps a game of TV bingo linked to the euphemisms that often pepper the commentary. Listen especially for “incredible”, a term which in most sports relates to achievement so spectacular it is almost too good to be true. Too often in cycling, the “almost” has proved redundant. Viewer beware.

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