Archive for July, 2012

Very, very simple guide to the Tour de France

July 17th, 2012 No comments

This is a public service for persons like myself who enjoy the beau paysage, the castles, the scenery, the quaint villages – oh, and all those amazing athletes in their pretty colours zooming along for 3,000 kilometres…


On the final rest day, I took a breather from watching those lithe bums en masse and the adorable scenery of la belle France, and attempted to work out what the hell is going on.

What is it?

The Tour de France is a very-big-deal cycling race that is held every summer, late June-July.

In France, yeah?

Mostly. They often dip into Spain and Italy because it’s Europe, man, there are countries wherever you look. One year they somehow or other included Ireland and have been to old enemy Angleterre three times – 1974, 1994 and 2007.

Cycling? Pedal-pushers?

It’s men only, for the same reasons (as far as I can make out) that the gentlemen’s singles at Wimbledon is men only: they’re goddam stronger than us, girls.


There are about  200, and these guys are part-man, part machine. They have to cycle a couple of hundred kilometres every day for three weeks, with just two rest days. They are professional cyclists, sponsored by big companies like Sky, which is in pole position this year. And they’re all in their twenties and thirties – the oldest guy to win, ever, was 36.


This is the really tricky bit. I have been surfing net for simple cycling sites (alliteration!) and listening to my husband’s patient explanations for years, and I’m still pretty hazy. However, I think this is right:

  • The overall winner is the guy who completes the course in the shortest time. He gets to ride through the last bit, the climax ride through Paris
  • The yellow jersey is given, each day, I am told! to the guy who has done the course in the quickest time at that stage. So it is cumulative – on day three, if Pierre Vitesse zooms through the 140 km in an hour, he will still not be the winner unless his times for the three days are still the lowest in the competition. The jersey winner gets to wear it all the next day. Isn’t that cute!
  • There is also a king of the mountains, who does the best time in the hilly bits (some of which are savage – think of cycling up the side of the new Shard building in London). This guy gets the spotted jersey.
  • There is also a junior winner, the best time under 25, who gets the white jersey (le maillot blanc – everything sounds better in French.)
  • There is also a green jersey, for the person who gets the most points for various speedy and good things done. Bit boring so that’s all you need to know.

Team Tactics

When you’re watching, you often wonder about the bunching of guys in the same team colours, and why their star rider is tucked away. It’s all strategy: like chess on bicycles, moving people here so they can advance somewhere else brilliant later. I don’t concern myself with this too much as I am admiring the chateaux – and the derrieres.

The Peloton

 This is the mass of riders – kind of like the lumpen proletariat of the Tour, only they are all aristocrats. There is a breakaway group of small speedsters, then the peloton. I don’t think they have a word for the laggards at the back – les aussi-courants?

 Most Famous T de F winner

For the general public it’s Lance Armstrong, the American who incredibly came back from having testicular cancer to win the Tour SEVEN TIMES (1999 to 2005). Unfortunately, his name has been linked with illegal drug use more recently. Some people do say that it would be impossible to ride the T de F without using some extraordinary substance, ie, it’s not actually humanly possible. It sure ain’t for ordinary mortals.

Big names

This year a British man, Bradley Wiggins, is looking good, riding for the Sky team. Early favorite Cadel Evans, the Aussie who won it last year, is beginning to catch up after a slowish start which wasn’t helped by some so-and-so throwing a packet of tacks all over the course.

This year’s finish

Will be on Sunday July 29, in Paris. This is the finishing-line cycle, and not as exciting to watch as the earlier days when they are sweating up mountains or gliding through beautiful villages.

And the money?

Fancy leaving this out the first time I uploaded! The total prize pool is around €2 million euros, and everyone gets something, even if only €400. The winner gets around half a million which they earn in blood, really. Again, the prize allocation stuff is complicated so here’s a link from some Kiwi experts

I would be very grateful if anyone cares to correct this very simple guide, written to help my own understanding, and with the thought that there are other vague-ohs out there like me. Thanks to John Sills, who helped me out with the yellow jersey! John is also omniscient – and passionate (seriously, correct use of word) – about pop music. He is at

In fact the Wikipedia entry is pretty good but too detailed if you don’t want to do a thesis on competitive cycling.

The official site is too much head-in-the-spokes for me – but there are pictures of the jerseys.

And here’s an interesting piece on the diet and general superhumanity of the Tour de France riders, from my friends at The Conversation website in Melbourne, Australia.

PS If anyone wants to read a pleasingly surreal account of man actually merging his atoms with that of a bicycle, there is the work of Irish genius Flann O’Brien, and The Third Policeman (although I don’t think the Tour de France ever gets a mention in this 1940s novel). 

Categories: Blog Tags:

Can’t beat the rustle of the newspaper, the smell of the coffee, weekend morning

July 16th, 2012 No comments

Just ruminatin’…

MY local gym has many simple pleasures, including dim lighting (no glare on the guilty flab), friendly instructors, and compact TV screens wired up to the running machines. But best of all are the newspapers, arrayed in the old-fashioned way on wooden sticks, available for a good read on the comfy sofas in the little-used sitting room.

I usually pop in for a quick flick through The Irish Times – only for five, maybe 10 minutes. And it’s struck me how valuable this scanning session is for finding out what is going on in the society, and what’s coming up (or I missed). And yes, I am too poor to spend the couple of euro every day.

Yet I spend much of my day reading news or written studies of one sort or another, principally on screen.

The sensory ease and facility with which we flick through a newspaper is something that is being lost in the rush to digital. Personally, I think the digital move is inevitable and unstoppable. But I do believe – hope? – that there will be a remnant of written news material in the future. Perhaps this will take the same form as high-quality editions of hardbacks. Some people are prepared to pay for quality binding, good paper, intelligently-chosen fonts, and an appealing cover design. So there might be a parallel in news product, of newspapers surviving in printed form and with high-quality content and design.  Market forces will decide.

In the meantime, I get a happy warm feeling from the flick through the paper. This activity is like a bird flying from branch to branch, alighting where it sees something of interest or a tasty morsel. I’ll see an article by a favourite columnist, some surprising news from overseas, or a report of an upcoming conference I want to attend.

Somehow, this effect is not replicated on the internet. Surfing never quite did it., perhaps because those virtual waves can carry you too far from where you started.  Try to check out what play is on at the local theatre, and you could end up deep in a words-and-graphics explantion of fracking. It’s all information, Jim, but not as we used to know it.

News websites do their very best to show the ‘visitor’ the riches of the offerings they hold, a mouse click or two away. Hence we have the busy-busy-busy format of the successful sites such as the Huffington Post and Loads of headlines, taster paragraphs, some pictures, a barrage of voices and stories. But this can be too much at once (although admittedly those sites are the big successes in terms of page visitors). But do those page visitors walk away from the computer feeling they have checked out what’s happening in the world today, and that their trusted news provider has given them a fair summary?

Hail of hyperlinks and all, I don’t really think so.


Categories: Blog Tags: