Provence by Proxy

Well, there goes another Wimbledon and another Great British hope. I’m not sure Andy Murray actually wants or appreciates English support given his previous comments concerning English football but thanks for the nerve-racking, Andy. I spotted another comment on Twitter that made it quite clear that there is at least one Scot who vehemently dislikes the English supporting Andy Murray. According to this idiot, it’s OK for the Scots to (mis)manage the country’s parliament but the English are not allowed to support a Scot. So much for a United Kingdom. Oh, and this ardent Scotsman so loves Scotland that he lives in New Zealand. Go figure! Actually, I much prefer to watch a tense final in which I don’t have a partisan interest so it’s better for both parties that Andy Murray didn’t make it. Unfortunately, the somewhat extended Wimbledon Mens’ Final rather scuppered my plans to watch the first road stage of this year’s Tour de France live so thank technology for video recorders.

Today, with Wimbledon a distant memory, I settled down to enjoy unfettered live coverage of Stage 3 of the Tour de France on ITV4’s interactive satellite service. We’d normally have been enjoying La Belle France ourselves over June and into early July but this year we changed our behaviour and enjoyed a terrific walking tour of Corfu instead. As a result and as a Francophile, I’m feeling a little starved of French scenery and culture. Today’s stage from Marseille to La Grand Motte was to go through some very appealing Provençal scenery that would address at least one of those addictions.

The usual form of a flat (non-mountain) stage in the Tour de France is a leg in which a handful of riders breaks away for most of the race, gets caught by the pack (le peloton) just a few kilometres from the finish, then the sprinters take over in a mad scramble for the line. One has to admire these guys; they can ride 100+ miles cruising at 25 mph, then finish at speeds of 40+ mph over a short dash. I can sometimes cruise at 15 mph over considerably shorter distances.

Today’s flat stage did not follow the usual form. After 3½ hours glued to ITV4’s interactive satellite coverage, cross-winds resulted in its building up to what has to be the most exciting finish I was about to see. The peloton split and the speed built inexorably as the leading contenders began jostling for the upper hand. The excitement of the commentators built up, too. I was on the edge of my seat with less than a kilometre of the 196 kilometres remaining. Then, suddenly … BLAM – there it wasn’t. Cataclysmic change! An inane episode of some ancient series drivel replaced the Tour de France coverage. I pressed all the buttons I could find that would do anything on the controller but all to no avail, it was gone. Ended. Cruelly snatched away in the dying seconds.

At 5 o’clock the transmission apparently automatically switched itself off. Brilliant! Does the BBC break transmission in the middle of the 5th set at Wimbledon? No, of course not. The BBC reschedules other programmes, switches them to another channel, does anything but destroy the excitement of the finale. Would someone care to note the lesson from the professionals?

Still, I got to see a lot of Provence.

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