8 Jul 2014

As a democratic spectacle, nothing comes close to the Tour

On the day that Brazil may well lose to Germany because of their lack of it, let us consider joy and beauty.

Yes, the joy and beauty that – as Brazil’s inimitable Socrates himself famously said – must come first, over and above winning.

Brazil appear to be lacking both. England appear not to know what either of them ever were.

Which is why the experience of going to the Tour on Monday was such a rare experience in Big Sport – the easy joy and beauty of it all.

As a spectacle of democratic sport, nothing comes close.

The pack of riders cycles on its way during the 155 km third stage of the Tour de France cycling race

We left home about an hour before the peloton exploded through the rolling wheat fields and woods of north Essex. Just two of the millions who did this across Yorkshire and also in the UK.

No ticket needed. During the entire experience nobody attempted to sell us anything. No rip-off merchandising – not even a cup of tea at a roadside stall. Fan-bloody-tastic. Bring yer own butty.

It was how Big Sport is in Dreamworld – all ages, classes, colours, backgrounds just pitch up, enjoy, become a key part of it all, and then we all leave.

I was there! Read more on Le Tour and how British crowds beat the world when it comes to enthusiasm

A girl of about eight had her birthday. Her parents and friends began singing Happy Birthday and suddenly everyone joins in as we await the Lycra. All rather un-British.

A middle-aged man, skiving magnificently, walks across the road to get to his viewpoint, barking into his phone: “Er – I’m not at my desk at the moment.”

Cue guffaws all round and knowing wink from said skiver.

No marshals to keep the crowd back – just an easy, grown-up trust that it will all just be all OK and the crowd would put itself in the right place and it did (at least here).

The only sign of officialdom – the bemused gendarmerie and constabulary on motorbikes, beaming and waving as they precede the peloton. Are they enjoying this or what?

So it wasn’t really all that much about the cycling. Few around me knew much about the intricacies of tactical nous in the world of leg-shaved Lycra. Fewer still cared.

Because this was all about – well, yes, dammit – liberty, equality and fraternity in its ticketless, stewardless, policeless, merchandiseless, democratic glory.

Going to the Tour as a spectator is all about everything Big Sport left behind when it decided to become Big Business.

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