Whether you are Team Love Island or Big Brother, there is certainly no denying that both programmes have and continue to grip the hearts and minds of a nation. Addictive, a guilty pleasure or just reality television at its finest – there’s clearly an allure to both series which has ultimately propelled each programme to peak popularity. Even as a newcomer to the party, an onlooker from a far and simply alien to just why everybody is somebody’s type on paper or the significance of an elusive text message, you cannot help but notice the widespread appeal of both. With both Facebook and Twitter awash every night with gifs, hashtags and cutting social media commentary (which inevitably must make the viewing experience all the more enjoyable for die-hard followers) alongside the obvious must-watch and respective ‘extra’ shows, love it or loathe it but reality television more so than ever has established itself at the top of the British television.
For some – well for me at least, it has been a case of better late never, attempting to engage myself in both in order to, in many ways join the back of that bandwagon and become part of the party. Yet even as the butt of all jokes amongst my closest friends as an unashamed fan of reality television in previous years, if we are keeping it cliché it has most definitely been too little too late. It is not even that I have been consciously trying to avoid putting all my eggs in one basket at the fear of being pied, mugged off or any buzzword bingo term for that matter. Instead however, this summer as it often has been in previous years has actually been all about reality television, albeit a select group who continue to defy reality year upon year, who catch wheels instead of feels and most certainly put the graft into grafting…
Bienvenue au Tour de France 2017
As quickly as champagne bottles are opened and much-deserved drinks are flowing between the battered, bruised and exhausted finishers of this year’s tour, the dust begins to settle on what has been another gripping competition full of drama, shocks and surprises. To an outsider looking in with very little interest in what is widely considered the most difficult bike race in the world, it can understandably be very difficult to fully recognise not only the hard-work, endurance and both the mental and physical strength it takes to reign supreme after almost of a month of non-stop, competitive cycling, but also to fully appreciate to just how unique a phenomenon that the competition continually proves to be.
Unlike most other showpiece sporting competitions where there are safeguards in place to ensure optimum performance and comfort in what can often be an athlete’s biggest day in the competition, year or even career, the Tour de France has always remained true to its roots, consequently producing some of the most disorderly, chaotic yet iconic scenes that repeatedly make the Tour just so different to any other. Likewise from sprint finishes both mid-way and at the end of a race, individual time trials and mountain top finishes which you would think simply aren’t made for one man or woman and their bike, on paper (yes you can tick that off your Love Island bingo) it may just seem like any old bike race but it’s the variety, the diverse, challenging environments and the sheer fact that anything can happen, at any time and have an enormous bearing on both the rest of the day’s activities but also the rest of the competition itself. How many other sporting events can you name that are affected so strikingly in the same way?
Looking solely at this year’s tour, even amid those who feel ‘pied off’ at the difficult days and loss of integrity that the sport of cycling, most notably the Tour de France has suffered in recent years, it almost feels that the sport has overcome its challenges and regained both its image and its appreciation among fans. Team Sky in a similar fashion to so-called ‘super-clubs’ in football may well have been criticised for what is seen widely as its dominance in the sport through financial backing and a genuine ambition to not only acquire some of the most talented cyclists at present but more so to always be the best as and when possible, however this year more so than ever I couldn’t help but sense a much wider change in opinion. As where one time fans of the sport would perhaps look and question whether such modern-day tactics actually have a positive or negative impact on the competition, there has been very few voices of discontent during this year’s Tour after a number of impressive displays from top to bottom within the team. And whilst it may well be a question of financial backing, astute recruitment and ambition, you do wonder just where the sport would be without them.
Likewise when it comes to its protagonists, you could strongly argue that Tour de France has most certainly produced everything one would expect in a soap opera. Dressed in yellow and the envy of all the other characters, Chris Froome has proved his worth once again with his third consecutive and fourth Tour victory, further cementing his name into the modern-day fabric of the sport amongst the sports royalty and all time greats. His achievements once again defies reality with no number of superlatives in my eyes capable of truly emphasising just how impressive, admirable, astonishing and rewarding (amongst a whole host of powerful, emotive and positive adjectives) to once again see a British rider as likeable as Froome reign supreme often in the muggiest of conditions.
On the flip side in fellow Brit Simon Yates there is most certainly a cyclist to watch. Yates whose rise to prominence during this year’s Tour has almost gone unnoticed due to Froome’s unprecedented success can be seen as a true victor in his own right, cycling away from Paris in the coveted white jersey. Therefore just as the scriptwriters wait in the wings to pen the next chapter to the Tour de France tale a year from now, it would certainly be unsurprising not to see Yates challenge Froome for a central, starring role in the not so distant future.
The green jersey may well have been the one that got away for Marcel Kittel whose fairytale ending was hindered through injury but once snatched away at the final hurdle by sprinter Michael Matthews, the ongoing soap opera encountered a further stark twist and surprising turn – just when you thought the peloton were heading into the home straight (literally). Yet whilst it wasn’t to be for Kittel, hard-work and perseverance most definitely paid off for all-round good guy Matthews and in what ultimately proved to be the most gripping and eye-catching battle within the main race. Even following Kittel’s premature departure from the tour, with Matthews clipping at his feels in the days prior to obtaining the green jersey for himself, when it came to the survival of the fittest the Australian truly merits his moment in the Parisian sunshine.
Besides just as every television programme ensures a role for a main protagonist, its very own queen bee and often the king of the castle, it has been refreshing to see the polka-dot jersey being wore with a much greater sense of pride and appreciation having been considered recent years as a mere consolation prize for not being able to compete with some of the better, ‘GC’ riders in the tour – fit for a King (of the mountains). And as Warren Barguil lifted his arms almost higher than the Alps that he had just climbed, the true value of a long-standing and iconic tradition of the Tour had been rightfully restored and long may it continue.
Similarly just as the likes of Big Brother and Love Island have their flashpoints, moments of madness and the good against the bad guy, Peter Sagan followed his first stage victory in the Tour with an outswinging elbow, inflicting a crash which saw Mark Cavendish forced to leave the race with a damaged collarbone and perhaps most disappointingly, without an all important stage victory with an all-time record in his sight. Yet with physically injured and the others reputation at least in the short-term taking a beating, the wait goes on to see just where next year’s Tour may take them.
Therefore whilst the likes of Marcel, Montana and Chris amongst the of the cast receive much-deserved love and appreciation from fans of what has perhaps been the biggest show of the year, I’ll take this opportunity to give the likes of Mikel Landa, Edvald Boasson Hagen and Greg Van Avermaet a big shoutout (alongside many, many more). Whilst they their antics on a bike produce much less of a social media response than a recent eviction or potential uncoupling, even as a self-confessed bandwagon cycling fan each time the Tour de France comes around, just as Love Island followers question just what they are going to do once the brakes are put on and the show comes to a halt, each day and each stage can quickly become part of a day to day routine.
And equal to the way in which one by one, each couple sails away into the sunset of a midsummer night’s dream, the final sprint and dash for the finish line upon the Champs Elysees sadly marks the end of another wonderful Tour de France.
Nevermind though, when does I’m A Celebrity start again?