The Tour de France impacts different people in different ways. This is precisely what makes it so captivating to such a broad audience.
Last week I shared a conversation with Armchair Annie and the reasons why these are one of my favourite parts of July. “For me, Armchair Annie, and her excited summaries, typifies one of the Tour’s biggest group of fans,” I wrote.
“She’s not your average, skinny, white, Lycra-clad male. She’s certainly not a MAMIL. She’s in her 60s, approaching retirement, and, in the search for purposeful activity beyond her incredible professional achievements, she has recently taken up sport for the first time in her life.” Like most of the Tour’s audience, Annie fits an annual Tour de France binge around a life full of other things.
In Australia, this older demographic is one of the Tour’s largest and most loyal audiences. Buoyed by Armchair Annie’s Rest Day Recap from the first week of the Tour, I found myself checking my inbox in anticipation of her take on week two.
“I just sent you an email from the very armchair I leapt out of when Michael Matthews won!” Annie said via text message on Sunday. I clicked through straight away. She writes with a real life excitement and honesty that’s edited out of press releases and news stories. I like that she simply tells it how it is.
“I just finished a huge week at work with long days, so was disappointed to miss out seeing Stage 12. Too tired to sit up for the live stage, left home before the morning re-run and back home after the afternoon re-run. Looking forward to retirement when I can watch it whenever it's on...”
Ahh, the middle of the Tour. That time when people are eager to know what happens, haven’t fully switched into the late night viewing time zone, and are partially saving themselves for a massive final week. You’re not alone, Annie!
“From what I hear it sounds like Aru deserved the yellow jersey fair and square after that stage and Froome might have run out of fuel at the end from not eating properly. That happened to me a couple of times when I was out rowing. It's awful and there’s nothing you can do about it at the time except to try and stay upright and not totally collapse.”
Something I love about sport is that as someone experiences its many challenges in their own lives, they can relate in very embodied and empathetic ways to the athletes they see on the world stage. As the saying goes, “It doesn’t get easier, you just go faster.”
“We watched the first half of Stage 14 last night. Mathews had said earlier he had his eyes set on this stage. He'd come third by a whisker last week, and second on Stage 3,” Annie continued.
“We woke up early on Sunday morning in time to watch the re-run. There was Mathews all through Stage 14 giving himself the best chance. All those months and years of training. People I've been talking to have agreed he'd be a favourite to win it. But how hard is that when there's all that pressure on your shoulders and the expectation of a nation.
“Being favourite doesn't seem to help you win the Melbourne Cup, the Olympics or even Masterchef for that matter. It can be a jinx.”
It’s funny what a little extra perspective brings to our understandings of the event. We’ve watched Matthews come so close so many times in this Tour, the pressure must have been huge.
“As they went through the final 200 metres I thought it could have been any one of them for the win. It was nail biting. Then he came up and rode out around them like a champion and pushed through with all his might. As he raised his arms in the air I jumped up and down with excitement. My eyes were teary as I shared in his joy - just like years ago when Stuey O'Grady first won a stage, and Cathy Freeman won the 400m, and Cadel Evans won the Tour.”
In the same way that we can empathise with the pain and the pressure other athletes go through, feelings of joy and pride are an incredible thing to share in too. It’s not the podium that makes Matthews' win special. Or Stuey’s, or Cathy’s, or Cadel’s. It’s what it means within their own personal stories, how we relate to that through our own histories, and the broader context that win has been achieved in.
“Whoo-hoo!!” came the rest of Annie’s recap, the part that simply oozes happiness and doesn’t need to say anymore. “Hooray for Michael Matthews, Hooray for Canberra and Australia and Hooray for the Tour!!!! Looking forward to the mountains next week. I'm tipping Froome will win...!”
You and just about everyone else! But with some decisive climbing, time trialling, and sleepless nights on the armchair to come, it sure is going to be exciting to watch it play out.