Just a Bike Race

It's National Poetry Day here in the UK. Orla Chennaoui's wonderful paean to Le Tour from 20.4

JULY WITHOUT THE TOUR DE FRANCE


It’s just a bike race, it shouldn’t matter. 

When the world as we know it is torn and tattered,

It doesn’t. Not really. 

But what is July, without the Tour de France? 


Without the romance, the orchestrated song and dance,

The expanse of glorious chateaux and sporting heroes? 

And yes, we know, it will return. 

So what exactly will we mourn?


Is it the peloton slicing through the sway of hay, 

As helicopters thunk their way through the summer air above?

Is it the proud sky of fluttering flag, of every colour and contested land, 

Masted to campervans almost as old as this pilgrimage of love?


Maybe it’s the tribesmen of wide eyes and wild hair, 

Lost in dance and happenstance, running wildly as an act of presence, 

Spittling beery benedictions and blasphemy towards 

The vacant stares of their demi-Gods. 

As is their rite. As is their right.


Or the layers of history on which we tread, 

Through the ghosts of heroes and villains we’ve read, 

Whose annual commemoration and condemnation keep them real,

As though they rode and roused among us still.


It’s hardly the well-meaning, often congealing camembert wedges, 

Eaten off disposable plates in disposable places, 

Filed in the press memory for the buffet and winner that day,

Rather than the history and beauty of why we came that way.


Nor the endless curse at the damned sat nav, 

Which has led us once again straight into the path, 

Of the rather too gleeful gendarmerie, only too happy to point out that we 

Are but visitors here, and must follow their rules 

And take the long way round, to be played for fools.


I’ll miss the daily parade of energy, teeth and tan,

Belying the hangover of the publicity caravan,

Marinating in the excess of last night’s indiscipline,

Throwing jellied sweets like caution to the wind.


And nothing will replace the visceral thrill of being

Right on the edge of your seat at that giddying

Moment when all enemies and fears are thrust aside

In the charge for the line. Years of pain, fair tender for pride.

 

Originally published in issue 20.4 of Rouleur magazine