God save TV and the Tour de France

Rouleur Italia editor Emilio Previtali on the lasting joy of witnessing enthralling live sporting moments

This article was originally published in Italian at Rouleur Italia

Every day, in our era, there is some media scientist who declares television is dead. The internet has replaced any kind of human activity that can be played by a computer, and watching television is one of them.

Numerous neuro-scientific studies have examined the differences in brain activity between what happens when a human watches television and when someone browses websites. The results are interesting. According to this research, TV affects our long-term memory much more deeply because watching live events also simultaneously stimulates the areas of the brain where emotions are produced, whereas web browsing mainly engages visual and logical attention. The two media, TV and the Internet, are therefore different for the human brain but complementary in function.

Being in front of the television on Saturday afternoon and enjoying a live broadcast of the Tour de France stage on the French Alps is one of those experiences that will probably stay forever in the memory of each of us. Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard sprinting, attacking and counter-attacking on the Col de Joux Plane and then totally indifferent to the passage of time remaining almost in surplace before the GPM, studying and watching each other, pedalling so slowly that they find themselves on the edge of balance, is something never seen before.

Stage 14 reached a level of tactics that we were only used to seeing on the track and in velodromes, where athletes are normally accustomed to using all the tactics and strategies possible and imaginable to get the better of their opponents, sometimes bordering on pure arithmetic calculation.

This is a Tour de France that has so far played on the edge of seconds. Perhaps you didn't realise it on Saturday either - just like me - caught up in the competitive fury; but if Tadej Pogačar had retained the lucidity to let his teammate finish second at the finish in Morzine after Carlos Rodríguez and Adam Yates had been reunited, on Sunday morning he would find himself in the general classification with a further two seconds less on his rival in the yellow jersey. This is because the difference in bonuses between second and third place is two seconds, while the difference between third and fourth place is four seconds. All irrelevant and random things you may say - and so do I - but in the meantime, after all that hard work and tactical work, Tadej Pogačar ended the day with a one-second deficit.

Read more: Pogačar and Vingegaard are fighting each other to a standstill

The one who enjoyed it most was the 22-year-old Spaniard Carlos Rodríguez who, in a Rio carnival of attacks, counter-attacks, team tactics, surpluses, and frontal reversals, found himself unexpectedly catching up with the two leading Martians and leaving them there on the downhill slope to fight it out and control themselves. No human being in the world - including himself, if he had been asked - would have ever even remotely imagined that he could win the stage while stubbornly trudging a minute and 40 seconds behind the leaders on the last climb, less than 10 kilometres from the finish. It was something wild and crazy. This Tour has so far been so balanced and hard-fought, so tactical, that it has overshadowed any battle other than the battle for the yellow jersey in Paris.

Tour de France stage 15

YouTube today is the universal library of millions of small audio-visual fragments and this happens because people all over the world have autonomously decided that these clips should remain available in the future, creating a kind of palimpsest and shared memory of our existence. Contemporary TV is this mix of live and digital archive. If you now decide to go and look on the web for images of Chris Froome running on foot and without a bicycle through the crowd on the ramps of Mont Ventoux, Roberto Baggio's missed penalty in the USA '94 World Cup final, Gilles Villeneuve's tragic accident in Zwelteg, all moments that have deeply affected our emotions and indelibly fixed in our imagination, you can easily find them.

Nothing, however, can brighten the areas of our brain, making them shine like lights in a funfair, like the privilege of witnessing those events live. Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard in near surplace just before crossing an alpine summit is something we will search for on the internet in the future and want to show our grandchildren. The privilege of having witnessed those moments live, however, is priceless. And this week, with more mountain stages to come, we will enjoy it again. If you want my advice, don't miss this final week on TV. Not for the world.

Shop now