Tour de France
SBS 10pm nightly
FOR three weeks each June/July the Tour de France provides a television spectacle in which very little happens, but keeps viewers glued to the screen for hours on end.
For those who are yet wrap their couch in lycra and consume late-night cups of coffee through a plastic drink bottle, it is hard to explain the Tour’s attractions.
Most of the time is spent with dozens of cyclists in a large group riding swiftly along country roads.
Another smaller group is usually a few minutes in front, also riding at a rapid rate through countryside.
Sometimes a cyclist breaks away from the peloton to join the front group – sometimes it is just a gradual reeling-in of the runaway leaders.
When the cyclists hit the mountains, it is a slower but more exciting race as gravity seeks to crush the riders’ minds and bodies.
All of this adds up to a wonderful television experience for anyone who can endure the punishing time schedule forced on Australian Tour watchers.
SBS starts its nightly coverage at 10pm. A few highlights of the previous day’s events and a look forward to the coming stage and it’s off to another part of France.
The camera shots that are beamed into Australian lounge-rooms over the next few hours are some of the best in world sport.
A fleet of helicopters not only shows the peloton and break-aways at work, but offer spectacular scenery that makes bleary-eyed viewers yearn for a winter-escape to Burgundy, Marseilles or whatever picturesque region is part of the day’s stage.
The close-in action tells us more about the goings-on of the race. Motorcycle cameramen zip in-and-out of the riding groups, focusing on those who rise above the pack and those who wilt under the pressure.
It is hard to think of a sport where cameras are given such intimate access to so many competitors over such an extended period.
Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen and Matthew Keenan provide some of the better commentary in Australian televised sport – keeping it low key and letting the excitement build naturally.
Mike Tomalaris does a fine job as anchor.
Just like riding in the Tour, this is three weeks of exhaustion and commitment that only rewards those willing to stay the distance.
– Danny Buttler