Tour Coverage – Fact or Fable?

We’re on vacation with our bicycles, so with cycling on the brain and some down time, my husband and I have been watching the Tour de France. I’ve discovered some fun stuff about how the Tour is covered.

I know of two versions of the Tour’s origin – that it was started by newspapers in the early 1900s to sell papers and that it was “invented” by bike companies as a PR stunt. Being in the media relations biz, both intrigue me.

As I watch, I am struck by the challenges for the media covering this gargantuan affair. It’s moving – and fast- every day for over three weeks. And there aren’t just two teams to watch, but many.

This month’s issue of Velo News includes a fascinating piece on other media challenges I hadn’t thought of. Race strategies can be decided on the fly among cyclists in the peloton (the pack of cyclists who ride close together to preserve energy), some so byzantine those at the front have a different version than those at the back. There’s loyalty to sponsors and riders who have been tightly media-trained to spout the party line. There’s apparently a historical code of silence among bike racers about shady behaviour. Team and sponsor collusion crops up – and no one will discuss that. On occasion, the winner of a “stage” (one day’s race) will “gift” the victory to another racer. It takes experience and understanding to report your way through all this.

Reporters get the results right, but for what led up to that they pool pieces of info – gleaned from hurriedly extracted cyclist interviews, tweets from teams directors in the race caravan and presumably some first hand observation – then thrash out what must have happened in the peloton and produce the agreed-upon version.

All this surprises me. I wonder if an “embedded” reporter would do a better job or if the whole thing is too big, complex and established to be messed with.

Does the cycling community know this and accept it? Is this good enough? Does it matter?


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