The Tour de France, a total heritage experience?


History crosses the peloton, while the peloton crosses History: the Tour de France is a total heritage undertaking. But it is not one of these museumized, intellectualized, imposed heritages. Every Frenchman meets him one day, on the side of a road, in an article, a report, on a television screen, on an application, a video game. National landmark, more and more European, it comes to everyone, as everyone comes to him, in a sunny space-time at the beginning of July.

A living heritage system, each year the Tour articulates and stages an almost exhaustive diversity of heritage (architectural and artistic, natural, technical, immaterial), at the heart of a sporting event. He succeeds where political heritage artifacts struggle to establish the subtle link between the most local collective memories, from the bottom of the plains to the borders of the valleys, and those of the great dates that he constantly reactivates, peaks of great history. As commentator Franck Ferrand said this Sunday, July 3, 2022 on France 2, rarely is it possible to talk about history to so many people at the same time.

The emergence of a mythical event

A heritage object in itself, the history of the Tour has been written in capital letters for 120 years. His dramaturgy before being sporty, was initially economical. In 1903, it was created out of a rivalry to increase the newspaper's sales L'Auto - who will become Team in 1946 – compared to its competitor, The bike. Rivalry of sales and political stakes, the Tour de France born on Dreyfus affair background, Henri Desgranges founder of the Auto and the Tour defending a “neutral” sports magazine unlike its competitor, a fervent Dreyfusard, who disturbs certain industrialists.

If apoliticism is in question, the economic dimension has persisted to become today the success and the world event that we know.

The Advertising Caravan in 1958.

Beyond the race, it should be noted that the Tour itself builds economic heritage. Through the Publicity Caravan created in 1930, a veritable carnival which precedes the peloton and distributes a number of promotional items to the public, through advertising on jerseys as well, it has participated in the affirmation of major national brands such as Peugeot, Ricard, Meunier...

The Tour was born in the press, which built its legend at the beginning of the XNUMXth century.e century, with journalists with an accomplice pen, such as Albert London or the most sulphurous Antoine Blondin), more recently Jacques Chancel or Eric Fottorino.

Their texts generate an imaginary, create the heroes, mythify its great moments and already, the landscapes. These journalist-authors are now part of the literary heritage, alongside other famous names who wrote about the Tour such as Colette, Louis Nucera, Michel Tournier, or Philippe Delerm.

Albert London writes in The Little Parisian Friday, June 27, 1924:

“You have no idea what the Tour de France is […], it's a nightmare. And yet the Stations of the Cross had only fourteen stations, while ours has fifteen. We suffer from departure to arrival. »

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A collective experience

The staging of the race by the press is followed by radio broadcasts, then on television and on the Internet where today during the stages, everyone can control the cameras.

These are live television broadcasts. that materialize the collective heritage experience that is the Tour, from the 1970s. More and more, the staging on the small screen will be done with a lot of technology, to be ever closer to the race, to enhance the landscapes: from the proliferation of motorcycles to those of helicopters, from the appearance of magnifying cameras to drones. Today, the Tour is 2 vehicles, 400 team guides, 294 motorcyclists from the Republican Guard, 43 planes, 2 helicopters, 5 media and 647 journalists. The race becomes almost secondary. It nevertheless remains the base, the motif, of a Tour lived on the mode of the epic, as Roland Barthes already said in 1957.

A landscape experience

The competition, however, is not always intense. And the epic also draws its interest, in dead time, from French geography. An epic of natural heritage where the myth of conquest and the contemplation of landscapes coexist through running and in a paradoxical way. As much as a relationship to landscapes, it is a relationship to “nature” that is proposed.

During the race, the sense that the “Moderns” that we are (in the sense of Bruno Latour) give to it. That's to say,

a nature to master, which cannot stop Man, the runner, who, over hill and dale, domesticates it a little more by effort, suffering. A personified nature, landscaped by television, mythologized by the race, especially in the grandiose mountains, its passes: the Tourmalet, the Galibier, the Isoard, the Aubisque, its peaks, the Mont Ventoux, the Alpes d 'Boo. The race each year commemorates the previous ones, as a recurring heritage update, for 120 years.

Memory Leveling

During the many phases of sporting break, most of the time in fact, when the peloton dawdles, once the "breakaway of the day has left", during the transition stages or in the endless wait for the outcome of a stage to sprint , the heritage device works at full capacity to alleviate the boredom. And there occurs the tour de force like no other, a sort of egalitarian advent through the social leveling of memories.

This Sunday July 3 for example, during the stage from Dunkirk to Calais, the commentary stops on the Turkey festival in Licques, the battles of the Great War, the industrial processes of a local gravel pit, the figure of Charles de Gaulle, the Belfries of the North.

The race thus materializes a heritage patchwork by putting on the same level artistic, architectural and historical heritages, usually considered superior and the most humble, small heritage, vernacular heritage, traditions, folklore.

Along the route, through towns and villages, Comments combine great history with local memories.

From the most distant historical depth, we pass without transition to contemporary sordid news items, such as the Grégory Affair during the passage through the Vologne valley this year. From a freeze frame on listed heritage, an abbey, a cathedral, we continue with the evocation of an obscure rural tradition or a local cheese. Workers' heritage is also valued when the peloton passes through industrial regions, from mine tiles to production techniques, intangible heritage is not left out.

Social divisions seem to fade for three weeks. There is in this equal treatment something deeply democratic carried by the Tour de France.

This highlighting of the “small” heritage finally considered for its real importance thus shows, through a process/device that has been in place for a century, how much the events of mass sport are eminently political.

Fabrice Raffin, Senior Lecturer at the University of Picardy Jules Verne and researcher at the Habiter le Monde laboratory, Historical authors The Conversation France

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

Image credit: / Jerome LABOUYRIE

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