Excitement reigns at my local Post Office.
US postal workers are very different from their UK equivalents. Generally speaking, they won’t nick your mail, tho’ they might very well come after you with automatic weapons if you forget their Xmas Box. They also sport a surprisingly high percentage of lean, mean cyclists, due in large part to their long-time sponsorship of Lance Armstrong.
And so it is that, despite their well-earnt reputation for acts of unspeakable and irrational violence, I enter without fear today, for the route of the 2007 Tour de France has just been announced, and there shall be no other topic of conversation. However, I am surprised to find myself mobbed as I walk in, veteran posties tripping over their assault weapons in their haste to pick my brains, for it turns out that the race will for the first time start in England. After a 5 mile circuit of some of London’s most famous sites, the contestants will race 130 miles across Kent to Canterbury.
The posties quiz me about the London route. Is it hilly? Are there any steep curves? What language do they speak there? I choose to ignore the last, as in America it is considered slightly unpatriotic to be too well-informed re parts foreign, and in any case it’s been years since I heard anyone speaking English in central London.
The hand of some hidden humourist can be discerned in the London circuit, which begins with the Grand Départ at Trafalgar Square, and goes on to take in the Wellington Arch and Marlborough House - all landmarks celebrating British victories over the French. Coincidence? The French might be forgiven for doubting it, especially after their official delegation disembarks from the Eurostar cross-channel train at Waterloo Station.
One hopes they don’t take it too much to heart. After all, after so many centuries of conflict there is no 5 mile stretch of London without two or three such memorials. No doubt Paris would be equally full of such momentoes of victory over England, if only they’d ever beaten us.
The Tour de France began in 1903, as a stunt by a newspaper founded to back the anti-Semitic campaign against Dreyfus. One cannot say why riding a bike all over the countryside was regarded as an impeccably anti-Semitic pursuit. Perhaps Jews have no sense of balance. Anyway, as an assault on international Zionism it is typically French, being admittedly mean-spirited and yet fundamentally ineffective. If only the Nazis had restricted themselves to similarly anodyne forms of direct action - a triathlon, perhaps, or even a quilting bee? But no, it’s always Panzers and Gas Chambers with the Germans. That’s their answer to everything.
Team Germany are disqualified from the 1914 Tour de France for bayonetting the Belgian participants, beginning a cycle of mutual recrimination that leads inexorably to WW I…