A côté du Tour: Ambushing the Tour for
Political and Social Causes

JEAN-FRANÇOIS POLO




On 7 July 1982 a stage of the Tour was halted by the steelworkers of
the Usinor company protesting against the closure of their factory. On
5 July 1988 the passage of the Tour caravan through the toll barriers
of  the Loire bridge was  impeded by workers  from the Saint-Nazaire
shipyards  demonstrating  in  support  of  increased  wages.  On  3  July
1990  sheep  farmers  erected  barricades  on  the  route  of  the  Tour  in
order to protest against falling prices for lamb.
INTRODUCTION
For  some  20 years—in the  wake  of  increased media coverage  of  the
race—the  Tour  de  France  has  become  the  scene  of  a  range  of
interventions  varying  from the  unfurling  of  banners  to  attempts  to
interrupt stages.
The Tour de France holds a special place amongst French sporting
competitions. More than simply a bicycle race, the Tour is a reflection
of  the  France  through  which  it  moves,  passing  along  roads  and
through regions and towns. The Tour attracts to its roadside hundreds
of  thousands  of  spectators  and its  television coverage  is  watched by
millions of viewers. The Tour’s mediatization—which has contributed
and will continue to contribute to its success—has also proven to be a
notable platform for statements from individuals or more or less well
organized  groups  intended  to  publicize  their  social  or  political
concerns.
1
This chapter will investigate the uses of the Tour as a platform for
the  expression  of  grievances  and  the  ways  in  which  the  Tour  deals
with them, in order to learn about the Tour’s own meaning. In effect,
studying the Tour  in this  way reveals  how truly this  sporting event
belongs—socially and politically—to the French nation, and also how
the  Tour,  embedded  since  its  invention  in  ‘popular’  (or  working-
class) values, is at the same time the mirror of a ‘national’ France and
its social and political agitations.