Beating the Bounds: The Tour de France
and National Identity


The Tour de France has, since the late 1960s, made brief inroads into
neighbouring  countries.  (It  came  briefly  to  the  south  of  England  in
1974 and 1994.)  In 2002 it  began in the Duchy of  Luxembourg.  The
first two stages (7–8 July) took it south-eastwards from Luxembourg
to  Saarbrücken in Germany,  and the  third stage  back westwards  to
Metz,  in  France.  The  sporting  daily  L’Equipe,  which  descends  from
the newspaper  that  first  sponsored the Tour,  still  provides the most
extensive  coverage  (up to  five  broadsheet  pages  a  day)  and perhaps
best represents the popular spirit of the event. On 9 July it celebrated
the return to France:
Le  Tour  s’exporte  bien,  mais  aujourd’hui,  retour  au  pays.  En
passant par la Lorraine jusqu’en Champagne, le Tour de France
retrouve  la  mère  patrie.  Après  toutes  ces  chutes  depuis  trois
jours,  espérons  que  ça  va  arrêter  de  tomber  à  Gravelotte,  haut
lieu de la guerre de 1870,  tandis que,  de Metz à Reims,  c’est un
peu  d’histoire  de  France  qui  défilera  sur  l’itinéraire:  Verdun,
l’Argonne, Valmy.
La mère patrie, the motherland. The French language (unlike German,
which talks of ‘fatherland’) feminizes the word patrie (literally, place of
the  father,  or  pater  in Latin)  so  that  it  stands,  in a  sense,  for  both
parents.  In  emotional  moments  like  this,  the  word  mère  is  added,
stressing the maternal role of France in relation to her wayward sons,
now back at their mother’s breast, or on her lap, or what you will. The
two  days  in  foreign  parts  had  been  difficult:  several  prominent
runners had suffered bad falls in the first two stages. But now we are
back in mother France, says the unidentified journalist (‘notre envoyé
spécial’, our special correspondent, a phrase usually applied to foreign
correspondents), we hope all will be well. 
There is even more subtext to this extract. Since the Revolutionary
period,  France  has  been  divided  into  administrative  units  called