The Tour de France as an Agent of
Change in Media Production


‘The Tour de France was to remain,  throughout  the whole
subsequent history of television, a field of experimentation.’
(Sauvage and Maréchal)


On  Wednesday  29  July  1998,  a  few days  after  France  had  won  the
soccer World Cup,  Tour de France riders stopped after 32 kilometres
on  the  stage  to  Aix-les-Bains.  For  the  first  time  in  the  history  of
televising the race, the television crews went in the opposite direction
to  the  race,  and  went  back  through  the  peloton  so  that  they  could
broadcast  the  event.  The  riders’  protest  followed  the  questioning  by
the police of several members of the TVM team. A climate of suspicion
had hung over the 1998 Tour since the start because of the so-called
‘Festina Affair’. Sporting matters had taken second place to issues of
public  health  and  the  French  CID’s  interest  in  the  Tour  had  put  a
question mark over sporting ethics,  which had been flouted by the drug-
taking that had apparently been discovered.
The  Tour  de  France  cycle  race,  a  spectacle  that  brings  in  large
media  audiences,  is  not  only  the  third  biggest  media  event  in  the
world,  but  also  the  greatest  free  sporting  event  in the  world.  Might
not  the  Tour  be  considered  a  victim  of  a  system  that  it  has  itself
helped  generate,  since  the  economic  issues  linked  to  sport  appear
responsible for this abuse?
The period of purgatory seemed to be over by July 2002 as the Tour
enjoyed  around  122  hours  of  coverage  on  French  public  service
television over five regular programmes. The ‘grande boucle’ appeared
on  two  of  France  Télévisions’  channels  (France  2  and  France  3—its
other channel being France 5). The programme La Légende on France
2  at  1.50pm,  a  few minutes  before  live  coverage  of  the  race  began,
showed a  retrospective  of  great  cycling  champions  using  archive
footage and interviews. Vélo Club on France 2 at 5.30pm, that is, just