On the roads of rural France, July means just one thing: the annual procession of cars and motorbikes that is the Tour de France. Part national celebration, part testament to the marriage of man and machine, the Tour brings the world’s media to far flung corners of France, as they cover the stately progress of drivers and riders alike.
Thousands of spectators line the streets every day, hoping to catch one of the bottles of mineral water or promotional clothing that the drivers and their assistants throw out continually.
“It’s a test of endurance, keeping up a steady stream of day-glo headwear hour after hour” said Giles Martin, a baseball-cap-chucker with team Skoda. “But it’s so satisfying when you land one on a little kid’s head.”
However, this year’s Tour has been hit by protests about its environmental impact, with the towns and villages the motorists pass through having to balance the tourism spending against the cost of cleaning up an estimated 200 tons of leftover branded freebies a day.
“Protests? Nonsense, it’s a wonderful atmosphere” scoffed M Martin. “Fans cheering us, beautiful views, lovely cafés to stop at for a croissant and a couple of Gitanes, then on our way again at a leisurely 25 miles an hour – c’est la vie en rose!”
“The only problem,” he went on, “is everywhere we go – and I mean everywhere! – there’s these bloody cyclists clogging up the place, cutting across corners and weaving in and out – treating the road like a racetrack! It gets really stressful. Next year I’m throwing tin tacks.”