How soon is too soon?

I was walking round the supermarket yesterday and suddenly realised that a) I was wearing my mask, and b) everyone else I could see was also wearing masks. My mind then suddenly exploded into a spider diagram of related realisations: we are still currently in the midst of a global pandemic; nothing is normal; some things seem normal; but nothing is normal.

I have been, and remain, very lucky (or privileged? I don’t know if there’s distinction between these concepts) that my sudden existential Covid crises are rare and that, by and large, I am not directly affected by it on a day to day basis.

I remember having similar, sudden realisations earlier on in the situation which were much bleaker: I would suddenly rememember *everything* that was unfolding from the street I live on to across the world, and fall headlong into an abyss of despair. It rarely lasted long, but it was a very unpleasant sensation. Again, it is hard to overstate the privilege I have that this is as unpleasant as it has gotten for me.

With this in mind, I’ve been looking forward to the return of the Tour de France with very mixed feelings. The postponement along with almost every other sporting/cultural event this year felt inevitable and right. When the new date was announced for it to be held in late August and early September it definitely felt too soon. In fact, I can’t remember when the new date was announced, but it came at a time when those dates seemed like nothing short of arrogance or, at best, a gamble.

But here we are. It’s the 1st of September and I’ve enjoyed the first few stages of a semi-normal large-scale sporting event, complete with crowds and TV coverage and teams from around the world descending on one place. As a small(er) scale analogue for the Olympics, it’s fairly apt.

It’s been enjoyable so far – the coverage has been good despite the split production teams. Only a reduced number of press can report from the location; ITV’s main team are based at Leeds Castle – in Kent – just to add to the geographical confusion.

The TV pictures have been great – the camera and production team behind the Tour de France are world-class and are just so good at their jobs. The TV pictures are one of my favourite elements of the whole event. The aerial shots, the pictures from the intrepid motorbikes on the road, and the macro and micro shots of French scenery just make it so epic.

And the sporting action has been great. Clearly there are a lot of riders who have been champing at the proverbial to get back on their bikes and there have already been some incredible efforts – while for others the timing has not worked out and some big names are missing from this year’s race.

It’s obvious to me that extrapolating any of the logistics behind an event like this to one on the scale of the Olympics makes it immediately clear that the postponement of that for a whole year was the right decision.

I’m glad that the TdF is back, but it still feels slightly like a guilty pleasure – for this spectacle to take place, a huge number of risks have to be taken for a huge number of people across a variety of locations. And all trhoughout a country which is carefully watching as its case counts rise again.

The elephant in the room is whether the Tour will complete all 21 stages and have its trademark finish on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in three weeks’ time. I don’t know. I feel like it must, and I expect that although they will be taking a lot of precautions, there is too much momentum behind the event to stop it. But when one considers what else has been stopped this year for the same reasons… We’ll see?

PS: title

The London stage of the Tour of Britain

The Ovo Energy Tour of Britain concluded on Sunday in London with a 77km set of laps around central London. Having watched this year’s Tour de France, and seen most of this week’s Tour of Britain stages, I was thrilled to get a chance to see some of the world’s best riders up close. And with the London stage being a repetitive series of laps, there were plenty of opportunities to see the riders from lots of different angles and vantage points.

There was a decent crowd – though some parts were empty of spectators – and there was a really nice atmosphere. On the comfortable side of buzzing. The best location was nearly the start/finish line – on an island within a loop which gave two passes within a minute or so of each other.

This was the first time I’d seen any sort of professional bike race up close, let alone one featuring the likes of Chris Froome, Andre Greipel, Geraint Thomas, Julian Alaphilippe, and countless others. And the sound of the peloton whizzing past will stay with me for some time.

Perhaps next year a camping/cycling holiday to catch some Tour de France stages…?