I asked a girl to marry me on a mountaintop outside Annecy, and kissed her under the Eiffel Tower. France is love, to me. It makes the hate so startling.
Scores are dead on the Cote d’Azur, killed for their adoration of life. They were mowed down at a celebration of Bastille Day, an unfathomable act on a promenade I’ve stood on so many times, staring out at the calm sea without care or fear.
Yet the Tour will go on, even today. And it should. The details of Friday’s stage may be buried by horror, but the Tour will not be. It cannot be.
There is fear, now. I admit it. Like a low-grade fever, we move through it but can’t shake the feeling. I see it in the eyes of the cops and in the muzzles of their guns, both more numerous than ever. I feel it in the pressroom when they search my bag each day. The riders feel it, the press feels it. Our wives and husbands and parents and children feel it. It is neither acute nor overwhelming, but is undeniable. We all wonder ‘what if.’
But France is love, to me. France is sunflowers and mountains and the best bike race in the world. The Tour is love, to me. It’s love for you, too. No ‘what if’ can take that away from us.
We are somber today. On Friday morning, the Tour sat in silence for a minute at the start, thinking of those lost last night. The publicity caravan, a party on wheels, rolled off in complete silence. Tour director Christian Prudhomme said a few words, visibly shaken. And then the race began. Riders rolled down the start ramp and pressed their hearts into the pedals, as if it was just another day.
The banalities of cycling are completely insignificant in light of true loss. I do not care about GC time today. I do not care about a time trial. But this race still matters. Horror will subsume the stage, but fear cannot destroy the Tour.
I say this because the Tour is love. For every policeman and his gun, there are 100 children and their autograph books. What could it be but love that brings fans out by the millions, to stand on rural roads in the heat and rain for hours to see a 30-second show? What could it be but love that lights up a young boy’s eyes as he catches a tossed bidon at the finish line, or has his cap signed, or gets a thumbs up from a rider? What could it be but love that sends a rider out for six hours in the wind and cold of January so that he can be ready in July?
It could be nothing but love. And in this moment, when the fear creeps in, the Tour’s love is the best medicine.
“Être francais. Se retrouver, célébrer, s’aimer. Et ne jamais renoncer,” Frenchman Romain Bardet said Friday morning. Be French. Gather, celebrate, love. And never give up.