I’m still trying to decide if life without the Tour is more or less boring than life in a universe where Wiggo wins every TDF.

It’s like if every book I had to read from now on was Wuthering Heights

I’d trade this years Tour for another Giro.

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Is anyone having fun, or is this boring?

I’m not day to day on my journalistic analysis, but I am day to day on my article-reading, race-watching, and rumor-mill-churning. I’ve read a few articles and blogs that have called this year’s Tour de France BORING. They’ve raised questions such as whether or not the TDF is in fact the most boring of the grand tours and if the organizers have done anything to fight the monotony. I would say yes to both, actually.

The TDF is closely tied to the patrimoine of France. It is less of a bike race and more a display of a long running cultural showcase deeply embedded in the hearts of the French. The tour de France IS France. It is traditional, maybe even tradition itself. As INRNG has pointed out, this year’s Tour isn’t like those of the 90’s which produced expected outcomes, but I don’t think that it makes the race boring.

I’m going to go ahead and throw out this quote from The Rider by Tim Krabbé, though I’d like to not be so cliché, but it’s incredibly fitting and exactly upon what my thesis is based:

“’You guys need to suffer more, get dirtier; you should arrive at the top in a casket, that’s what we pay you for,’ I say. ‘No,’ Knetemann says, ‘you guys need to describe it more compellingly.’”


In the first 7 days, we saw 3 flat sprint finishes, two uphill classics-style arrivés, an ultra long time trial, [and of course the prologue], the rest day drama and the first classified mountain stage. What stands out here? the two stages that end with a kick…. of which the winner was expected. But as for individual events themselves? no one is talking about that. Crashes? Predictable, though their magnitude and who they affect is not so much. What about “surprise performances”? if you tried to anticipate who would perform them, then it wouldn’t be a surprise. The inherited yellow jersey wearer shined where expected, increasing his lead exactly as much as expected over some. I’ve even read that certain people think they should just let him take the jersey home right now.

If you think the Tour is boring, stop trying to decide who is going to win what stage. The critics have been right so far as to who would win what. Of course the prologue specialist won, wore and kept the Maillot Jaune until the stage on which everyone expected him to. Of course the young prodigy has been flourishing in his first tour, over shadowing his predecessor. Of course the former teammates of the fastest man on two wheels have been incredibly successful in their roles as leader on new teams. All of these things are par for the course based on speculation and betting-odds.

But the articles? They’re not at all the same. And there have been some very entertaining narratives written so far. From a narratological and literary standpoint, or at least how I see it, the race is merely a playground of events about which narratives can be written. It’s the influence and inspiration for stories. Therefore, yes the Tour is boring because every parcours provides more or less the same equipment. It’s up to those who watch and write to make it what it entertaining, to make it worth watching, to make the events worth reliving in the journals. I’ve been able to see the “sport reporting” style versus the more “literary” articles, and how these two distinct story telling approaches produce narratives for a varying audience.  You can probably assume which I find more entertaining.

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Sport vs. Narrative

I would like to discuss the dynamic of the Tour and how it lends itself to being more of a narrative than other sports. It’s fairly obvious that the Tour de France is a sporting event. 22 teams made up of 9 riders compete for a varying number of prizes and prestige. At the end, there is a clear winner, though unlike other sports, there may not be a clear loser.

The Cast: The Tour is made up of 198 characters. Some of them are more important, more archetypical, more sympathetic than others. Some never get mentioned.  

The Setting: Contrary to other sports, the Tour does not play itself out in only one location. As a spectator, it’s impossible to see the entire race from start to finish in person. Therefore, we have to rely on second hand information to fill in the holes of what happened

The Rules: There aren’t any rules, really. Not in the out-of-bounds or penalty-shot sort of way. Each stage of the race is races, and whoever crosses the line first is the winner. At the end of the 21 days, the time from each stage is added up (aggregate time) and the guy that did it the fastest wins the whole Tour, even if he never won a stage.


The problem with predicting the race, or picking a favorite to win, is that you’re writing your own narrative independent of the race itself. Not only are you hoping that the story ends a certain way, but there are certain events that you want and expect to happen.  This sort of projection changes the focalization (the perspective). It’s hard to talk about how this type of assumed focalization limits and changes the types of narratives one can make without addressing the problems that focalization presents in general. And now that the race has begun, we can evaluate it in practice. Before I actually do any research, I would assume that each article is written from the perspective of the “ideal spectator” and they are rarely focalized on one rider in the peloton.

In the end, it doesn’t matter who wins or how they did it, only what happened on the course.

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This blog is boring today. I would like to explain the basic principal behind some of the narratological elements I’ll be examining. This ends up just being definitions and possibly justification, with very little application. It’s more about understanding what features we’re looking at in every article, an ever-present and easily analyzed aspect.


The relation between the time of the story (the event itself, for us will be stages of the TDF) and the time narration (when the story comes out) is called order. These two things never sync up; the presentation never aligns with the unfolding of the events recounted. In classic literature, the order is typically clear cut, but not every narrative can be reformulated into a chronological order. The out-of-orderedness is actually the rule and not the exception with stylistic elements such as foreshadowing. The flexibility of the chronology comes back to the amount of information known to and provided by the narrator (a matter to be addressed later).

When talking about TDF journalism, you think it obviously has to be in chronological order: kilometer 1 to the red kite; neutral zone, breakaway formed, crash, feed zone, crash, attack, re-grouping, attack, winner. We’ll see that this isn’t always true, and sometimes contradictory. Especially when the headline gives it away.


Genette calls the duration both vitesse and durée which is moderately inconsequential because the terms are equal and used interchangeably. Duration defines itself as the relationship between the duration and the length: a relation between the temporal and the spatial. It answers the question “how much time passes in the story in how much time it took to read?”

We can sum it up more specifically in the ratio of kilometers to word count, or hours on the bike to minutes it took you to speed-read the article between conference calls. This relation establishes the narrative tempo. There are four ways in which this tempo can be modified; the most common in journalism is the summary which represents a “null” in the story: it lacks both details and actions. There are certainly other tactics to modify the narrative tempo, but we will examine the specifics in practice.


Mood is going to be a bit more complicated, because not all of its elements apply to this study. Together, the mood is the regulation of information given by the narrator. It is composed of two parts, the distance and the perspective. In the realm of distance, it specifically deals with how involved the narrator is in the story itself. We see that the narrator is never present in cycling journalism. There is no “I” that is equivalent to “rider.” In short, distance concerns types of discourse, with quotes and he-said-she-said stuff. There are several degrees of distance but for now, it is important to only note that the distance is usually “farther” than it is “closer” in TDF journalism.

For perspective, there will probably be a whole entire blog devoted to it. But, in a nutshell, it is closely related to “point-of-view” of the narrator and how much information he knows. This is what we call focalization. It’s a confusing topic, because this doesn’t have anything to do with how much information he tells. This is also distinct from narrative voice (I have yet to encounter a need for discussing narrative voice specifically. Obligatory defining link so you don’t end up at Wikipedia.)

For my first endevour into narratology, I used this website. I made little cards out of the chart and I still tote them around in my copy ofDiscours du Recit for practicallity sake.

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Fictional Racing

Before we start piecing apart the elements of the narrative, I feel obligated to justify how this theory of “story” applies to something that is non-fictional. The Tour isn’t fiction: it’s a real thing that really happens. But the stories? Though they are based on an actual event, they are not exactly an under-oath testimony.

Here we have to blur the lines between fact and fiction. Putting it in the most basic clear cut terms, nothing is either totally fact (loyal, true, etc.) or totally fiction (false, lies, make-believe). We have to evaluate the degrees of pretending. As it turns out, Genette prefers to us the terms “fictional” and “factual” in order to avoid the negativity associated with “non-fiction.” Here it implies that fiction is false, where as non-fiction refers to “not false.”  John Searle would say that the fictional narrative is just the simulation of factual narrative: where the novelist “pretends” the story is true but never asks his reader to believe it.

It’s from these thoughts we find Jean-Francois Lyotard who was the first to apply Genette’s theory to newspaper articles to demonstrate journalisms ability to conquer the borders of fiction.

When we read an article, how can we decide how much is authentic and how much is make-believe? If you watched the race, you might disagree with the quantity of information given in the article. That’s to say maybe they didn’t mention a failed attack at kilometer 74 or the second natural break.

Some of the articles we will examine through the course of the TDF take the form of the historical narrative. This type of story unfolds chronologically, focused on the actual events rather than their causality. So, we would expect the historical race to happen as such: the race started, some things happened, someone won. But when evaluating articles we will find 200km colored with metaphors, a span of time and distance ignored and details missing. Does the omission of events make the narrative less authentic?

I dare to say, no. It’s all a work of fiction. That doesn’t mean that the events didn’t take place, but rather that the events can never be represented 100% purely. This is true even not taking into account subjectivity, which is a topic to be considered in some other blog. In this respect, applying narratology to any and every form of communication seems totally valid to me. I won’t really be looking to evaluate what is and what isn’t true about each story; to me it’s irrelevant. I think that it’s less important to distinguish fictional narratives from factual narratives because no narrative resides in only one of those categories.

Sometimes when I ride my bike in races, I like to write down a narrative of what happened in a first hand perspective. As true as I can. But, the criterium laps take their toll, I lose count, I forget, I exaggerate. While these narratives are about my experiences in the first person, they’re merely autobiographical and not an autobiography. They give the appearance of being what happened to me but it’s probably not at all what happened according to the casual observer.

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how and a little bit of what

Since there are a few more days left before the 2012 Tour, the next few blogs will focus on background information, definitions and possibly reviews of other races to help me develop a standard methodology.

First and foremost, what is narratology? Basically, it’s a study or theory of narratives. It’s necessary to say “a” theory and not “the” theory, because there are quite a few, and they are not at all contradictory. It is a formalistic and structuralist approach that revolves around separating the story (the events and actions) from the discourse (the recounting, the story being told) and the variety of relations these two things have with eachother. It is an examination of how things are told. Think about Raymond Queneau’s Exercises du style or that movie where the comedians all tell the same joke.

It also follows that narratology can be applied to not only print literature in the most classic forms (novels, etc), but to almost anything: advertisements, songs, conversations, thoughts. Pretty much everything is the act or product of narration. It’s important to point out also that narratology is not a linguistic study, which while we sometimes look at word choice and verb tense, this is merely to evaluate that there is an effect given by whatever stylistic choice. We are also not evaluating implicated nor metaphorical meanings. We look at the text and what is there, that is all. When we look at les compte rendu sportifs we’ll see lots of metaphors, but not evaluate their meaning. The author will never be taken into account, only the narrator and his role or degree of presence.

Throughout my studies, I will primarily be using Gerard Genette’s “Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method” in both French and English. Not all of the theory applies directly to my study so it will focus mostly on order, duration, and certain aspects of mood (in French: ordre, durée/vitesse, mode).  For his study, Genette uses Proust’s La recherche de temps perdu as an example. Proust provides the most complex sorts of narratological conundrums, but in my brief study of Du cote de Chez Swann, it obviously lacks examples of the most basic literary practices.

In order to outline my study, I’ll be using the 2012 Tour de France, l’Équipe, Vélo101, and Eurosport. I think that these few journals are simultaneously popular and quite different in the kinds of narratives they give about races. Not every analysis will be exhaustive, but will likely focus on an element that is strikingly different. I have the intentions of keeping my analysis of the race out of it.

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At the suggestion of a colleague, I started this blog to help write my masters thesis. It’s been awhile since I have written extensively in english, so hopefully this will help develop a solid style and serve as an outlet for less formal ideas.

What is this blog about? In laymans terms, I’m interested in the way that cycling races are portrayed in journalism. No, I’m not a journalist, nor does journalism interest me. But, I started reading French cycling news to help me learn French, and it worked, and I like to ride my bike, and I like to watch bike races. Combined with my love of literature, which now days manifests itself in mostly narratological studies, I decided to write about the literature of cycling. Thus, The story of cycling.

I see on the internet blogs such as Cosmo Catalano’s “how the race was won” and the Inner Rings “The Moment the Race was Won” and I notice distinct story telling differences, even when speaking about the same race. I wonder how if we all saw the same race, how did we make different narratives about it?

So, during the 2012 Tour de France I will be comparing and analyzing race re-caps from a literary perspective, focused on not only what they say, but how they say it. This is including, but not limited to, time of narration (verb tense), length of the article, and presence of the narrator.

Let’s face it: bike racing is boring. How do they make it the most dramatic and enthralling sport? It’s all story telling.

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