Cycling, Bread and Circuses? Le Tour comes to Yorkshire
With just one month left to go before we welcome the Tour de France to Yorkshire, we begin a series of blog posts inspired by cycling. In today's post, Professor Karl Spracklen shares his plans for spending the day of the event and how we can tie it in with traditional ideas of leisure and freedom.
I go to one of my favourite local pubs in my home town. The front of the pub now has a big yellow bicycle attached to it. Inside, I order a pint of Le Champion, a real-ale brewed to imitate a French blonde beer. There is no way of getting away from it: Le Tour is coming to Yorkshire, and Skipton, where I live, is right in the middle of it. There are flags everywhere, and bikes in shop windows, and posters offering various tours and cycling trips, and of course there seem to be more and more cyclists every day. The route of the first stage comes through Skipton after it has left Ilkley, and turns right into the town centre at a mini-roundabout a hundred metres from my house. The second stage passes near Bolton Abbey, still in striking distance for keen spectators. Skipton is always packed on a summer weekend. Now there are reports there will be so many people watching the cycling that the town may have to be closed to further visitors on the day.
My dad is getting excited, and will be coming over to watch it with us. He was a young cyclist, and a fan of Le Tour, so much so that he cycled to France as a teenager. His knees are not good enough now for him to cycle, but he will stand with us at the roundabout, or up the road, if we can find a place in the crush. I’m not a fan of watching cycling, or cycling itself. But I will be watching the mad procession of sponsors’ vehicles, media vans, camera motorbikes and professional cyclists go past on the way to Paris (via York) – as long as I am not put off by the crowds and the cyclists and the awfulness of the marketing gimmicks. The message from people in tourism is this is great for Yorkshire because businesses will be making money. Politicians are also telling us to feel happy that we have won the right to host Le Tour.
Image used under creative commons licence and courtesy of Paisley Scotland.
My own research shows how leisure activities bring out the good in us, but also how so much of our leisure lives today are managed. Leisure activities have value if they are freely chosen, if they generate a sense of belonging, and if they are not part of some trick to take our money. The Roman satirist Juvenal was the first person to point out how leisure activities are used by the people with power to keep their power, and stop people from complaining about the lack of freedom. At the moment, Le Tour coming to Yorkshire feels more like a trick to take our money and keep us in chains than something that will bring communities and families closer together. As the bikes go through on the newly-surfaced roads, I will remember the old people in the area who have just had their bus services cut because the council has no spare money.
Karl Spracklen is a Professor of Sociology of Leisure and Culture based in the Leeds School of Social Sciences, and the Director of Research for Social Policy. He was previously a Professor of Leisure Studies here at Leeds Beckett University.