It’s a small detail but watching the TV coverage of the Dauphiné yesterday the excitement around the performances of French riders was very noticeable. It’s understandable given four Frenchmen made the top-10 in a French race broadcast live on French TV. But there’s more to it than that.
For starters, it leads to a race within a race. The yellow jersey might be precious for most riders but there’s an invisible tricolore jersey for the first Frenchman on the overall classification. They get guaranteed coverage, a camera hovering near them during the race but also features and interviews before and after the stage which you might not notice if you’re watching international coverage. It’s the intersection of supply and demand: the domestic TV audience meets a rider able to speak French. Right now Ag2r’s Blel Kadri is sitting in the top spot and he got a good interview live on French TV yesterday. This airtime is incredibly valuable.
This isn’t to say it’s unique to France. US TV will feature the best American rider, Colombian radio does the same and so on. An interview with a home rider is much better thanks to local interest, familiarity and no language barrier. But in the absence of a real GC contender for the race but the presence of several riders capable of a top-20 finish, keep a look out for the French riders in the Dauphiné as some will be calculating for this invisible prize, whereas the best US, Spanish or, say, Australian, is often in the mix for a proper placing. Above all, when the Tour de France comes several French riders will be going all out to get daily airtime even if it means they don’t actually win a stage or claim a visible prize.
The hunt for a champion goes on
Being the best Frenchman has its values, and the French coverage is complicit in exaggerating the abilities of local riders; yesterday we saw lavish praise for Kadri’s “excellent” spring results… only his best result was a second place in the Circuit de La Sarthe and a string of top-20 places. Solid and promising… but not quite worthy of the superlatives he received live on TV and the rider was modest enough to acknowledge he’s progressing. This perhaps says more about the media desperate to promote a good news story than it does about any rider.
Real success matters
But for all the publicity that comes with the honour of being first Frenchman home, it’s still not the same as winning. A genuine stage victory comes with plenty of publicity and the chance to break out from the back pages, maybe even a short feature on the TV news in the evening. So whilst riders do fight for this small contest, they are obviously aiming higher. It’s just that French riders struggle for the big wins so this is a consolation prize.