One more French joke

Published 9:48 pm Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Each summer, I’ll watch the Tour de France for perhaps 30 minutes to an hour out of the whole event. Compared to the average American sports fan, that makes me a huge cycling fan.

I admire the stamina and daring of the athletes. Even if I don’t understand the sport whatsoever, I can respect what happens to a cyclist should he, at 40-50 miles per hour, scrape a curb, another bike or worst of all, have an accident ascending up or descending down one of the mountains. I have plenty of respect, or at least enough to pay attention to until the next commercial, of athletes who are fit enough and disciplined enough to ride 100-150 miles a day nearly every day for about three weeks.

I’ll probably watch a few 10-minute snippets of the race again this year, but thanks to France’s newest idea in the field of justice, I have a new appreciation of how devoted the French are to their national sport.

Email newsletter signup

Starting in Lille, in Northern France just as the actual Tour de France traditionally does, on June 4, one month before the 96th Tour de France, 196 prisoners will have their own cycling tour for 1,400 miles around France.

It the first-ever prisoners’ Tour de France. The 196 prisoners will outnumber the 124 guards who will accompany the “race.” In true French fashion, there will be no winners, losers or rankings.

With a ruling tat you’d think would set off the thought process of some official in the French government or judicial system concerning this idea as a whole, the prisoners will not be allowed to form breakaway sprints during the race.

The prisoner peloton will stop in 17 towns and sleep in hotels. The Tour will finish in Paris, just as it traditionally does in the pro race.

“It’s a kind of escape for us, a chance to break away from the daily reality of prison,” said a 48-year-old prisoner in Nantes at, according to a Reuters story, “the official launch of the event.”

That’s fine, theoretically, except there was a reason why the convicts were deemed to need the “daily reality of prison.” And I’m sure he just didn’t get the interoffice memo, or the word from the PR guy before the “official launch,” about not mentioning anything to do with a “break away.”