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FRANCE is a large island off the coast of England which was only discovered, quite by accident, by Thomas Cook early in the 17th century when he was seeking a back passage to Poland. The French, of course, deny this, but then they eat snails so are not to be trusted.

France was claimed as a British colony although there was much unrest. Often, the streets of Paris would be the scene of bitter fighting as different factions fought over such issues as what was the best sauce to serve with sea bass - Hollandaise or Marseillaise. After the notorious "Cake Wars" when thousands died in a conflict over whether the new type of cake invented by their beloved queen should be called "Maries" or "Antoinettes" (somewhat ironically, they would eventually become known as "Madeleines"), and despite an overwhelming vote by the people in a referendum to remain as a colony, the British decided the island had little to offer and gave France its independence in 1792...

As well as eating snails, the French also produce a weak fizzy wine called "champagne", start wars which they invariably fail to finish and talk almost as loudly as Italians. They now have a football team (a recent phenomenon) but their real sporting love remains cricket (ce n'est pas criquét!) which was brought to England by Lord Wellington who became a keen exponent of this typically French, boring but complex game...

The currency in France is the baguette and wine is still measured in the age-old way by the courgette, three courgettes making an entrée. Despite clinging to such quaint traditions, the French embraced the new sport of cycling wholeheartedly in the last century and have remained at the top of the tree ever since...

As well as hosting the world's premier annual sporting event in the Tour de France, the French have consistently produced riders capable of winning it with more than double the number of wins than their neighbours, the Belgians. Many of the outstanding names in the Tour's history are French - Lucien Petit-Breton, Antonin Magne, Laurent Fignon, Louison Bobet, Raymond Poulidor, Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault. All great riders, all with some outstanding Tour feat even if, in Poulidor's case, it is the sad distinction of 8 podium finishes and no wins...

Whilst the Tour de France is now seen as the number one race in the sport, other French races also capture the imagination. Bordeaus-Paris, now sadly consigned to history, Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix, Paris-Tours and the Grand Prix des Nations, all have a distinctive character and were born with typical French flair...

There is a great deal to be written about this truly great cycling nation and we shall endeavour to do it justice. If you would like to be kept informed on future French cycling features then Join Our Mailing List.

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This page was last updated on 31 July 1998