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Analysis: Tour historian Christopher Thompson reflects on 110 years of French culture

The French drought

Both in reading Thompson’s book and speaking to him, it becomes clear that the stars of the Tour de France forged a connection with French culture that is more profound than that North Americans develop with their athletes, who are seen more as freakish baubles than essential fibers to the national cloth. Taking this into consideration, what does Thompson make of the reality that no Frenchman has won the Tour since Bernard Hinault in 1985 — a 28-year drought?

“I think that’s a major ingredient in perhaps declining interest,” he said. “I think the doping scandals and the failure of French cycling to produce a potential winner are major issues.”

While international interest in the Tour has never been stronger, the flagging native passion Thompson senses points back again at the Tour’s inability to get a handle on its doping problems.

“There is also a sense that one of the reasons the French have been unable to produce a potential winner — and I think this is a fair point — is that the French have been at the forefront of the anti-doping crusade, particularly since the Festina Affair in 1998,” he said.

For many French, their country’s inability to deliver a winner for nearly three decades can be pinned on their own attempts to race clean.