x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Motor sport is just ear-bursting tedium - but not in Abu Dhabi

A curmudgeonly snarl for motor sports and bicycle racing until it's down to the final metres.

There is a difference between being passionate about sport and being passionate about certain sports. I follow my football club, Sunderland, with an unrestrained passion as deep and true as it is largely unrewarded, and I am passionate about wanting to play badminton as late into old age as the body allows. Beyond those two pursuits, one of them passive, I can take sport or leave it. Yes, I enjoy cricket, tennis and basketball in smallish doses but golf, squash, rugby, ice hockey (any hockey come to that), baseball and athletics leave me cold.

As for sport on wheels, forget it. I married a girl from Le Mans and, on my first visit to the city, was dragged along to the trials preceding the annual 24-hour motor race. When I could see the cars that were making the excruciating noise as they whizzed round the track - a perfectly sensible route nationale at other times - I found it just about bearable. When caught behind a tribune as unseen cars roared past, I feared my eardrums would burst and vowed never to attend the race itself, a resolution kept without regret.

To this day, I annoy friends fond of motor sport with the jibe that it is not sport at all, more an industrial exhibition, unfair as I know that to be, given the courage, skill and, I dare say, physical fitness that the drivers need. No such insult can be aimed, even in fun, at participants in the Tour de France. Here are men of extraordinary strength and stamina ready to climb hills, survive blistering heat, defy gravity and surpass normal limits of human endurance. Doping is cheating, rightly deplored and punished, but even Tour de France cheats must possess rare physical force to compete, let alone win. Yet the event does nothing for me.

The chance came this month to witness an early leg of the tour as riders who had that morning left Monaco ended the day in Brignoles, a short drive from my home. We could combine it with a journey on a historic railway line, taking the tourist train that travels to the town. A glance at the local newspaper made me think again. Sweltering heat, huge crowds, restaurant tables booked solid... and all to see a long peloton of perspiring cyclists, grand and colourful as the accompanying caravan would be.

My thoughts returned to Paris where, for three years, home was an apartment overlooking the Rue de Rivoli, along which contestants make a series of sprints before heading for the finishing line on the Champs-Élysées. For days, we would field calls from people we barely knew, asking it they could come and watch from our living room. From early on the morning of the finale, crossing the road meant walking as far as the next Metro station.

Grumpy spoilsport? Perhaps, but how do I explain this? Later this year, once sure no one is looking, I will recognise the historical significance of the Formula 1 climax in Abu Dhabi by tuning in to the closing stages of the race. crandall@thenational.ae