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Le Fric: Family, Power and Money: The Business of the Tour de France

Alex Duff

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Biography: sport

Le Fric is the story of the money and politics behind of the world's greatest sporting events - the Tour de France.

Le Fric: The Serious Business of the Tour de France charts the story of the money behind the race through the age of newspapers, television and the Internet, and its impact on riders, teams and the Amaury family.

Once a year, an 80-year-old widow and her two children in their 40s gather in Paris to sign off on the financial accounts of the Tour de France. For decades, the family which owns the world's most famous bicycle race has stayed out of the public eye. Yetall the rights to the Tour de France are owned by this tight-knit, publicity shy family. Between them, they have the right to set the race route,invite teams, sell television rights, decide the prize money and pocket the profits.

For most of the last century, neither cycling nor any other sport was a commercial bonanza. The Tour de France was a money-losing marketing vehicle to sell millions of 25-cent newspapers. It was a travelling fete, which became bound up in memories of carefree summer days for millions of working-class men and women after months of winter drudgery. It was the hardness of the race that caught the public's imagination in the accounts in newspapers columns that described the gravel tracks in the Alps that cyclists slogged up. Often, with no spectators or television cameras to bear witness, the tales of adventure were embellished by journalists to make for a better story.

Philippe Amaury took over the Tour de France just as television companies began paying bigger bucks for the rights to air sports events. But, cautious by nature, he was suspicious of attempts by his executives to make the race part of a global product like Formula One in the 1980s.

Today, in the Internet era, Philippe's widow is the matriarch who presides over the race with her children. Staunchly Catholic and conservative, she stubbornly guards the family's privacy and wealth. Once the domain of the French working classes, cycling has become an aspirational sport for a new generation of English and American fans who are just as keen to experience the freedom of the open road as reading about the exploits of riders in newspapers or watching them from their living room.

Their detractors say the Amaury family's feudal system is getting in the way of the development of the sport as other sports move with the times. But this is not only the tale of one family's stubbornness to change but also about French culture, business and sport meeting globalisation and, in crude terms, giving the rest of the world the finger for trying to interfere in something that does not belong to them. As Armstrong once said: "it's their race, they can do whatever they f***ing want with it."

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