With an Englishman as a strong favourite to win the Tour the France, it may not seem surprising to hear that the English language is growing within the race, which used to be dominated by francophones. In recent years and due to a variety of reasons, the international event has been slowly switching from French to English as the preferred language to carry out press conferences and communicate within the different teams.
Last decade, the Union Cycliste Internationale, cyclists’ international ruling body, adopted English as its second official language. This decision is proof of the growing importance of English in the world and, more specifically, in the world of cyclists. Today, the Amaury Sport Organization, in charge of the Tour, issues its press releases in both languages as well. Every day, after each stage, news conferences are mostly held in English, which is especially enhanced by this Tour’s leading figure, the Briton Chris Froome.
Past and present
In the past, French was logically the predominant language, says the Tour’s official Translator, Pascale Schyns. After all, the Tour does take place in France. In the past, France was the one and main epicentre of cycling activity. Riders in the 1980s had started their professional careers around this country and many of them had learnt French along the way, especially if they wanted to communicate with other bike riders or integrate into the culture of their new country. Only a couple of decades ago, it was French that was used as lingua franca in the biking world, not English. In the past, French used to be considered the language of diplomacy, used by organizations such as the United Nations and the European Unions as the language of choice to carry out their international affairs.
Today, English has begun the language of choice to communicate with people from all different nationalities and backgrounds. There is, also, a new generation of bike riders, many of whom developed their abilities in their mother countries, with no need of moving to France to succeed. As a consequence, many of them speak only their mother tongue.
Why is the trend changing?
The new relevance of English can be accounted for by several reasons. First, the British have become important rising figures in the Tour de France in the last years. Anglophone riders have managed to win the last two Tour titles and Froome looks to be on the way to gaining the third victory. Secondly, the American Lance Armstrong marked a change within the Tour’s old customs and language culture after he won seven Tour titles, bringing Anglophones into the spotlight. Finally, the multicultural teams, made up of people from all over the world, as opposed to the fairly homogenous groups in the past, tend to resort to English as a common language to communicate with other team members. Teams like Omega and Team Saxo-Tinkoff have officially adopted English as their own lingua franca, which is being enforced by the teams’ leaders themselves.