Cycling music tour de france

Tour de France theme

Yes – this one!

If you were into cycling in the UK in the 1980s you’ll be very familiar with the theme music to Channel 4’s cycling coverage. Their daily half hour dose of the Tour de France was what got me, and many others, into watching cycle racing – a love that persists almost forty years later.

Hearing that theme music still instantly slingshots me into a nostalgic reverie for those days, sending a corticosteroidal shiver down the back of my polka dot jersey and filling my oakley shades with emotion.

Everything about the theme music fascinated me. The insistent, driving rhythm. The beautifully poised synth sounds. The weird bendy bit at the end which magically transmogrifies into ‘Frėre Jacques’. Catchy, futuristic, clever. Brilliant.

Back in the days before the internet, I had no idea who was responsible for it. I don’t think it even crossed my mind. Later into my teens I got into ‘alternative’ music, in particular the Manchester post-punk scene which had originated in the 1970s with bands like Buzzcocks.

Years later I started hearing the rumour that Pete Shelley of Buzzcocks was responsible for the theme music. What the fuck? No way! Shelley’s wikipedia entry contains very little information – it just says: “He composed the theme music for the intro of the Tour de France on Channel 4,”

Here’s a fuller version of the tune in all it’s Fignon pomp and Le Mond glory:

It’s hard to piece together the story of exactly how the track came to be. But it definitely evolved somehow from the original Buzzcocks track ‘Give it to me’, via a much more synthy/New Order-ish version by Zip, a short-lived Shelley band/project.

The track remained a cult obscurity for years until recently, when pro cyclist Mitch Docker brazenly resurrected it as the theme for his wonderful Life In The Peloton podcast. The combination of Mitch’s disarming Aussieness and Pete Shelley’s theme makes for a very special show.

If you haven’t yet experienced the joy of Life In The Peloton, I can particuarly recommend the Svein Tuft episode.