What a bad mix CD from 1997 can tell us about the Tour

Bjarne Riis at the 1997 Tour de France.

by Iain Treloar

photography by Cor Vos


1. Prologue

April 23, 2021.

An email lands in the CyclingTips Editor inbox: 

Hey Guys,

I was busy crate digging for CDs and found the 1997 Tour De France compilation album. Just wondered if you’d want it at all? Maybe for the Pain Cave Playlist or just the archives. I’ve attached a photo of it. 

You guys do an awesome job with CyclingTips and I really appreciate the mix of serious coverage and more light hearted stuff. 

Cheers,

Sam.
(Christchurch, New Zealand)

Did we want it at all? Sam, we did. 

And so, a few weeks later, a treasure landed in the mailbox of ‘Tips Towers.

Ever since, it’s been sitting on my desk as an ornament between some Bad Sagan Shoes and a Coco Jamboo maxi-single. I have considered it from all angles, trying to formulate my thoughts about its budget aesthetic, the way that it first came into existence in the dying days of the last millennium, and from thence into my possession.

Here’s what I found out. 

2. The cover

Nestled within a scratched jewel case, we see a single chainring, a nine-speed Campagnolo chain, and a black background.

It does not scream ‘Tour de France’ to me, visually, although the title of the album – Tour de France CD – certainly does. 

From Sam’s email, I originally held some hope that this was the official soundtrack of the 1997 Tour de France, but – as far as I can tell – this is not the case, and I don’t know whether such a compilation even exists.

The ‘B.T.’ on the chainring is the hint that this is something more … regional. A glance at the liner notes narrows it down further to Scandinavia, and from there to Denmark. It twigs that I’ve seen that logo before on a building in Copenhagen – and sure enough, it’s the name of a Danish tabloid newspaper.

Like all newspapers it’s a declining asset today, but from its Copenhagen base in 1997 its conservative stance was dispersed via a daily print-run of 138,000 copies. 

And at one point in that year, it decided to offer those 138,000 readers a bland, cycling-themed mix CD.

3. The big, bald Dane

Danish cycling was running hot in this era. A big, bald man called Bjarne Riis had in 1996 won the Tour de France, the first GC win at the Tour by a Dane. In July of 1997, expectant of a repeat victory by Riis, some marketing executive at B.T. presumably hit on the bright idea of compiling and sending out a Tour de France CD with a title to match. 

I imagine the thinking went something like this: Riis’s rein was just beginning, paving the way for years of breathless sports coverage in the trashy pages of B.T. Surely a pop music compilation was exactly what the Danish public needed to get themselves in the mood; something to tap their toes to as they prepared their smørrebrød for a July of afternoons watching bicycle sports.

Did the CD jinx the big bald Dane? I’m not ruling it out.

Riis would not win the 1997 Tour de France; his young German teammate Jan Ullrich would rise to the top, capturing the sport’s greatest prize by a margin of more than nine minutes over Richard Virenque, and 14 minutes over Marco Pantani. 

Jan Ullrich, in yellow, leading Riis up a mountain at the ’97 Tour.

As a 10-year-old, my sole memory of Riis in that year’s race was of him having a series of mechanical problems in the final time trial at Disneyland Paris. From shaky helicopter footage with shit resolution, the world watched a big, bald Dane pick up his swoopy, complicated-looking Pinarello, and chuck it in a ditch.

Rewatching it now, 24 years on, I’m amazed at how faithful my childish recollection was:

Bjarne Riis would finish that Tour de France in a bruising seventh overall. By early 2000 he’d retired for good. 

4. The used market

Denmark’s folly in dreaming of a Riis-repeat lives on, however, in the physical manifestation of a promotional CD that got sent to 138,000 conservative Danes.

I imagine most of them – the CDs, not the Danes – are in landfill, although 43 people are valiantly trying to shift those CDs on the Discogs’ used CD marketplace, with prices starting at €0.19.

The stats are rough: 73 collectors admit to owning it, and 0 want it. But there is at least one superfan:

Twenty-four years after the CD’s release, a copy had somehow made its way to Christchurch where Sam had exchanged two of his New Zealand dollars for it – well above market value, but let’s not quibble – before posting it on to Melbourne, Australia. 

Et lykketræf

5. The tracklist

So: what are we dealing with here?

It’s a bad but breezy nine-song selection, clocking in just shy of 36 minutes. Is it contemporary to its year of release? Not even slightly. The newest song on there is from 1988, with half of them stretching back to the ‘70s, and one of them a cover from the ‘60s. These were not contemporary hits, either at time of release or now. 

But because I am nothing if not a Media Professional, I have listened to it twice through in the writing of this article. In the process, it’s done an absolute mischief to my Spotify algorithms and my Last.fm profile.

If you would like to share my regret, there is a Spotify playlist that someone called Jonas put together, goodness knows why: 

In broad strokes, I hate it.

‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’ is beige to the point of invisibility, its key point of interest being the little spoken word bits where, in an affected and maybe even slightly racist accent, Bobby McFerrin starts ad-libbing about how you should get him on the phone.

America’s guitar licks are masturbatory to the point of obscenity. Leo Sayer’s voice would tame a dog, and the Spandau Ballet song is riddled with guiro.

At the dense core of the album, sucking everything else around it into its treacly depths, is ‘My Way’. That’s a frightful bore of a tune, and – get this – the actual CD doesn’t even have the decency to use Sinatra’s original, but instead a Tom Jones cover. 

The closest modern analog I can come up with for this compilation is a Chris Froome training playlist, and that’s not much of a compliment.

Sure, I get it: musical taste is subjective. But there are greater structural problems here than just me not liking the songs on this compilation.

6. A swing and a miss

In my time as an awkward teen and early adult, I put together my fair share of mix CDs. There’s a certain art to it – the rise and fall of moods, the overall vibe that you’re trying to convey to your crush/partner/conservative Danish media audience of fairweather cycling fans.

I fundamentally don’t get what B.T.’s 1997 magnum opus,Tour de France CD, is trying to achieve. 

Is it a love letter to cycling? At a bare minimum you’d expect that one Queen song on there if so, maybe some Kraftwerk. Does it conjure the grit and glory of the peloton at full steam? No, it has ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’ on it. For a race that famously has but one winner, ‘Every 1’s a Winner’ seems like mixed messaging. And ‘Gold’, while close to yellow, is also conspicuously not the same thing. 

Surrounded by yellow – not gold – here’s Team Telekom in Paris at the race’s end, celebrating victory in the GC, team and sprint classifications.

It is a Tour de France CD in name only (although it absolutely knocks that one out of the park).

Otherwise it totally fails, both as something that you might want to listen to, and as an artefact that thematically captures the event it’s a tribute to. 

It’s a total write-off. Or is it?

7. Epilogue

As I finalise my thoughts on the second playthrough, my scorn begins to slip. I think of all those Danish boomers un-ironically tapping their toes to Tom Jones. I think about how far away Denmark – or France, or anywhere, really – feels in this moment. I think about Jan Ullrich’s precipitous rise and eventual fall from grace.

Mostly, though, I think back to that grainy footage of a big, bald Dane who’d given 160% in a race only for it to not be enough.

The last time Bjarne Riis would wear yellow was in the prologue of the 1997 Tour de France, as defending champion.

Bjarne Riis had lost the Tour weeks before, but he really lost it on stage 20.

It’s visceral, the way he picked up that time trial bike and threw it like a pink and white tree-branch into a ditch on the outskirts of EuroDisney. The way the rage subsided, and he bashfully tried to rub chain grease off his big Danish fingers onto the grass. The way he watched on impotently as his mechanic made an absolute arse-up of his Tour de France defence, while his younger, handsomer super-domestique disappeared with the yellow jersey. 

As the picture cuts in and out, I dare you, throw on ABBA’s divorce-banger ‘The Winner Takes It All’ and just try not to feel something.

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