By Robbie Broughton
"The departure ... is fixed ... at 1 pm ... comma." Christian Prudhomme tries to read slowly and pause after each word. The big boss of the Tour is in the village hall of La Châtaigneraie (population 2,500) in the Vendee region to dictate to a hundred students, from 9 to 11 years old.
With just 100 days to go until the Grand Depart of the Tour de France, 10,000 French school children took part in the second edition of the "Dictée du Tour" on Friday. An event that could only possibly happen in France itself, it's a national mass dictation read out by former cyclists, celebrities and the director of the Tour himself. The children all attend schools that are on the route of the 2018 Tour de France.
The aim of the Dictée is to bring the young audience closer to today's cycling champions and to get them to feel a part of the Tour de France. Each text had a local flavour as they were extracts about the Tour taken from their regional press. Forty cities across France took part in the event. It's a celebration of the Tour, of France and the French language.
The nine best students from each participating city will win a day behind the scenes when the peloton rolls through their region.
Back in La Châtaigneraie bowed heads and deep frowns etched into faces reveal how hard the children are concentrating as they scribble down their sentences. Their verdict at the end: "It was a little fast and there were some difficult words," said Cyrielle, while her classmate, a young boy called Melvin, compared it to an "intermediate sprint", spelling all the letters out, one by one: "S-P-R-I-N-T I-N-T-E-R-M-E-D-I-A-I-R-E".
Various celebrities, from TV commentators to former wearer of the Yellow jersey, cycling star Thomas Voeckler, played teacher for the day.
Proudhomme hoped that the children would surprise their parents when they got home from school that evening by enthusing about Bardet, Pinot and Barguil rather than football players like Neymar. Commentator Jean-Paul Ollivier remarked, "Today we flout spelling, we no longer love French: we cut words, English takes over. It's horrible. It is the most beautiful language in the world, it is absolutely necessary to save it."
Nous ne sommes pas d'accord plus! Vive Le Tour!