The year 1968 was a turbulent one for France, as it was for other countries around the world. Sport was caught up in the political events, with the Olympics that year in Mexico City featuring protests from some athletes that would later become iconic.
In May in France, student riots spread to the workers and it seemed like the Republic itself could be under the threat of revolution. But it was not to be. The students, it seems, were more willing to challenge the status quo of President De Gaulle’s political philosophy, particularly his ideas of ‘participation’ in society, rather than to bring down his government.
Historian Rod Kenward writes in La Vie En Bleu that in the view of many student leaders, “We had stormed the word, but not the Bastille.”
Still, the chaos caused by the riots and the strikes threatened the running of that year’s Tour, which was already under scrutiny and review following the death of Tom Simpson in 1967. The French government, with De Gaulle’s party returned to power following elections in June, wanted the Tour to go ahead, however, as part of a return to normalcy.
The BBC this week reviewed the anniversary of the student riots, and the self-reflection that has gone into their meaning. Writes Henri Astier: “The anniversary has in fact seen a strange replay of 1968 – complete with metaphorical barricades, a two-month talkfest, culminating in everyone switching off and heading for the sun.”
He might have added “…to watch the Tour de France”.
As this year’s Tour gets underway, as a fresh start, it is a good opportunity to look back on the 1968 event, some forty years ago. Click here to see my full article at Pez Cycling News.