Dear Tour de France Banana,
Happy 5th birthday! We have loved watching you grow up into an icon of sports sponsorship at this race – watched with a swelling bosom as you have been slipped from pockets into mouths, your peels dispatched to the roadside, your yellow rinds supporting the growth of a generation of cycling dreams. You are a fruit of simple pleasures and simple tastes – this much is true – but you are much more than that.
Five years ago, when the sales and marketing people at Amaury Sports Organisation conspired with Big Banana for a partnership, we thought it was a mix of folly and hubris. Bananas have great brand recognition – ask a person on the street to name a fruit and you’d be in the top five. Ask a baby and you’re number one. You’re doing great, Banana. You don’t need to market yourself.
Or do you?
Here’s the thing: there are complicated colonial legacies, and there are a swathe of islands in the Caribbean and the South Pacific that still have intimate ties with France – places like Guadeloupe, places like Martinique. These overseas départements grow bananas in a way that continental France does not, raking in about 50% of Guadeloupe’s export earnings in the process. Why should the motherland not promote them at a big bike race in exchange for a slice of that money?
For you, Tour de France banana, the journey is a treacherous one. In the distant French-speaking pocket of the Caribbean, you are picked by a member of the Big Banana Conglomerate that has inked a deal with the ASO. You are still green at this point. Aren’t we all? But then you are delicately transported to port on the back of a truck, tenderly enclosed in a shipping container, and shipped across the Atlantic. Weeks at sea – 6,750 seasick kilometres – rolling beneath the deck of a big ship. From your prison in a metal box you do not see the schools of flying fish flapping around the bow. You do not see the crashing slate walls of water when the sea becomes angry, nor the glassy calm when it is still. You do not see the way that the ship elegantly parts the North Atlantic Garbage Patch, churning it into an ever finer sorbet of micro plastics in its propeller.
You just lie there with thousands of other bananas at the controlled temperature of 17 °C (63 °F) – no more, no less – turning green to yellow as you are treated with the natural ripening agent of the banana, ethylene.
In Marseille, you disembark. You do not yet know your fate. Perhaps you think your journey will end in the produce aisle of a Carrefour. You do not dare to dream that you will find your way to the world’s biggest bicycle cycling race until a sticker is slapped on your side in an intermediate processing facility. ‘Tour de France’, the sticker reads in jaunty font. ‘Banane officielle’, it says below that, a much sterner marker of the gravitas of the commitment between Banane de Guadeloupe & Martinique and Amaury Sports Organisation.
You arrive at the Tour de France. You are transported to a press room. You are grabbed by the greedy hand of an Australian who thinks it is funny that there is an Official Banana of the Tour de France, and even funnier that everyone is celebrating the 5th birthday of the Official Banana. Then, he writes a dumb article in a cafe in Morzine, looking at you in front of him.
Happy birthday, Tour de France banana. I will now eat you.
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