The cycling world hour record for riders over 105 years old set in 2017 by Robert Marchand was much discussed in France in a context of neoliberal discourses about work and retirement. Within a debate about work characterized by desires to encourage “active aging,” Marchand's sporting athletic effort was variously perceived as exemplary hard work and productive old age, or as an obscene abuse of athleticism. This article examines the reception of Marchand's record within the wider context of contemporary neoliberal trends in French politics, culture, and society. It considers Marchand's working life, active sporting retirement, and left-wing politics. It shows how media coverage and public discussion of the sporting “work” of his “performance” exemplified competing discourses in France's national discussions about neoliberalism.
Hugh Dauncey researches French popular culture at Newcastle University, UK. He focuses on the history, sociology, political economy, and culture of French sport, and on sports policy. He is the author of French Cycling: A Social and Cultural History (Liverpool: LUP, 2012), and of numerous journal articles and chapters. With Geoff Hare, he coedited France 1998: The National Impact of a World Sporting Event (Cass: London, 1999) and The Tour de France 1903–2003: A Century of Sporting Structures, Meanings and Values (Cass: London, 2003). He is currently completing a monograph examining French sports trophies as material culture.
Jonathan Ervine is Senior Lecturer in French and Francophone Studies at Bangor University, Wales, UK. His research focuses on national identity and diversity within French sport, film, comedy, and music. He has published several articles about the place of sport within French culture and is also the author of Cinema and the Republic: Filming on the Margins in Contemporary France (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2013) and Humour in Contemporary France: Controversy, Consensus and Contradictions (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2019).