The French phrase that goes nowhere fast

What links the Tour de France and choucroute?

Pédaler dans la choucroute translates literally as ‘pedalling in the choucroute’ and means ‘getting nowhere fast’. It refers to someone who is having difficulties reaching their goal, no matter how much effort they make.

There are two claimed origins of this saying, both from the early 20th century, during the first Tour de France cycle races.

One says that people created the expression when they saw tired cyclists seemingly pedalling in a stodgy substance, like choucroute (finely sliced, fermented cabbage, called sauerkraut in Germany).

The other is that during the race, a car used to pick up the runners who were too exhausted to continue. These support vehicles were covered in advertisements for choucroute, lending its name to the expression.

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Today, the expression refers to the physical or mental incapability of achieving a certain task. It could also be used to refer to losing track of thoughts or exhaustion that causes the inability to move, or someone who is incapable of producing good work.

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