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A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1903  Maurice Garin was the first ever winner of the Tour De France (and was his only win after being disqualified the following year for catching a train).

Garin was affectionately known as The Sweep, when not cycling he worked as a chimney sweep after his father ‘sold him’ to a chimney sweep for a round of French cheese. As you do.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1904  Feeding rules were so strict in 1904 it’s incredible the riders were able to survive any distance.

Garin, winner of ’03 was fed by a Tour official outside the feeding zones but he might of thought twice if he had known what was to come.

So enraged were the fans by this cheating they sabotaged the race with daggers and beatings in an attempt to help their local hero Antoine Faure win the race.

Barricades were set up to protect the riders and officials had to fire a revolver to disperse the angry mobs at Ales.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1905  What would you spend your Tour de France winnings on?

A house?
A Yacht?
A very nice bike?

Trousselier didn’t even get the chance to buy a new saddle.

He lost all his winnings (6,950 francs) in a poker game after the Tour finished.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1906  Here's confidence for you.

René Pottier was leading by a mighty one hour by the 5th Stage so decided to take full advantage of a local tabac and ordered a bottle of wine.

Sensing the peloton approaching, he finished the bottle quickly, jumped back on his bike and with wobbly legs still managed to win the Stage.


A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1907  If you arrived at work one day and your boss said you were to race with him in the Tour de France would you resist?

That's exactly the predicament Jean Dargassies and Henri Gauban faced when their boss Henri Pépin, the self-styled Baron Henri Pépin de Gontaud, decided to participate in the 1907 Tour de France.

They ambled across France, enjoyed fine dining, singing songs and blowing kisses to the ladies before deciding on Stage 5 to abandon.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1908  Ever heard of Marie Marvingt?

She was a pioneering aviator during World War I, becoming the first woman to fly combat missions as a bomber pilot.

She was also something of a hardcore athlete and desperate to participate in the 1908 tour, alas told it was for men only.

Not that it stopped her, she rode the route afterwards, completed it and achieved a better time than many of the male entrants that year. Go girl.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1909  Adolpe Steinès was sent by Henri Desgrange to explore the summit of the Tourmalet to see if it was passable for the riders.

Facing treacherous blizzard conditions, climbing a goat track and doing his best to avoid bears en route it was clear the Tourmalet was in no fit state to host Le Tour.

When he finally arrived back at base he sent the following telegram to Desgrange “Have crossed Tourmalet, stop. Very good road, stop. Perfectly feasible, stop.”

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1910  You would be forgiven for thinking the first Tour fatality involved a smattering of skullduggery or a brutal crash.

But no, Adolphe Helière - a rider also responsible for creating the route - should have omitted the coast.

He visited the Côte d’Azur on his rest day, went for a dip in the sea only to be stung by a highly poisonous jellyfish and died.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1911  Some of the lesser know cyclists (or domestiques) were paid a pittance.

They needed to put their entrepreneurial spirit to good use as a way of raising money for bed and board en route.

Jules Deloffre would happily perform acrobatic tricks in order to raise money, no mean feat after a grueling day on a bike.

He appeared in fifteen tours and his most lucrative income was from arranging boxing matches with riders and fans.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1912  The favorite that year was Lucien Petit-Breton but he spectacularly crashed into a cow and was forced to abandon on Stage 2.

He began cycling when he won a bike in a lottery age 16. His real name was Lucien Mazan but was forced to conceal his rising popularity as a cyclist from his family and his father. He disapproved of his choice of cycling career.

As there was another Breton in the race, he was nicknamed Petit-Breton as he was the smaller of the two.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1913  Early Tour de France rules were ludicrous and were put in place by Desgrange to make an example of the riders - no more so than one of the favorites, Eugène Christophe.

On his way down the Tourmalet Christophe’s fork broke but rules stated that any repairs had to be done by the rider himself.

He walked 10km to a local blacksmith and set about forging the fork himself asking a young lad to keep the embers hot with bellows.

He was unfairly fined ten minutes for allowing assisted help.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1914  Was Phillipe Thys whose nickname was the ‘Basset Hound’ (on account of his low riding style) the first man ever to wear the yellow jersey?

He claims his manager, Alphonse Baugé told him to wear it but he refused as the other riders called him a canary.

There is no photographic evidence of him wearing yellow so the honor is usually awarded to Eugene Christophé.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1919  This was officially the s-l-o-w-e-s-t ever Tour de France and also one of the smallest in terms of entrants.

Sadly, many of the riders were killed in action during the First World War including previous winners François Faber, Octave Lapize and Lucien Petit-Breton.

Of the 67 starters only a miniscule ten finished. The war had ravaged the roads, and most riders found it impossible to go the distance.

As a result of the roads in disarray the average speed was 24kmph (compare this to the average speed today of around 40kmph).

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1920  Who could take the title of being the unluckiest rider?

Perhaps Napoleon Paoli. A bike was not the only thing a cyclist was forced to ride. Paoli careered down a descent and plowed into a donkey flinging him and his bike into the air.

Somehow, Paoli landed on the back of the frightened animal, which charged down the mountain. He finally jumped off after a mile and ran back to get his bike – only to be struck on the head by a falling rock and had to abandon the tour.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1921  Rules stated riders had to fix any mechanical problems without help and had to finish the Stage with their bike.

When Léon Scieur wheel broke beyond repair 40km into a 364km Stage he was faced with two cruel choices either abandon or finish the Stage with his bike.

He chose the latter.

Yes, that’s right, he borrowed a bike and rode 300km with his broken bike strapped to his back. So grueling was the journey that his back was scarred for life.


A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1922  Honoré Barthélémy was arguably one of the Tour’s tough guys and reluctantly abandoned in 1922 due to a series of crashes.

Some claim he was having problems with his eyesight as a couple of years previously he crashed, got back on his bike only to realize he had been blinded in one eye.

It didn’t stop him racing but his glass eye often fell out, he says he spent more on replacement glass eyes than he earned in prize money.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1923  Ottavio Bottechia was the first Italian to wear the yellow jersey, and was ecstatic to be riding his first Tour.

He arrived from Italy knowing very little French and claimed his linguistic skills stopped at “No bananas, just lots of coffee please.”

The 1923 winner Henri Pellisier predicted Ottavio would succeed him the following year.

He was right, his taste for the yellow jersey was whetted and he went on to wear it for the entire Tour in 1924.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1924  Often at loggerheads with Henri Desgrange over his rules, Henri and Francis Pellisier abandoned due to a row about an extra jersey.

It was usually freezing when they set off but boiling as the day wore on so they wore an extra jersey in the morning which was against the rules.

Pellisier gave an interview and said “You have no idea what the Tour de France is. We suffer from the start to the end, at night in our rooms, we can’t sleep. We twitch and dance and jig about as though we were doing St Vitus’ dance and there is less flesh on our bodies than on a skeleton. The truth is we keep going on dynamite.”

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1925  The Pellisier brothers abandoned in fury with Henri Desgrange again and it was the last time Henri Pellisier rode the tour.

So volatile was Henri’s temper, it drove his first wife to suicide.

Henri’s second wife suffered his wrath, when she could stand no more she violently killed him with the same gun his first wife had used on herself.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1926  Lucien Buysse’s daughter sadly died two weeks before the Tour.

Heartbroken, his family urged him to race, which made him search deep within himself to win one of the most grueling Stages in the history of the Tour.

Stage 10 was been described as ‘The day from hell’ as the peleton suffered the most atrocious weather conditions. Setting off at 2am in freezing fog, the rain and snow beat down on the riders as many had to walk the sodden, muddy paths.

Of 126 starters, only 54 finished, some as late as midnight having ridden for an exhausting 22 hours.