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A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1927  Theories abound about the untimely death of the celebrated rider Ottavio Bottechia.

He was found with his skull broken and his bike abandoned by the side of the road shortly before the Tour in 1927.

As an outspoken socialist, it is claimed he was becoming an embarrassment to the Fascist regime ruling Italy.

But the mystery deepens as a farmer claimed on his deathbed he threw a rock at Bottechia for eating his grapes.

Curiously his brother was also killed near the same spot two years later.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1928  Was the first year Australasia entered with a team of four including the esteemed Australian rider Hubert Opperman.

Opperman often left his teammates to ride solo “I approached a rider after many hours on my own and ventured some words in French ‘C’est dur’ (it’s hard), but a grunt came back. I spoke again and again was ignored.

So I said sarcastically ‘It’s dark, and you are too tired to talk’ I was startled by the reply ‘Shut up, you Froggie gasbag – I can’t understand a flaming word you’ve been jabbering’. I had been unwittingly riding with my teammate Bainbridge all the while.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1929  Victor Fontan, a rider who was shot twice in the leg during World War I, was preparing for victory when he crashed breaking his forks.

Like Christophe and Scieur before him rules stated he needed to fix his own bike, prove it was irreparable to the judges, finish with his bike or quit.

As it was late at night, he knocked on every door in the village until he found a bike to borrow.

Strapped to his back, he continued his defence of the yellow jersey. Realising he was chasing an impossible dream, he stopped and sobbed uncontrollably.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1930  Henri Desgrange was forever tampering with the rules but reluctant to change them in favour of the riders.

In spite of the often-inhumane conditions he was pretty stubborn. In 1930, he received a lot of pressure following Victor Fontan’s calamitous misfortunes.

Les Echos des Sports wrote “How can a man lose the Tour de France because of an accident to his bike? You lose the Tour de France when you find someone better than you are. You don't lose it through a stupid accident to your machine.”

1930 was the year riders could finally get help with mechanical problems.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1931  Antonin Magne was a man who liked to fret a lot, an awful lot.

So when his roommate André Leducq suggested he read some fan mail to cheer himself up he couldn’t have predicted it would cause Magne to freak out, but it did.

Magne received a cautionary note from a fan saying “I am writing to warn you that Rebry has written to his mother saying he’ll attack on the Stage from Charleville to Malo-les-Bains.”

Sure enough the prophecy was realized and Magne rode with Rebry like a man possessed to win the Stage almost killing himself in the process.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1932  The touriste-routier category comprised a surprisingly large portion of the peloton who started ten minutes after the national teams.

Translated as ‘tourist of the road’ these amateur riders rode the Tour in their summer vacation and used it as a way of exploring France or promoting their bike shops (many were bike shop owners).

One touriste-routier, Max Buller, miraculously overtook the national teams and took the lead – the only touriste-routier ever to do so.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1933  Georges Speicher won the Tour in style but controversially the French cycling authorities decided not to select him for the world championship.

A rider dropped out and so began a massive manhunt to track down Speicher as replacement.

He was found in a remote village cinema with his feet up watching King Kong and they pleaded with him to enter.

Despite not having trained for two months, he still won by a cool five minutes.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1934  Desgrange’s paper L’Auto was published in the morning, whilst the main rival Paris-Soir published in the evening. Meaning Paris-Soir could publish results on the day, ahead of L’Auto.

Paris-Soir also had its own successful Time Trial race the Grand Prix des Nations.

Infuriated by the competition, Desgrange decided to start the Tour later in the day (leaving Paris-Soir no time to publish and distribute) and ruthlessly launched his own individual Time Trials.

That’s ambition for you.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1935  Beer. Never far from riders’ thoughts especially after struggling in the heat for hours.

As the peleton approached an inn on the Stage to Bordeaux they thought they were hallucinating. Laid out on tables before them were barrels of beer.

Who wouldn’t accept this generous hospitality? The entire peleton dismounted and enjoyed the sunshine and refreshments. All except for Julien Moineau who whizzed past.

The reason? The cheeky chap organized the whole thing in a bid to win the yellow jersey – and he did just that. Naughty boy.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1936  There are many curious superstitions of Tour de France, a popular one to this day is that it’s good luck to get a hair cut on the day of the race.

But none more curious than John Clary’s little ritual. Clary was a lantern rouge (the last competitor in the race) and as a way of giving himself ‘extra strength’ he would spray his moustache with rose fertiliser before the race began.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1937  Before the 15th Stage, Roger Lapébie discovered the frame of his bicycle had been sabotaged. Someone had cut through his handlebars with a saw.

After making some quick repairs he made to the start of the Stage but this was not the end of his troubles.

Because of the repairs to his bike he rode without a water bottle and was given an extra push or two by sympathetic fans for which he was penalized 90 seconds.

He still went on to win the Stage – and the Tour.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1938  Two greats who dominated the 1930’s rode their last Tour de France with a moving finale.

Antonin Magne (winner of the Tour in 1931 and 1934) and André Leducq (winner of the Tour in 1930 and 1932) broke away in the final Stage.

Five minutes ahead of the pack, they entered an emotionally charged Parc de Princes velodrome arm-in-arm and crossed the finish line together.

As a nod in their honour, the Tour unusually declared them joint winners of the Stage.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1939  The Tour started on the eve of World War II and because there was so much animosity in Europe Italy, Germany and Spain all declined to send teams.

As well as being the last tour for seven years, it was the last Henri Desgrange – the Godfather of the Tour – would witness.

Desgrange died the following year aged 75. In his honour a memorial stone was placed at the summit of the Galibier, his favorite mountain.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1947  If you ever see a pickled toe on a bar in Marseille, let us know where you find it.

It belongs to Rene Vietto who had it cut off after it became infected, he joked “At least I’ll be lighter in the mountains!”.

His domestique Apo Lazarides also had a sore toe, but not being the type to offer sympathy Vietto ordered Lazarides to chop it off.

Inexplicably Lazarides agreed and walked with a limp for the rest of his life.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1948  During the Tour the leader of the Italian Communist Party was shot in the neck by a sniper. That evening Gino Bartali took a call from Alcide de Gasperi, his old friend and now Italian president.

Gasperi’s message: the only way to prevent civil war breaking out was for someone to distract the population.

Bartali said “I’m not a magician!”. He was trailing Bobet by 21 minutes.

The nation was hooked for the rest of the Tour as Bartali won by 6 minutes.

Italy rejoiced and political tensions were swept aside.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1949  When the bad tempered Hobgoblin of Brittany Moor (or Jean Robic to give him his real name) was accused of throwing his water bottles at spectators he denied it profusely.

With good reason - any flailing bottle would easily wipe them out. Robic was so lightweight he used to fill his water bottles with lead in an attempt to increase his downhill speed.

When the authorities cottoned on, understandably, they banned lead. Being a master of cunning he swapped the lead for mercury – an even heavier substance.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1950  On the Stage from Toulon and Menton, the race swept past the Gulf of St Tropez.

Sweltering in the heat, the sight of the inviting Med proved too much temptation and a few riders pulled over and dived into the sea.

Pretty soon half the peloton had joined in splashing around with free abandon.

A furious Tour Director, Goddet said “Surely the cyclists should have been acquiring or reacquiring the rudiments of their strenuous profession, instead of indulging in these carnival antics.”


A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1951  Hugo Koblet was one smooth operator, and would ride with a comb and a bottle of cologne tucked in his pocket.

At the end of one of the biggest breakaways in tour history, Koblet crossed the line, blew kisses to the girls, rinsed his face in Perrier water, idly combed his hair and started his stopwatch waiting for his rivals to arrive.

The Sporting Cyclist wrote “Koblet had not an enemy at all. His ready and kindly smile came from deep down inside, and one knows from the start that this was a man without rancor”.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1952  When a bunch of hotel owners offered 2000 Francs to organisers in a bid to include the iconic Alpe D’Huez, they could not have dared hope how legendary their mountain-top finish would become.

This was a thrilling climb and better still, the drama of Coppi reaching the summit for the first time was captured live on television by motorcycle crews.

And so it was the world fell in love with a small ski resort in the French Alps.

A Miscellany of Le Tour de France

1953  To celebrate the 50th birthday of the Tour de France the points system was reintroduced, but this time as an additional classification.

Why green?

A colour to celebrate the beauty of the mountains? Not quite, the sponsor was a lawn mower company.

And when is a green jersey not a green jersey? When it is red, as it was in 1968 to please a new sponsor.

It reverted back to green the following year.