|On this day in 1903, L'Auto announced its intention to run|
a bike race later in the year. Six months later, the greatest
sporting event the world has ever seen began at the Cafe
au Reveil Matin, Paris.
On this day in 1903, the French newspaper L'Auto announced to the public that it was planning to organise what it called "the greatest cycling trial in the entire world" later that same year. The race would extend pass through Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Nantes before returning to Paris and would begin on the 31st of May.
The entry fee for the event was 20 francs - a reasonably large sum of money at the time, which many riders were unable to afford and with one week to go only 15 had entered. L'Auto's editor Henri Desgrange was forced to postpone the start to the 1st of July (and later to the 19th) in the hope of attracting a few more, but in the end had to introduce a 5 francs per day expenses payment for the leading 50 riders and increase the prize fund to the fabulous sum of 20,000 francs.
That proved considerably more tempting: five francs a day wouldn't allow the recipients to live like kings, but it was more than many of them earned from their jobs, so sixty men began the race. Desgrange remained unconvinced that the race, which had been thought up by him and some of his employees when L'Auto's owners started pressing him for ways to improve the newspaper's circulation, would be a success and stayed away so that he couldn't be blamed if it descended into chaos. However, it proved successful beyond their wildest dreams: 20,000 fans were there to see Maurice Garin as he crossed the finish line after 19 days and 2,428km, and Desgrange was more than happy to be associated with it in future (except a few years later when the race first passed through the Pyrenees - he stayed away again because he was worried the mountains would prove unridable and the riders would be attacked by bandits or eaten by bears). According to many histories it was Géo Lefèvre who came up with the idea for holding the race, but it was Desgrange who gave it the name by which we still know it: the Tour de France.
Carla Swart, who was born on the 26th of November in 1987, was killed on this day in 2011 while on a training ride in South Africa. Swart was South African by birth but had been raised in the USA - an investigation into her death discovered that she had looked over her left shoulder before turning as she would have done in the USA, rather than over her right shoulder as cyclists accustomed to traffic in nations where vehicles drive on the left would do, and as a result failed to see a truck. Lees-McRae College in North Carolina, where she studied, runs a scholarship named in her honour.
Francesco Moser's Hour Record
On this day in 1984, Francesco Moser set a new Hour Record at 50.808km. Four days later, he broke it with 51.151km. Both of these are classified as "Best Human Effort" records due to the radical nature of Moser's bike which was fitted with disc wheels and various other goodies, resulting in the UCI's decision to issue a decree that the official record had to be set on a bike similar to that used by Eddy Merckx when he set the 1972 record that Moser was trying to break (the Human Effort category was then introduced so as not to stifle innovation, and predictably has become far more interesting than the main UCI record).
(image credit: Roadworks)
On the 15th of January in 1994 Moser - then aged 43 - set a new Veteran Hour Record at 51.840km, again in Mexico City and aboard a bike inspired by the one featuring washing machine parts used by Graeme Obree to set two more Human Effort Hour Records in 1993 and 1994. Note that this distance is greater than the one he set ten years earlier when he was 33.
Firmin Lambot, Belgian winner of two Tours de France (1919 and 1922) died on this day in 1964. Born in the 14th of March 1886 in Florennes, Lambot became a saddler and rode 50km each day to work when he was 17, which gave him the fitness he required to win his first race - for which he was awarded the princely sun of five francs. He invested it wisely, putting it towards the purchase of his first proper racing bike, then began entering more races; by 1908 he had turned professional and won the Tours of Belgium and Flanders, then entered the Tour for the first time in 1911 and came 11th overall. He was 18th the next year, 4th in 1913 and 8th in 1914, the final Tour before the First World War.
|Firmin Lambot, the man who |
won two Tours through luck.
At the Tour, Lambot looked set for second place after trailing behind Eugène Christophe for most of the race. However, the 1919 race featured one of Christophe's several, famous, broken forks, which allowed the Belgian to take the lead. Spectators did not take kindly to the Tour being won as a result of another rider's misfortune (especially when the lucky rider was a Belgian and the unlucky one a Frenchman) and so organisers decided to award him the same prize money as Lambot. Then, after the race, a collection was started to gather money that would be given to Christophe in consolation. In the end, the fund reached 13,310 francs - many times more than Lambot made from winning the race, though he may have taken some comfort from being subsequently offered a new contract with Peugeot with a salary of 300 francs a month.
He finished 3rd in 1920 behind Philippe Thys and Hector Heusghem (both Belgians, as were the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th riders which must have really irked the French fans), the 9th in 1921 before winning for a second time in 1922. This victory, like the first, was controversial and for the same reason: this time, Hector Heusghem had broken his bike and, as the rules of the day stated, was given a one hour penalty for swapping it for a new machine which allowed Lambot to take over the race leadership. Without the penalty, Heusghem would have beaten him by as much as sixteen minutes and 2nd place Jean Alvoine by three. Nevertheless, Lambot had become the first man to win a Tour without winning any of its stages and, at 36, the oldest man to ever win a Tour.
Álvaro Mejía Castrillón was born on this day 1967 in Santa Rosa de Cabal, Columbia. Before retiring after the 1997 season, he enjoyed a respectable career in which he won numerous races in South America, Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, the Route du Sud, a stage at the Critérium du Dauphiné, the Young Rider Classification at the 1991 Tour de France and came 4th overall in the 1993 Tour.
Other cyclists born on this day: Silvio Martinello (Italy, 1963); Stanislav Moskvin (USSR, 1939); José Antonio Escuredo (Spain, 1970); Hakim Mazou (Congo, 1970); Heinz Hasselberg (Germany, 1914, died 1989); Wang Shusen (China, 1967); Orfeo Pizzoferrato (Italy, 1951); Matti Herronen (Finland, 1933).