11 stages, 2,994km.
|Ballon d'Alsace - the Tour's first mountain (well, sort of...)
The organisers thought they'd found a way to rein in badly-behaving riders, but the French public were another matter entirely and in the very first stage all the riders (except, rather suspiciously, Jean-Baptiste Dortinacq) had to stop and repair punctures after persons unknown spread 125kg spread across the road. However, Trousselier was able to catch him up and win the stage - he had to: he was in the Army at the time and had requested permission to enter the race but was only allowed 24 hours leave. He believed, correctly, that if he won the stage his commanding officer would extend his leave - but it was a huge risk to take because he could very easily have ended up facing a court martial (which have since been abolished in France); and he was so determined to escape that prospect that he set a pace so high only fifteen riders finished within the time limit. Fifteen others finished after the limit and the remainder eventually showed up on a train. Desgrange was understandably furious and announced that the race was being abandoned immediately, but the riders managed to talk him round after accepting a 75 point penalty.
Stage 4, with the Rampe de Laffrey, was where Desgrange must have been convinced once and for all that the riders could cope with the mountains - as one of France's steepest roads (in places, it reaches a gradient of 18%; this has also made it one of the country's most dangerous roads - four accidents to have taken place there are considered the worst motoring accidents in French history and there used to be a warning sign depicting a skull with flashing lights for eyes until someone decided it was in bad taste), if the riders got up it they could cope with anything else. Julien Maitron, who won Stage 6 in 1910, was first to the top of both climbs but once again Aucouturier was fastest on the way down; Trousselier was second.
Pottier, despite abandoning, was declared the Tour's very first meilleur grimpeur ("best climber"). Many years later, the meilleur grimpeur would evolve into the King of the Mountains classification. Trousselier earned 6,950 francs for winning the General Classification. The night after doing so he gambled it all away. Meanwhile, Desgrange's gamble paid dividends - rather than the disaster he'd feared, the riders had got up all the mountains and the spectators had been more impressed than ever, even though quite a few of them probably would have liked to have seen a rider being eaten by a bear though). Therefore, he was able to report to L'Auto's owners that "his" race (which had actually been thought up by Géo Lefèvre, one of the paper's more junior reporters) had increased the paper's daily circulation to 100,000 copies. The next year, the Massif Central was added and, a few years later, the Pyrenees and then the Alps.
Top Ten Final General Classification
1 Louis Trousselier (FRA) Peugeot-Wolber 35
2 Hippolyte Aucouturier (FRA) Peugeot-Wolber 61
3 Jean-Baptiste Dortignacq (FRA) Saving 64
4 Emile Georget (FRA) JC Cycles 123
5 Lucien Petit-Breton (FRA) JC Cycles 155
6 Augustin Ringeval (FRA) JC Cycles 202
7 Paul Chauvet (FRA) Griffon 231
8 Philippe Pautrat (FRA) JC Cycles 248
9 Julien Maitron (FRA) Peugeot-Wolber/Griffon 255
10 Julien Gabory (FRA) JC Cycles 304
|Bahamontes, The Eagle of Toledo
Born in Santo-Domingo-Caudilla on this day in 1928, Bahamontes was still an amateur when he won a stage and the King of the Mountains in the 1954 Vuelta a Asturias. That race that brought him to the attention of the Spanish Federation, which wasted no time in recruiting him for the national team that would compete in the 1954 Tour de France - the team coach recognised that there was little he could do to improve on the raw natural talent Bahamontes displayed and sent him off with only one instruction: "Try to win it." He didn't, but he did lead the King of the Mountains from the first stage it was awarded (Stage 11) all the way through to the end of the race. He won the Mountains classification at the Giro d'Italia the next year too, then at the Vuelta a Espana the year after that.
|Enough climbing talent to make a thousand mortal grimpeurs:
Gaul and Bahamontes
All in all, Bahamontes won a total of nine King of the Mountains (one at the Giro, two at the Vuelta, six at the Tour - when Lucien van Impe looked like winning his seventh in 1975, he decided to hold back and let the competition go to another rider rather than beat the record set by the man he considered the master). Like Gaul, he had the looks of a grimpeur but didn't ride like one: he was stiff on the bike and rode sitting upright; unlike Gaul, who looked as though he'd been born with the bike attacked to his body, he never seemed quite comfortable and would change his hand positions on the handlebars almost constantly.
In common with most climbers (but not Gaul, who feared nothing but himself) Bahamontes had a great dislike of descending because he was too light to be able to prevent the bike skipping around at high speed. During his amateur career Bahamontes once came off the road and fell into a cactus, and he never liked to take risks after that, often unclipping himself from the toe-straps so he could dab a foot on the ground. According to legend, he was so afraid to descend the Galibier alone having ridden up it solo in the Tour that he stopped, sat down on a wall and had an ice-cream while waiting for the rest of the riders to catch up. Rather than risk disqualification or a fine, the Spanish managers ordered the team mechanic to pretend he was fixing a fault with the bike; but the rider has suggested that this wasn't the case and he was simply afraid to descend alone.
|Bahamontes with Gaul (left)
Other riders born on this day: Stephen Gallagher (Northern Ireland, 1980); Richard England (Australia, 1981); Dale Stetina (USA, 1956); Eric Thompson (Great Britain, 1927); Armen Arslanian (Lebanon, 1960); Saber Mohamed Hasan (Bahrain, 1967); Jens Juul Eriksen (Denmark, 1926); Obed Ngaite (Central African Republic, 1967).