Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Daily Cycling Facts 25.06.2014

Stage 9, 1922
The Tour de France began on this day in 1922, 1947, 1952, 1959, 1961 and 1981. The 1922 edition consisted of 22 stages over a total distance of 5,372km and, for the first time, was won by a rider who didn't win a single stage. For the fouth year in a row as France attempted to rebuild itself following the First World War, the bike companies that had sponsored teams before the conflict were unable to bear the cost. Instead, they joined forces in an organisation called La Sportive and sponsored the first class riders; the rest of the peloton being made up on independent second class riders who paid for their own machines, equipment, food and lodging. Some were well off and rode bikes at least as good as the sponsored riders; others were merely hopeful aboard their heavy, out-dated bikes, sleeping where they could and eating whatever they could find. More than one rider spent a night in a hedge in those days; fortunately, many of them were farmhands who knew how to catch, skin and cook a rabbit on a fire.

Robert Jacquinot
Robert Jacquinot won the first stage, then Romain Bellenger the second. Stage 3 finished at the Brest velodrome, where the first 24 riders entered an elimination race on the track with the last man riding - which was Jacquinot - being declared stage winner and keeping the yellow jersey. However, the next day he lost significant time due to three punctures and Eugène Christophe, aged 37 and 154 days, became the oldest man to have ever worn yellow in the history of the Tour before or since. He kept the jersey until the end of Stage 6, the first in the mountains and the second consecutive stage win for Jean Alavoine - the stage was planned to include Tourmalet, but heavy snow on the mountain forced organisers to alter the route and Philippe Thys, who was hoping to become the first man to win the Tour four times, broke his wheel and lost three hours while trying to repair it, thus removing himself from contention (Tour director Henri Desgrange maintained that had the War not stopped the race for four years, Thys would have won five or six). Meanwhile, Emile Masson tried his hand at a spot of cheating after meeting a goatherd who told him about a shortcut - unfortunately, it never occurred to either man that Masson's bike couldn't be ridden on tracks that goats find unproblematic and he ended up carrying it for much of the way. He lost so much time that his chances came to an early end too.

Philippe Thys
When Alavoine won a third consecutive stage, he got his own turn in the maillot jaune. Thys then won three as well, but even that wasn't enough to make up his deficit and Alavoine stayed in the lead until Stage 11, which Masson won after taking advantage of his rivals' bad luck and attacking whilst they had mechanical problems - Alavoine's chain snapped three times and he had to stop and repair it, the wet and windy weather doing the cold he'd picked up no good at all. Meanwhile, poor Christophe was also in difficulty - for the third time in his career his fork broke; he had to walk right over the Col d'Izoard - which was making its first appearance in the Tour this year - carrying his bike until he could find somewhere to mend it (this wasn't the occasion when he was penalised for allowing a blacksmith's assistant to pump the bellows as he fixed it in a forge; that had been in 1913, on Galibier. The second occasion was 1919). He crossed the finish line three hours after Masson.

Firmin Lambot
Alavoine suffered another series of punctures, six this time, during Stage 12; which rather suggests that somebody was paying a member of the public to sabotage his efforts by throwing something sharp in his path. Hector Heusghem, who had finished the General Classification in second place for the last two years, saw his chance and attacked. He finished with a ten-minute lead over Fermin Lambot and 35 minutes over Alavoine, but the next day Fate rewarded him for his willingness to gain from another' misfortune by seeing to it that he rode into a pothole and snapped his frame. The rules stated that, if a rider wanted to continue, he was required to repair all damage himself and without any assistance unless a race deemed the bike irreparable and permitted a replacement - hence Christophe's penalty in 1913. Heusghem didn't have enough of a lead to mend it without losing the yellow jersey, so he sought out an official and was given the go ahead - but later, organisers decided to reinterpret the rules and he was penalised one hour anyway, putting him into fourth place with only three stages to go. Lambot took the lead, and kept it without challenge to the end.

Afterwards, many fans and the press said that he'd won through luck (or the bad luck of others) rather than through skill. He hotly contested this - he had been, he pointed out, just eight minutes behind when Heusghem was given his penalty, and he might very easily have made it up on the last 773km to Paris. Nevertheless, the French considered Alavoine (the only Frenchman in the top five, funnily enough) to be the moral winner and celebrated him as such.

1947 consisted of 21 stages covering 4,640km and was the first Tour since 1939, the Nazis having invaded France before the 1940 edition could take place. Just as before the War, the race was open to national teams rather than trade teams financed by commercial sponsors - Germany, however, was not invited; as much due to concerns that the safety of their riders could not be guaranteed should the French public decide to extract revenge down some lonely road as out of hatred for what had happened during the conflict. The Italians, meanwhile, were; but their team was composed of  Italians resident in France as the peace treaty between the two countries had not yet been formalised and so, legally, they were still at war. There had been plans to invite a British-Dutch team too, but after the Dutch riders complained to the organisers that the British riders were no good it became a Dutch-French team instead.

Jacques Goddet
It was also the first Tour organised by L'Equipe. L'Auto, the newspaper that had run the race from its inauguration in 1903, was thought by the public to have been a little too close throughout the war to Philippe Pétain, Chief of Staff of Vichy France and to all extents and purposes a puppet president put into power by the Nazis; this was seen as tantamount to collaboration (a charge not wholly deserved - Goddet, editor of the paper and director of the Tour since Desgrange returned, had acted in an extremely questionable manner in the past, such as when he hired out his Velodrome d'hiver to be used as a rally venue by French Fascists before the War and later handed over the keys in 1942 so that the Nazis could use it to imprison 13,152 Jews, who were kept there in shocking conditions for eight days before being transported to concentration camps. For reasons unknown, he preferred never to discuss this, not even to claim he'd been forced; while there is truth in the saying that we should not judge one era by the standards of another, we must be open to the possibility that Goddet was an antisemite and played a part in a terrible crime against humanity. Yet, antisemites come in many different varieties and it should not automatically be thought that either he or his newspaper were by any means pro-Nazi, or anti-free France - at great personal risk, he permitted the printing presses to be used for the production of Resistance literature). It seems that the government was convinced; as the public were not it would appear that an unofficial deal was brokered - L'Auto, which would have suffered a slump in sales anyway, was closed and the government looked as thought they were tough on collaborators. The owners and editors then moved right across the road into a building (which, conveniently, they already owned) where they were permitted to set up L'Equipe.

The race did not automatically cross the road with them, though: Sports and Miroir Sprint, two popular magazines, had joined forces and were bidding to take it over. Rather than giving it to whichever title could offer them the most money for the honour, like most governments would have done, the French government decided that a better way would be to let them both organise races on the same sort of scale as the Tour and then choose whichever one did the best job. L'Equipe enlisted the assistance of Le Parisien Libéré (owned by Émilion Amaury who, in 1962, would join Goddet as co-director of the Tour. Later, he would buy L'Equipe and began building the empire that became the Amaury Sport Organisation - which owns and runs the Tour to this day). L'Equipe's race, La Course du Tour de France, was judged most successful; the right to revive the Tour was theirs.

The 1947 Tour, Stage 2

Many races had carried on through the war, but they were one day events on the whole (the Nazis requested the Tour's organisers to continue, but were met with flat refusal), which combined with so many riders from before the War now being too old - and some, of course, no longer alive - meant that nobody really had any idea who might be in with a good chance. Ferdy Kübler (spelled that way, rather than "Ferdi" as is more common, because that's how Ferdy himself prefers it) won the first stage and was immediately earmarked for future success, but he wasn't yet the snorting, half-mad powerhouse that he became a few years later. Then René Vietto won Stage 2 and took the yellow jersey; since he'd come third in 1939 and was (undeservedly) beloved by the French public due to an artfully-cropped photograph taken at the 1934 Tour and had become symbolic for them of a generation of riders that had been robbed of their best years, he immediately became favourite despite being nearly 40.

Jean Robic
The Italian Aldo Ronconi won Stage 3 before a rather funny-looking new rider named Jean Robic won Stage 4, but neither could take Vietto's jersey. Kübler won again on Stage 5 and 1944 Paris-Tours winner Lucien Teissure took Stage 6, then the race reached the Alps in Stage 7. Immediately, Robic - who would have stood out in the peloton even were it not for his extremely unusual habit of wearing a helmet while racing - showed himself to be a rider of considerable note: at only 1.61m tall and 60kg in weight (he was so light that he'd carry bidons filled with lead to keep his bike stable on the descents) he was wiry and the very archetype of a climber. He won the stage with an advantage of 4'36".

Another Franco-Italian, Fermo Camellini took Stage 8, then Vietto won Stage 9 and Camellini repeated his success by winning Stage 10 - these would be his only Tour stage wins. Édouard Fachleitner, Henri Massal, Lucien Teisseire and Albert Bourlon (who escaped right at the start and rode out on front for the full 235km, the longest breakaway of any post-war Tour) won the next four, but Vietto remained in yellow, It was on Stage 15 in the Pyrenees that little Robic really took flight and revealed that while he was built like a sparrow, he had the wings of an eagle; he simply rode away from the rest of the field and won the stage by 10'43". He was much more than a rider of considerable note now: he was a very real contender for the General Classification.

Still, Vietto wore yellow and he was expected to do well on Stage 19, at 139km the longest individual time trial in Tour history. In fact, he lost a significant amount of time - some people, presumably fans, said this was because he was mourning the death of a friend in a motorcycle accident; others swore that he had been seen swigging from a large bottle of cider as he tackled the parcours. Raymond Impanis won, Pierre Brambilla - who came fifth - earned enough time to come out with the race lead. Robic came second, and improved his overall time considerably; at the end of Stage 20 he was third overall with a disadvantage of 2'58" behind Brambilla.

Pierre Brambilla
The last stage featured a hilltop prime, which wasn't supposed to have any influence on the overall outcome and simply provided a bit of entertainment for the fans as the riders competed for a cash prize awarded to the first man to the summit. An early break led by Briek Schotte had already won it, but Robic did not realise this and spread his wings once more, sprinting up the hill and dropping Brambilla on the way. He couldn't win the money but, with 140km to the finish line, he suddenly found himself leading the race by three minutes in the General Classification. Realising that an opportunity had fallen into his lap but that he could not seize it without help, he turned to Fachleitner and told him: "You can not win the Tour, because I will not let you escape. If you ride with me, I will pay you 100,000 Francs." (According to some, he actually offered 50,000 and Fachleitner talked him up.)

Fachleitner knew that this was the case, and 100,000F was a very great deal more than he stood to win if he rode for himself; so he agreed. Schotte got to the finish line long before them but, once stage win time bonuses were awarded Fachleitner came second, 3'58" behind Robic - who had married a short time before the Tour and promised his wife the yellow jersey as a gift - whose overall time was148h11'25". According to legend Brambilla, who was third with +10'07, was so disgusted at what he saw as having been robbed of victory that he took his bike home to Annecy and buried it in the garden, fully intending to never ride again (he did, though, including four more Tours).

Fausto Coppi won the Tour in sensational style in 1949, the year he beat Gino Bartali, then stayed away in 1950 after breaking his pelvis at the Giro. In 1951, he was mourning the tragic death of his brother Serse. In 1952, therefore, he had a point to prove.

Raphael Geminiani
There would be 23 stages, and they would cover 4,807km in total. For the first time, some of the ended with summit finishes. 122 men set out from Brest, notable for their absence among them were Louison Bobet (who was staying away after a poor showing in 1951 but would win in 1953, 1954 and 1955); mad, bad and dangerous to know Ferdinand Kübler (winner in 1950) and le pédaleur de charme Hugo Koblet (who won in 1951), but Coppi wasn't going to have everything his own way - Jean Robic, Raphaël Géminiani and Bartali (now 37 years old) would see to that. They had new classifications to compete for - the overall Teams classification, first introduced in 1930, was now joined by a daily Teams classification with a prize for the top team each day. There was also a brand new prize, the Combativité, awarded daily to the rider judged to have ridden in the most aggressive or courageous manner (the Super Combativité award, given to the rider who has ridden most aggressively through the entire Tour, was added in 1953). The qualities that can earn a rider a Combativité award also make the race more entertaining from the fans' point of view - it is, perhaps, no coincidence that 1952 also marks the first year that the race was filmed for television broadcast. It wasn't live back then: the footage, filmed from motorcycles with the enormous heavy cameras of the day, was sped off to Paris by train to be edited and broadcast the following day.

Rik van Steenbergen (whom, some estimates claim, won almost a thousand races during his 23 seasons as a professional - though other, probably more accurate, estimates put the figure far lower) won Stage 1 and took the yellow jersey for two days. André Rosseel won the second stage, then Nello Lauredi won the third and wore the maillot jaune for four days. Stage 4 brought the only Tour stage win of Pierre Molinéris' career and there was controversy after Géminiani and Robic escaped together in a break. Robic refused to do any of the work, drafting behind Géminiani all the way, then told journalists afterwards that he'd ridden intelligently because by saving energy in this way he had increased his chances of winning overall. That night, in the hotel, the hot-headed Géminiani (whose first Tour was in 1947, when Robic won) went after him and pushed his head into a sink full of water - which probably earned him a few new friends because Robic, for all he was a beautiful climber, was not a pleasant character at all.

Luxembourgian Bim Diederich won Stage 5 and briefly got the fans wondering if he might turn out to be a GC contender as he'd worn yellow for three days in 1951, but then Fiorenzo Magni got away on the next stage and won with a sufficient advantage to take the overall lead. He only had the maillot jaune for one day before losing it in the Stage 7 time trial, which Coppi won, and the jersey went back to Lauredi again. Stage 8 was the first in the Alps and Géminiani won - Magni and Lauredi remained together all the way to finish line, marking one another's every move; Magni was second over the line 5'19" later, but the 20" bonus he received earned him another day in the yellow jersey.

Walter Diggelman
On Stage 9, a group got away from the peloton and Walter Diggelman, who rode six day races with Koblet in the late 1940s, won. Among them was a little-known 27-year-old named Andrea Carrea, by all accounts the humblest of domestiques ("The incarnation of personal disinterest... showing to perfection the notion of personal sacrifice. He refused the slightest bit of personal glory," said journalist Jean-Luc Gatellier). Having been seventh over the finish line he made his way to the hotel and set about doing whatever it is that domestiques do whilst waiting for their team leaders to finish with the masseurs. He hadn't been there long when the police showed up, looking for him. "What have I done wrong?" he asked, entirely mystified. They weren't there to arrest him; they were there for a reason that, as far as Carrea was concerned, was much worse than being accused of a crime he hadn't committed - he'd won enough time on the stage to be the new overall race leader.

Believing that team leader Coppi - of whom he was completely in awe, and to whom he had dedicated himself - would be furious, he burst into tears (some accounts say that Carrea was told he'd become race leader on the finish line and that he never went back to the hotel, nor were the police ever involved. Others say that he was told, then fled back to the hotel in panic. I like the version in which he didn't know until the police found him best, and since we'll never know for certain what happened - unless someone risks spoiling the story by delving too deeply into history, you can pick whichever version appeals most to you). On the podium, Carrea was distraught, eyes fixed firmly on the ground in shame except for frequent furtive glances about him for Coppi, whom he expected to appear at any moment to extract terrible revenge.

"Chin up, mate!" Coppi attempts to reassure Carrea
Coppi was still riding when the news reached him, getting to the finish line as Carrea was on the podium. Hearing of his domestique's distress, he went straight to congratulate him and did all he could to reassure him that he was pleased rather than angry, but Carrea was not convinced and worried that his master would punish him later on where no journalists were around to see it or at a later date in the peloton, where the worst retribution of all is meted out. Coppi later wrote, "Carrea gave everything to me. In return I offered him only money. I know very well that if he was not my team-mate he would earn much less, and when all is said and done he is happy and many of his comrades envy him, but I personally think he deserves more than he has the right to: a little of intoxication of triumph. I had a way of settling the debt: it was to let him wear the jersey for a few days. Do you know what he said to the journalists the next evening after he had taken the jersey? That it was not right for a soldier to leave his captain."

The following morning, Carrea made a point of being photographed by journalists as he polished his leader's shoes. He died on the 13th of January this year, and his passing was not nearly as widely reported as it should have been.

Bartali knew his career was at an end. He handed over
his rear wheel - and the future - to Coppi
Stage 10 featured the first ever inclusion of a mountain that, with the possible exception of Ventoux, has become a symbol of the Tour: Alpe d'Huez. Robic had the face of a gargoyle and the personality of a turd, but he had the wings of an angel and when he unfurled them on the Alpe only Coppi could follow - with difficulty. Fate intervened; Robic punctured, Coppi rode away and won the stage. Carrea would have been happy to surrender the maillot jaune to anybody; he was, of course, delighted to give it to Coppi. On Stage 11, the French team led by Géminiani attacked him hard, but he easily overcame them all. On Stage 12, when Coppi punctured, Bartali stopped and handed him his own back wheel: a small event, really, but in reality a great deal more than a rim, a hub and some spokes changed hands - since Coppi's first victory three years earlier, the Tour had been in a transitional period; now a new era began. Coppi, for all he respected Bartali (though it would be hard to describe them as friends) might have liked it to have begun few years earlier - he was already 33. He wore the maillot jaune for the rest of the race and most of the other riders gave up hope. Goddet doubled the prize money for second place on Stage 16 in an attempt to keep things interesting, but nobody cared.

The following stages came and went; Robic won another and so did Géminiani, Magni and Rosseel. Géminiani's win was Stage 17 after he escaped the peloton in a desperate attempt to make up his 52' disadvantage, but Coppi didn't even bother to chase him. On Stage 18 in the Pyrenees, Coppi was the first rider to the summit of the last mountain. On the way down, he sat up, enjoyed the view, even stopped at a cafe for a sandwich and a cup of coffee and didn't look at all concerned when the main field caught up with him - then he won the final sprint to the finish line. After Stage 21, he led by 31' and so in the time trial the following day he rode around the parcours looking like a recreational cyclist on a Sunday jaunt, came fourteenth and yet still led by 28' overall. 150,000 spectators, a new record, turned out to see him start the final stage in Vichy, and when he finished he won the Tour by 28'17". Carrea was ninth, 50'20" down, by far the best result of his ten-year career.

In 1959 there were 22 stages, covering 4,391km in total. 120 riders started Stage 1 in Mulhouse, only 65 finished Stage 22 in Paris. In 1952, the race had been broadcast on television for the first time; this had been so successful (not only in France, but throughout Europe and beyond) that in 1959, for the first time, a helicopter was used to gather footage. The race also experienced one of its first doping scandals when official Tour doctor Pierre Dumas intercepted a parcel containing strychnine - which in the right doses acts as a stimulant - destined for one of the teams.

Just as had for the last three years, the Frenchman André Darrigade won Stage 1, then Vito Favero who had finished second overall the previous year won Stage 2. A large group escaped on Stage 3, but at such an early stage and long before the mountains nobody was particularly concerned, though the ten minute advantage they won was a little higher than the favourites had estimated they'd get and stage winner Robert Cazala would keep the yellow jersey until the end of Stage 8. On that stage, he was unable to respond to Belgian attacks. Louison Bobet, who was known to be Cazala's friend, could have stayed with him and in all likelihood kept him in the maillot jaune for another day; instead - concerned more with maintaining his own time so that he would still have a shot at victory later - he went after them. Desgrange, who always wanted his race to be a heroic battle in which every man rode only for himself, would have loved it had he have still been alive to see it; the fans were less impressed. So too was the Belgian Eddy Pauwels, who became new overall leader - after being awarded the jersey, he went straight to find Cazala's wife and gave her his winner's bouquet.

The French team, which consisted of Jacques Anquetil, Raphael Géminiani, Bobet and Roger Rivière, had started the race as favourite for the Teams classification and could have taken control by this point; but now it became evident that having so many potential winners was a problem - they all wanted to be team leader and refused point-blank to work together. Rivière won the Stage 6 time trial, but due to the rivalry in the team not one of them won a stage. Just how much of a problem this would be became apparent in Stage 15, a mountain time trial on the dormant volcano Puy-de-Dôme. The Spanish team manager's decision to install Federico Bahamontes as team leader had, initially, seemed rather odd - after all, a General Classification contender needs to be an excellent all-rounder and while Bahamontes was a superb climber (he'd won the King of the Mountains twice already) he didn't even try on the the other stages. The French saw this as a serious oversight. However, that day Bahamontes showed the world that he was not just a superb climber - he was phenomenal. Not even Charly Gaul - who had a Tour, three Giri d'Italia, four Grand Tour King of the Mountains and, for one glorious year in 1958 before the drugs and the madness began to take their toll (and the weather had suited him), had been the rider that many still insist was the greatest grimpeur to have ever lived - could get within 1'26" of him; though to be fair to Charly, who hated hot weather, the day was far too warm for him to be at his best. That was why Bahamontes was team leader - he was so good that he only needed the mountain stages, the rest didn't matter, and now the maillot jaune was his.

Many years later, after Gaul (left) had lived alone in the
forest and then been returned to the world, he and
Bahamontes (right) became friends. In this photograph,
they're at the memorial to Francois Faber and Nicolas Frantz
Gaul won Stage 17 in the Alps, where the weather was a little cooler, and Bahamontes was second; the two men had worked together but the Luxembourgian couldn't get enough of an advantage to take away the yellow jersey. Nor could he do so on the next two mountain stages, so with only flat stages his chance to win a second Tour was lost.

Louison Bobet, who had been the first rider to win three consecutive Tours with his victories in 1953, 1954 and 1955, ended his relationship with the great race during Stage 18. Since 1955, when he had undergone major surgery to remove decaying flesh caused by an infected saddle sort from his groin, Bobet had not been the rider he once was and many of his rivals were probably surprised he was still around - in 1958, going against advice from his doctor (a most unexpected act, for Bobet was obsessed with health and hygiene in a way that seemed utterly odd to most riders of the day), he had entered the Tour and suffered terribly, amazing everyone when he not only finished, but did so in seventh place.

What he had suffered up in the unearthly realm of the Casse Deserte that year, though, was nothing compared to the ordeal that came in 1959. He had been very visibly ill for much of the race, so much so over the course of the two days prior to Stage 18 that even those who hated him (and there were many of those) to worry about his well-being. His body was near to total breakdown, yet somehow he found the determination to the top of the 2,770m Col de l'Iseran, high enough that altitude sickness becomes a real concern. Then, just as the road began to drop and gravity would have afforded him an easier time, he brought his bike and his career as a Tour de France rider to an end.

Bobet was so ill by this point that, swaddled in the thick overcoat that someone had placed around him and propped upright on the back seat of one of the cars that had followed him up the mountain, some onlookers thought he had died. Then the car was driven away, Bobet's bike left by the road in the care of Gino Bartali who had ridden up the Iseran when it first featured in the Tour in 1938, and who had turned out to support the Frenchman in what they both knew was his final Tour. Later, when he had been nursed back to health, Bobet was asked why he'd pushed himself so far, risking his life. "I had never climbed the Iseran," he replied. "It's Europe's highest road, and I wanted to ride up there."

Brian Robinson took Stage 20 with a lead of 20'06", the second time a Tour stage had been won by a British rider - he had also been responsible for the first, one year earlier. Stage 21 posed one final challenge for Bahamontes as it was a time trial. As it happened, he wasn't a bad time trial rider, in fact he'd been National Champion in 1958; but he knew he was very much outclassed by several others, especially on the French team. In the end, he didn't even get into the top ten and the Frenchmen Rivière, Anquetil and Saint took the top three spots. However, none of them won back enough time to take away the overall lead and, with one flat stage left, he had won the Tour de France.

Gaul and Bahamontes are rightly regarded as the greatest climbers in the history of professional cycling, but in 1959 they faced competition from an entirely unexpected source - Victor Sutton, who was British; British riders being considered in those days to be among the lower ranks of cyclists, despite Brian Robinson's Stage 7 victory a year earlier, and certainly not great climbers (indeed, to this day Britain has produced only two world-class grimpeurs, the Scotsman Robert Millar and Emma Pooley from England). Sutton has been so entirely forgotten today that Cycling Archives doesn't list a palmares for him and he has no page on Wikipedia, but his natural talent in the mountains, where he could keep turning a low gear at high revolutions per minute just like Gaul did, enabled him to climb from 109th place at the end of the first week of the Tour to 37th by the finish; on the Puy de Dôme time trial he recorded a time that remained the fastest for an hour and might have finished in the top ten in Paris had he not have shared Bahamontes' terror of descending - once over the summit, he seized up and lost large chunks of the time he'd gained on the way up. He returned to the Tour in 1960, another year older and wiser and believed by some to now be in a position to beat the Eagle and the Angel, but his season up to the race had been too hard and he suffered a minor heart attack in Stage 18, the Tour's last day in the Alps.

Sutton died on the 29th of July in 1999; alongside Robinson, he was one of the first riders to show the world that British cyclists could compete at the highest level of the sport, and he should be far better known than he is today.

In 1961, there were 21 stages and they covered 4,397km. Many of the names from 1959 were riding again, though much had changed during the intervening two years - Gaul was already burning out, since no personality as intense as his can last long; André Darrigade, Eddy Pauwels, Robert Cazala and others had developed into strong riders. Two notable absences were Roger Rivière and Federico Bahamontes - Rivière's career had come to an end at the Tour one year before when he tried to follow Gastone Nencini down a mountain (something that other riders said only a man with "a death wish" would ever dare attempt), plunged over the side and broke his back, while Bahamontes had decided to stay away after abandoning in Stage 2 last year. He'd be back in 1963 and 1964, and Anquetil extracted terrible revenge for 1959. Anquetil had won the Tour in 1957, but since then been unable to repeat it. When he won the Giro in 1960, he confirmed himself as one of the best riders in the world rather than an also-ran who once got lucky; but as of yet nobody knew just how good he was going to be. He had also learned in 1959 that a superstong team made of General Classification contenders was more likely to dissolve into internal rivalry and bickering than guarantee success, so this year he made sure that the squad was made up of men who would accept his command then ride for him - any only him.

Darrigade won the first stage for the fifth time in his career and thus became the Tour's first holder of the yellow jersey after getting away in a small break. Crucially, Anquetil was also in the break; by the end of the stage Gaul and Anquetil's few rivals were already at a five-minute disadvantage. That afternoon the race moved into Stage 1a, an individual time trial; Anquetil was fully expected to win that, and he did - with an advantage of 2'32", sufficient to begin the next day in yellow. Stage 2 took in some of the harsh roads that some of the riders already knew from Paris-Roubaix and, as happens so often in that race, they laboured their way over the parcours in atrocious weather with seven men (none of the favourites) abandoning. Darrigade won that one, too, but Anquetil still had the maillot jaune. Nobody had taken it from him by Stage 6 when disaster struck the Dutch team: a German rider, Horst Oldenberg, crashed during a descent of the Col de la Schlucht in Alsace and collided with Ab Geldemans, the Dutch team leader who then had to be helicoptered to hospital. On the Ballon d'Alsace (which had been the very first mountain in the Tour back in 1905), Gaul had a little bit of fun - apparently without effort, he dropped Anquetil during the last 500m of the climb and rode to a 10" lead, then he sat up and allowed the Frenchman to catch him. The message was plain: "I'm just amusing myself, toying with you. Later, I'm going to kick you to death."

Jacques Anquetil
On Stage 9, the second in the Alps, there were no fewer than four tough climbs. Gaul rode away on the second, then crashed on the third but managed to keep going and won. Anquetil had not been able to keep up with him, but he wasn't far behind; finishing in second place 1'40" later meant that the maillot jaune was still his. Gaul was favourite for Stage 16, but he'd crashed again on Stage 15 and was hurting more than was initially thought and could only manage sixth place behind Imerio Messignan. Stage 17, the last in the mountains, was his final chance; however, Anquetil rode intelligently and allowed only low-ranking riders to escape the pack. Gaul wasn't a bad time trial rider and looked set to win back a little time in Stage 19 but crashed badly - he was able to continue, but Anquetil gained another three minutes and began the penultimate stage with a lead of more than ten minutes. Fans and press didn't like how he rode the last two stages, complaining that he should have been more aggressive in order to gain an even larger advantage; but the truth was he didn't need to and was better off keeping out of trouble - all the same, when he crossed the finish line at the end of the final stage, he was 12'14" ahead overall. He'd also worn the yellow jersey in all but the first stage, the most decisive victory in years and proof that he was one of the greatest riders to have ever lived. Gaul, meanwhile, lost more time and conceded second place to Guido Carlesi. He went back to the Tour in 1962 but didn't finish, then never entered again.

Anquetil won on the 16th of July. as he did so, a race he'd probably never heard of was ending 315km away at Laeken in Belgium. Among the riders from the Evere Kerkhoek Sportif club was a stocky sixteen-year-old, making his race debut. He didn't win but, had Anquetil have been there to see it, he might have felt a sense of dread about the future: the boy was destined to take away his greatest cyclist crown in less than a decade's time. His name was Edouard Louis Joseph Merckx

The biggest threats to Hinault in 1981 - Joop Zoetemelk
(centre left) and Phil Anderson (centre right)
(far left: Adri van der Poel; far right: Jan Raas)
When the race next began on this day, twenty years later in 1981, cycling had changed dramatically. There were 24 stages, but the Tour had continued to follow the trend towards shorter races with higher average speeds and was 3,753km long. A slight thawing in the relationship between the West and the Eastern Bloc had led to a plan to open up the race to amateur teams so that riders from the USSR and Eastern Europe could enter, but it came to nothing. Anquetil, in his day the greatest Tour rider of all time and the first man to win five times, had been eclipsed by Eddy Merckx who had been even better, magnitudes better; Merckx's reign had come to an end and a new king had emerged, this one in the pugnacious, distinctly un-regal shape Bernard Hinault.

Hinault had won the Tour on his first attempt in 1978, then won another in 1979. In 1980 he'd injured his knees and abandoned. This year he was World Champion and he'd started the season in spectacular style and won Paris–Roubaix, the Amstel Gold Race, the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Critérium International; then he showed up at the Tour in better form that ever before and won the prologue, which immediately made him the favourite. Freddy Maertens won Stage 1a, then Ti-Raleigh won the Stage 1b team time trial. Johan van de Velde won Stage 2, Maertens won Stage 3 and Ti-Raleigh won the second team time trial in Stage 4.

In Stage 5, the race made its only visit to the Pyrenees that year. Hinault, Phil Anderson and Lucien van Impe rode in a break out in front of the main field, but van Impe got ahead in the last few kilometres and won by 27". Hinault was just ahead of Anderson as they crossed the line, but Anderson's total lapsed time was smaller and so he became the first Australian - the first non-European, in fact - to have ever led the Tour de France. He wouldn't keep the maillot jaune for long: Hinault was a superb time trial rider and took it from him in Stage 6.

Bernard Hinault
Hinault keep adding a few seconds here, a few more there, but Anderson followed him all the way. Finally, his dreams ended; Stage 14 was another individual time trial and Hinault used it to destroy him, beating him by 2'01"; then he lost seventeen minutes on the Alpe d'Huez in Stage 17. The Irishman Sean Kelly won Stage 15, then as the Tour left the Alps three days later Hinault sealed his victory with another stage win. After that, he had no real need to win the last time trial in Stage 20, but he did anyway.

In 1981, Hinault was enjoying his best years and was destined to win two more Tours, two more Giri d'Italia (for a total of three) and another Vuelta a Espana (his second); but already new stars were shining.

Other cyclists born on this day: Egor Silin (USSR, 1988); Danny Stam (Netherlands, 1972); Sébastien Joly (France, 1979); Karen Darke (UK, 1971); Martinus Vlietman (Netherlands, 1900, died 1970); Rory O'Reilly (USA, 1955); Ardito Bresciani (Italy, 1899, died 1948); Jimmy Swift (South Africa, 1931, died 2009); Guillermo Mendoza (Mexico, 1945); Oswaldo Frossasco (Argentina, 1952); Clemilda Silva (Brazil, 1979); Anriette Schoeman (South Africa, 1977); Thierry Marie (France, 1963); Antonio Giménez (Argentina, 1931).

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