|Le Tour, 1914|
|Le Grand Départ, 1914|
Philippe Thys and his Peugeot-Wolber team mate Henri Pélissier were favourites, but also racing were six previous winners: Louis Trousselier (1905), Lucien Petit-Breton (1907, 1908), François Faber (1909), Octave Lapize (1910), Gustave Garrigou (1911) and Odile Defraye (1912). Three riders would win after the war - Firmin Lambot (1919, 1922), Léon Scieur (1921) and Lucien Buysse (and 1926). Thys also won in 1913 and in 1920 would become the first man to win three Tours; Pélissier won in 1923. Eleven Tour winners with fifteen victories between them in one edition remains a record, and one that's unlikely to be broken. When Thys won Stage 1, beating several of his main rivals in the sprint and the rest by at least 3'21", he looked set to dominate the race - though Jean Rossius, who second with the same time, came very close to taking the lead on Stage 2, which he won. However, on that occasion it was Thys who was second, also recording the same time, so they shared leadership. This situation remained until after Stage 5.
On the third stage, riders arrived at a checkpoint (in those days, they had to stop and sign their names to prove they hadn't taken shortcuts) an hour late and found that the official in charge had got bored and left a subordinate to wait for them. As a result, they were given incorrect instructions and ended up riding 30km in the wrong direction, completely unaware until organisers discovered the mistake and sent a car to find them so that they could be brought back and the race could be restarted. Emile Engel, who had won stages in the Independents class in 1909 and 1910, won his only stage as a professional, sponsored rider that day (later on he was in a collision with another rider named Maurice Brocco. The language he used when explaining to Brocco why it was his fault was so strong that he was disqualified); Thys, Rossius and several others finished joint fifth. Stage 4, the longest at 470km, went to the Swiss Oscar Egg with Pélissier second for the same time, Thys and Rossius were joint fourth. It was on Stage 5, when Egg won again, that Thys finally managed to get away from Rossius and gained upper the hand; he was third and Rossius was fifth.
Stage 6 brought the riders to the Pyrenees and the climbers took over. Lambot won the stage whilst Thys was second, 7'40" behind him. Rossius was eleventh, 1h02'09" behind the winner: overall victory slipped from his grasp. The Tunisian Ali Neffati was hit by an official race car on the Aubisque and couldn't finish the stage; fortunately for him the rules of the day allowed him to remain in the race after his likely time had been determined and he was given 42nd place and raced again. Jean Alavoine won the sixth stage of his career when he was first over the finish line for Stage 7, leading a group of five men that, in addition to himself, included Marcel Buysse (2nd), Thys (3rd), Pélissier (4th) and Rossius (5th). The mountains were left behind in Stage 8 for the 370km trip between Perpignan and Marseilles and the weather was so hot that the riders didn't want to race, riding at little more than walking pace. Henri Desgrange, trying to prevent a boring stage, stopped the race and rapidly organised an impromptu sprinting contest eventually won by Lapize (who got into an argument with Egg - Egg's language, like that of Engel earlier the same day, was found disagreeably coarse, but he escaped with a fine). Stage 9 took a mountainous 338km route from Marseilles to Nice: Rossius won with a 6'54" led over joint second Pélissier and Thys, but by now his overall disadvantage was so great that it no longer mattered. François Faber, who had become the first foreigner to win the Tour in 1909, was spotted taking a drink from a motorcycle and being pushed, for which he was awarded a 90' penalty - that didn't matter either, any chance he may have had at the start of the race were long gone now.
Pélissier's disadvantage was 44'30" at the start of Stage 10, but he was the only man in the race able to take on Thys and still thought he might be able to do so, fighting hard to win Stage 10 - he managed it and took back more than 10', starting Stage 11 34'27" behind. That day, the finished together so the gap remained untouched after Garrigou won; after Stage 12, which he won, he reduced it by another 2'37" whilst Thys was sixth - the only stage in which he didn't finish in the top five.
When the riders returned to the real world after the race, Europe was a very different place. The war began just two days later, and a few weeks after that Desgrange used his L'Auto newspaper to publish the following letter to his champions:
"For 14 years, Le Auto has appeared every day. It has never let you down. So listen my dear fellows, my dear Frenchmen. There can be no question that a Frenchman succumbs to a German. GO! Go without Pity!"Faber, Petit-Breton and Lapize would not return in 1919 when the Tour next took place: Faber was shot in the back while trying to rescue a fallen comrade from no man's land between the trenches, Petit-Breton died when he was hit by a car while serving as an Army message carrier and Lapize, who became a fighter pilot, was shot down over Flirey and died a few days later. They were not the only ones, but most of those who could only dream of Tour success are now forgotten.
In 1969 there were 22 stages and the race covered 4,110km - seven more stages than 1914, but 1,295 fewer kilometres. After a few decades in which the Tour was open only to national teams, commercially sponsored trade teams returned in 1962. However, after a riders' protest against ani-doping tests in 1966 (which organisers believed had been provoked by sponsors, who wanted the problem covered up rather than brought out into the open where they might become associated with it) they decided to return to national teams (or at least, that was the official reason: in his book Le Tour (ISBN 0-340-54268-3), Geoffrey Nicholson argues that the decision may have been prompted by accusations that the race caused too many road closures and that by reintroducing national teams teams they were trying to drum up patriotic support). Trade teams countered by refusing to allow their best riders to compete, which is why Eddy Merckx didn't take part in the Tour of 1968. Organisers relented and the trade teams returned on 1969 (with Eddy Merckx, once political intervention - and the hundreds of protesting fans who surrounded the Belgian Federation's headquarters - had seen to it that his highly questionable doping conviction from the Giro d'Italia earlier in the year had been quashed), initially on the understanding that the race would revert to national teams every few years. 43 years later, this has not happened.
In Stage 9, Merckx and Roger Pingeon escaped together. Merckx had the strength to win mountain stages even though he was built like a sprinter, but Pingeon's lighter build left him less tired at the end of the stage and he was able to win the sprint. For Altig, a sprint specialist, the stage was an unmitigated disaster: he finished in 76th place, 7'59" behind Pingeon and Merckx, which cost him. Now trailing Merckx by 10'04" overall, his chance to win was lost.
Pingeon was now in second place overall, but trailed Merckx by 5'21" in the General Classification. Herman van Springel won with a 2'01" lead the next day but was much to far down the leadership to make any difference at all, and the 5'21" stayed intact. Then Merckx won Stage 11, adding another 22", then 1'28" when he was third behind Felice Gimondi on Stage 12. He maintained it at 7'11" for the next two stages (which went to Guido Reybrouck and Agostinho) and had no reason at all to win the time trial in Stage 15 - but he did, and finished with 8'03" advantage overall. Raymond Delisle beat him by 2'45" on Stage 16 after a small group away up Portet d'Aspet; since he too was no rival there was even less reason for Merckx to bother himself with winning Stage 17. But Merckx had a greater competitive drive than anyone else, as well as the legs to go with it - he went solo for 140km over Tourmalet and the Aubisque; and when the stage finished and he'd beaten Dancelli by 7'56", he was 16'18" ahead overall. Pingeon may have technically been in second place, but it was irrelevant now: Merckx had reduced the entire field to the level of also-rans. Barry Hoban won Stages 18 and 19, thus becoming the first British rider to win two consecutive days at the Tour (it would be 29 years before Cavendish repeated his feat, then did it again - twice - a year later).
Pierre Matignon's unexpected victory in Stage 20 is worthy of note. He was the lowliest of domestiques, in the race purely to act as a servant for Frimatic's leader Agostinho; and he started the stage in 86th place. Three hours behind Merckx, he'd given up all hope of a good result so long ago that he'd spent much of the intervening time locked in a private competition with Sonolor's André Wilhem to become lanterne rouge, because being last in the Tour gains a rider far more media attention and race contracts than finishing anywhere else outside the top ten does. Wilhelm decided he was unable to ride as slowly as Matignon and gave up the battle early in the stage, sprinting away from him.
Or could it? Merckx got within sight of his quarry just as Matignon turned onto the final section towards the summit, a private track that rises for 5km at 12.5%, but with 500m to go he still hadn't caught up. Angry now, he stomped on the pedals and lurched forward after a man who was clearly suffering and weaving about all over the road in a desperate attempt to deal with the gradient. He didn't look back again. From then onwards, he saw nothing - there was nothing to see, the universe was him, his bike, a gradient and the pain. Then there was also the summit, and 1'25" there was Merckx. The most unimportant man in the Tour had won one of its most prestigious stages, and in doing so he had beaten the greatest cyclist that ever lived. He died in 1987, aged only 44.
Van Springel and Spruyt won Stages 21 and 22a, but it was far too late for anything to change now. Merckx increased his advantage to 17'54" in the Stage 22b time trial. He'd won six stages and worn the maillot jaune for seventeen days, as well as winning the General Classification, the King of the Mountains and the Points competition, all after turning up to the race after missing two valuable weeks of preparation. What was he going to do to his rivals next year?
In 1985, cycling had left the Era of Merckx behind and now another one, the Age of Hinault, was coming to an end as the Breton aimed for a fifth and final Tour; which would make him Merckx and Anquetil's equal. He had been beaten by Laurent Fignon the year before and the American Greg Lemond came close several times - now Fignon was away recovering from surgery on his knee, so the La Vie Claire team dealt with the Lemond problem by signing him up. A deal was reached - if Lemond looked the better bet for overall victory, Hinault would ride for him. If Hinault was better, Lemond would ride for him.
There were 22 stages and a prologue that year, covering 4,109km in total. For the first time, the multi-coloured Combination jersey was inflicted upon the eyes of spectators (it had been white when the classification was introduced in 1968, then the classification vanished in 1975 and the white jersey was given to the leader of the new Youth classification instead. In 1980 it reappeared as the TF1 GP but lasted only three years. After reintroduction in 1985, it vanished again in 1989 and has never returned), but otherwise there were no major changes to the way the race was run in 1984. Hinault won the prologue - he had to, really, because it was in Brittany and he was a Breton folk hero. He beat Lemond by 21", but a 6km time trial gives no indication of what will happen later in a three-week Grand Tour.
As is usually the case, the General Classification contenders didn't worry too much about the first week and Hinault didn't mind when Eric Vanderaerden took the yellow jersey in Stage 1 thanks to time bonuses. Rudy Matthijs won Stages 1 and 2, then La Vie Claire beat Kwantum by a minute in the Stage 3 team time trial, which sounds an even better result when one bears in mind that they did so on their standard road race bikes rather than using specialised time trial machines like the other teams did; which may be why a huge mob of fans climbed over the barriers to get to them. Hinault, who felt uncomfortable in crowds and had felled a well-built shipyard worker during an angry protest at Paris-Nice in 1982, flew into a panic and landed the sort of punch that would make a boxer proud on the chin of a press photographer. Police bundled him into a car and sped him away to his hotel before he set his sights on another target.
It all changed with the Stage 8 time trial. All great Tour riders can perform well on any type of parcours, like many of the very best Hinault was especially good in a time trial - and he won this one by 2'20", taking back the maillot jaune with a 2'30" advantage over second place Lemond. This time, police were ready and he was protected from the crowd - or the crowd was protected from him - by a police escort. Dietrich Thurau (Hitachi) was judged to have drafted behind another rider and penalised, though he made it quite clear he disagreed with the decision. He was still furious at the start of Stage 9 the next morning when he spotted the chief of the race judges, a man named Raymond Trine, and then it was his turn for trouble: he had his hands clenched around Trine's throat when the race started, at which point he dropped him and ran to his bike, jumped on and started pedaling. After the stage had finished, he was apparently quite surprised when informed that he'd been thrown out. That stage, and the next, were hilly, so some of the less well-known riders used them to gain time on rivals while the General Classification contenders conserved energy for the upcoming mountains where bigger gains could be found: Maarten Ducrot and Jørgen V. Pedersen shared them. On Stage 10, the British rider Paul Sherwen (who is now the "Voice of the Tour" for people who watch it on TV in Britain, Australia and the USA) crashed in the first kilometre of Stage 10; two team mates stayed with him to help get back to the peloton, but he told them to go on without him rather than risk their own chances. He tried desperately to catch up, riding solo for more than six hours over six tough climbs, but could not; when he reached the finish line (he'd met the aravan coming back the other way some kilometres down the road - everyone had assumed he'd abandoned and the finish line infrastructure was being packed away) he was more than an hour behind Pedersen and a full 23 minutes beyond the maximum time. He should therefore have been eliminated, but judges were so impressed by his efforts that just as had been the case following a similar incident in 1979, the rule was waived and he stayed to ride again the following day. In the General Classification, Lemond won back a few seconds and, when they arrived at the Alps for Stage 11, he was 2'16" behind Hinault.
|Parra at the Vuelta, 1989|
Hinault was apparently still feeling the effects of the mountains in the Stage 13 time trial because Vanderaerden beat him by 1'07". This, however, was not enough to break into the overall Top Ten; meanwhile, Lemond finished 19th, 1'23" slower than Hinault. The Breton's advantage rose to 5'23". Stage 14 was hilly - no problem at all for Herrera, who attacked early to pick up some more King of the Mountains points. This time, Lemond was given the go-ahead to chase, accompanied by Robert Millar, Pedro Delgado and six others while Hinault stayed where he was. They couldn't catch him, but did well to finish 47" later. Hinault was with Panasonic's Phil Anderson around 1'30" down the road, but in the final kilometre they were in a crash with three others. Race rules state that, if a rider crashes within the final 3km, his or her overall time will not be reduced for the time that passes until he or she is back on the bike but that the rider must get to the finish line unaided. This was fortunate for Hinault because he was on the ground for some time while doctors attended to him but lost only 1'50" overall, though his face and the maillot jaune were covered in blood when he got back on his bike. What was less fortunate was that he'd broken his nose.
|Lemond in yellow, 1990|
Roche won Stage 18a and Régis Simon won Stage 18b before the race left the mountains behind, then Vanderaerden and Johan Lammerts won the two plain stages that followed. None of them posed any sort of challenge to Hinault who still led by 1'59" after Stage 20. Stage 21 was the last time trial and turned out to be Lemond's ever Tour stage win, but the 5" by which he beat Hinault made no difference now when there was only Stage 22 left. Matthijs finished the Tour as he had started by winning that last stage, while Hinault's final overall advantage was 1'42". He had equalled Anquetil and Merckx, but next year would be different: another era had ended and, while Lemond won three Tours and is one of the greats by any standards and although Miguel Indurain won five and Lance Armstrong won seven, it's been a long time since fans saw a rider in the same vein as Merckx, Hinault and their like. At the time of writing, it was also the last time a Frenchman won the Tour - they need another, soon.
|Hinault, his face battered after Stage 14|
Cyclists born today: Vasil Kiryienka (USSR, 1981); Leslie Rawlins (Trinidad and Tobago, 1954); Pietro Guerra (Italy, 1943); Simone Cadamuro (Italy, 1976); Filiberto Mercado (Mexico, 1938); Rafael Montiel (Colombia, 1981); Lucien Victor (Belgium, 1931, died 1995); Ernst Fuhrimann (Switzerland, 1913); Julio Cesar Rodríguez (Colombia, 1966).