Mythbusters: the Pyrenees

I’ll say it now, this year’s Tour de France marks the 1ooth anniversary of the race’s visit to the Pyrenees. This is why the race features several stages in in the Pyrenees. No doubt we are all going to be made very aware of this.

But a lot of the tales are myths and exaggerations, stories get hyped up to sell newspapers and the media often inflates the details.

Was this the first time in the mountains?
Non! It wasn’t the race’s first incursion into the mountains. The Tour climbed the Col de la République in 1903 and again in 1904. Then it visited the Vosges, tackling some long passes in 1905.

Did Lapize shout “assassins” at Tour organiser Henri Desgrange?
Non! Legend has it that Octave Lapize found the climb of the Aubisque so tough that he shouted “assassins” at race organiser Henri Desgrange, posted at the top of the col. Only Lapize neither called Desgranges an assassin, nor even a murder. Lapize was simply suffering from the heat and complained that the riders were being treated like criminals to a member of the organisation, Victor Breyer. Desgrange was in Paris, overseeing the production of newspaper l’Auto.

Did Eugène Christophe lose the Tour because of a broken fork and a blacksmith’s boy?
Non! The story goes that Christophe broke his forks on the Tourmalet and had to repair them in a blacksmith’s forge at Sainte Marie de Campan. Rules stipulated that riders were allowed no outside help and when it came to light that a boy was pumping the bellows at the forge, some accounts say Christophe was penalised and lost the race for receiving outside help.

Only Christophe merely got docked three minutes for this extra help, a blink of an eyelid in the days when the margin of victory in the Tour was huge. Instead Christophe was sponsored by a bike manufacturer and having broken his forks, tried to find a small path to descend the Tourmalet, so he could hide the mechanical failure from the press pack, in case news of his unreliable bike leaked out. This detour, to protect a commercial interest, cost him far more than the three minute penalty.

  • If you want more on the history of the race, take a look at Benjo Maso’s book, “The Sweat of Gods”. I’ve based some of the above points partly on Maso’s investigations. His precise account that takes apart the myths and legends to explore the inner commercialism of the great race.

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