Part II of the series looking at the 1964 Tour de France is a stage-by-stage account of the race to show race unfolding from stage wins to accidents, punch-ups to punctures. There are the oddities of the time such as using cabbage leaves to protect against the heat, and the infamous incident of a fortune teller predicting Jacques Anquetil’s death mid-race.
The race starts in Rennes and Edward “Ward” Sels (Solo-Superior) wins Stage 1 and takes the yellow jersey. The Belgian keeps it on Stage 2, a stage described as “as locked down as a safe” in the pages of L’Equipe and so far no breakaway has managed get a gap on the bunch. André Darrigade, one of the all time sprint greats, wins the sprint.
Stage 3 is a split stage and sees the race cross into Belgium in the morning for what should be a triumphant homecoming for Sels, only his modest team mate Bernard Van de Kerckhove joins a breakaway, wins the stage and takes the race lead, accidentally steal his leader’s thunder. The afternoon has a 21.7km team time trial with a convoluted formula for times but KAS-Kaskol wins and Poulidor’s Mercier-BP-Hutchinson team finishes 14 seconds faster than Anquetil’s Saint Raphaël-Gitane-Campagnolo team while Van de Kerckhove stays in the lead. Sels and Van de Kerckhove aren’t just team mates, they’re room mates that evening and things are frosty.
Stage 4 is a 292km jaunt to Metz where German rider Rudi Altig (Saint Raphaël) wins the stage and gets plenty of applause from the local population, some of whom were born German and became French after the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Thanks to the substantial one minute time bonus Altig propels himself up the GC on the eve of the Tour’s visit to Germany.
Stage 5 and the big news is the race is going to Germany for the first time. Decades before, Tour founder Henri Desgrange loved to take the race to France’s eastern border with Germany and ride into areas that were once German, a sporting version of revanchisme explained in more detail in Nationalism, Psychogeography and the Tour de France. Now the race is actually going into Germany with a finish in Freiburg and Desgrange’s edgy tone is gone, instead gendarmes and Polizei cooperate and L’Equipe describes the stage as a shared endeavour between France and Germany.
It’s 161km, dubbed as short stage for “le cyclisme moderne” by the TV commentary, designed make the racing more lively as opposed to the “interminable randonnées which made up the large part of old editions”. The stage crosses the Vosges mountains and the hero of the day is Altig who takes the yellow jersey on home soil, he’d broken away with young French rider Georges Groussard (Pelforth-Sauvage-Lejeune) with over 100km to go and they’re later joined by three more including Joseph Groussard, brother of Georges, and Willy Derboven (Solo-Superior) who joins as a “policeman” to mark Van de Kerckhove’s yellow jersey and sits on all day which allows him to stay fresh and he wins the stage, a consolation for his team as they lose the yellow jersey.
Stage 6 and a link between 1964 and 1989 as Dutch racer Henk Nijdam (Televizier) takes the stage to Besançon with a late attack. His son Jelle would win two stages of the 1989 edition, also with late attacks.
Stage 7 begins after a short bus transfer from Besançon to Champagnole. Today it’s normal and deliberate to have a finish in one town and a start the next day elsewhere but in 1964 this is is a rarity. The transfer is portrayed as modern, and so is the racing, the talk on TV is of the high speed of this edition and how close riders still are on the general classification when in the past they’d have lost or gained minutes so far thanks to splits and mishaps. The 195km route crosses the Jura mountains where Julio Jimenez wins the mountains points on the Col de la Faucille, showing his ambitions for the mountains competition. After the descent a thunderstorm breaks on the race and the conditions get dangerous. The peloton splits with Poulidor and Georges Groussard among the front group of about 20 and they take time on Anquetil with Jan Janssen (Pelforth) the stage winner (pictured above at a later point in the race).
Stage 8 is 248.5km and in the Alps, a giant stage. After an early start at 8.20am they cross three light passes: the Sixt, Marais and Tamié. Then the scale changes in the Maurienne valley and they scale the giant Col du Galibier via the Télégraphe. Anquetil and Poulidor slide into a move mid-stage which is the equivalent of poking a wasps’ nest. Federico Bahamontes (Margnat-Paloma-Dunlop) slips away on the approach to the Télégraphe with Henry Anglade (Pelforth) who is an outsider for the overall classification. Bahamontes floats away from Anglade as soon as they start Télégraphe to lead by 1m30s at the top of the climb but on the short descent Anglade reclaims thirty seconds, a reminder that Bahamontes seemed to climb faster than he could descend. The “Eagle of Toledo” extends his lead on the Galibier with enough time to enjoy the descent to Briançon and the stage win. Behind, Poulidor sets off in pursuit on the Galibier seemingly worried by Bahamontes taking so much time, and finishes second, taking the thirty second time bonus to move up to third overall with Georges Groussard in the same group who takes the yellow jersey. Anquetil had struggled on the Galibier but rejoins on the descent and only to puncture with one 1km go. Who is the favourite to win the race? Poulidor “without a doubt” announces TV commentator Robert Chapatte.
Stage 9 is 239km with the Tour going from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean in just two days. Bahamontes is first over the 2,802m Col de La Bonette-Restefond with Anquetil and Poulidor close behind and the rest of the race is scattered down the mountain. Things regroup on the descent with a lead group of 22 riders coming into the finish in Monaco on the ash-covered Louis II athletics stadium. Riders jostle for position ahead of the stadium’s entrance knowing it’ll be hard to overtake on the loose surface. Anquetil wins the battle to enter the track but Poulidor overtakes him and sprints for the line… Only the bell rings out and there’s another lap to do, allowing Anquetil to win the sprint for the stage ahead of Tom Simpson (Peugeot-BP-Englebert) and take the minute’s time bonus. Groussard stays in yellow.
Stage 10 is a split stage and the morning’s race is along the Côte d’Azur. Poulidor attacks from the start, presumably his wounded pride is smarting but he is quickly caught. A move containing Nijdam, Altig and Janssen goes clear with 17km to go and Janssen wins the stage to extend his the lead in the points competition.
Stage 10’s second half is a 20km time trial and Anquetil wins, 36 seconds ahead of Poulidor who get 20 seconds and 10 seconds respectively in time bonuses. Groussard finishes 24th and loses 2m51s to Anquetil but stays in yellow.
Stage 11 to Montpellier ends with a sprint finish but it was a lively day in roasting heat. Many riders put cabbage leaves under their caps or better still, put one under the cap and a second is tucked under the back of the cap and hangs out to shade the nape of the neck. Hydration is important and Anquetil reportedly got by with two bidons of tea, six bottles of Coca Cola… and two bottles of beer. The bunch split due to a crash, Anquetil tried a late attack but in the end Ward Sels took his second stage.
Stage 12 sees Nijdam in a late move again but he’s joined by compatriot Jo De Roo (Saint Raphaël) who wins the sprint for the stage win in Perpignan with the Pyrenees on the horizon.
Stage 13 goes to Andorra via the Col de la Perche and the seemingly endless combo of the Col de Puymorens and the Port d’Envalira. Julio Jimenez (KAS) takes off solo at the foot of the Perche and his lead goes up and up and he wins the stage by over eight minutes and closes in on Bahamontes for the mountains competition. Behind Anquetil and Poulidor trade soft attacks but the two big climbs are hard to exploit, the gradual gradients suit sitting on a wheel. Groussard is still in yellow with his Pelforth team mate Anglade now up to third overall.
The race reaches Andorra for the rest day but this is far from benign. A bored Anquetil decides to break with his habit of total rest and goes for a ride and drops by a party held by Radio Andorre for an interview. He’s tempted by some méchoui or a whole roasted lamb where he eats plenty, washed down with plenty of of sangria.
Stage 14 is out of Andorra to Toulouse. Before the Tour had started a fortune teller called Marcel Belline had a column in France Soir, a newspaper, and he had predicted Anquetil would die on Stage 14. Wacky? Yes, only Belline had called various world events and celebrity deaths, for example he foresaw Marilyn Monroe’s suicide in 1962 and President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 and plenty more, presumably he had his share of false alarms but newspapers adored his predictions while businessmen and politicians paid beaucoup for private sessions. As soon as the stage started Anquetil was in trouble. Was it nerves about this prophecy or was yesterday’s méchoui misfiring inside or a sangria hangover? Maybe it was all three but what was certain is that he’s dropped on the Envalira as Poulidor and his Mercier team set a fierce pace. It turns out they’d ridden 40km before the stage as a warm-up and their attack was pre-meditated. Yellow jersey Groussard is dropped too but Anquetil is further back and feeling dreadful, ready to quit even. Team mate Louis Rostollan is there to encourage him and push him back on his bike, literally as Anquetil would get a 15 second time penalty for being pushed by up the Envalira. Anquetil’s directeur Raphaël Géminiani hands up a drink, some accounts say it’s whisky, others champagne, but it’s just the tonic and, amid dense fog on the descent, Anquetil picks up Sels, then Groussard and the chase is on. Poulidor is still ahead in a group of seven as they exit the Pyrenees with Anquetil and Groussard’s group about a minute behind and the pursuit lasts 88km during which Poulidor seems to break a spoke in his wheel but he can’t afford to stop for a bike change or a spare wheel. Eventually Anquetil makes it back to Poulidor’s group and things ease up. With 24km to go Poulidor does get a new bike but his mechanic seems too excited and, instead of a helpful push to get going, shoves him to the ground. Anquetil and the others spot this, accelerate and Poulidor is left battling into a headwind and loses 2m36s. The stage is won by Ward Sels. Having hitched a ride to Anquetil Groussard stays in yellow with Poulidor slipping from third to sixth overall.
Stage 15 goes back into the Pyrenees with the Portet d’Aspet, the Col des Ares and the Col du Portillon before a descent to the finish in Luchon. After a calm start there’s a flurry of attacks with Bahamontes and Julio Jimenez duelling for the mountains points. More riders launch moves to win the stage with Tom Simpson and Francisco Gabica (KAS) looking strong. Only for Poulidor to burst out of the peloton on the Portillon, ride straight past Simpson and Gabica, and take the stage by 1m43s on the peloton with Anquetil and Groussard, with Bahamontes a few seconds behind having struggled on the descent. With the attack and the time bonus Poulidor is up 2m43, the misery of the previous day erased.
Stage 16 and more Pyrenees, 197km and the Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet, Soulor and Aubisque. On roads lined with people and reports of the densest crowds ever Jimenez and Bahamontes take off again out of Luchon and battle for the mountains competition. Jimenez is dropped and fights back but Bahamontes is the superior climber and out on the road is the virtual yellow jersey. He clears the Soulor solo and wins the stage. Groussard stays in yellow but Bahamontes is now just 35 seconds behind only the Pyrenees are done and Bahamontes has run out of road. Anquetil is at 1m26s, Poulidor at 1m36s.
Stage 17 is a 42km time trial in the Basque Country with a technical, hilly course. Anquetil wins the stage while George Groussard implodes, losing 5m59s and the yellow jersey. Anquetil is the new race leader but Poulidor “only” loses 37s on the stage to keep him in contact on the general classification, he’s less than a minute down with Bahamontes at 3m31s.
Stage 18 is almost a home start for André Darrigade, the top sprinter in his day. Only his day was a few years ago, he is 40 now. In a hectic finish he surges past Barry Hoban (Mercier) who looked to have the stage and wins in Bordeaux. It’s Darrigade’s 22nd career Tour de France stage win and his last.
Stage 19 is marked by tragedy. A vehicle in the publicity caravan skids on a tight bend in Port-de-Couze, a town on the banks of the Dordogne river. Seeing the danger the waiting crowd are moved to the other side of the road, only for a police tanker truck to lose control on the same bend but this time it swerves to the other side of the road, hitting the crowd and falling into a canal, taking many people into the water with it. Nine people die and many sustain grave injuries. People in the crowd spontaneously start a rescue mission, one spectator plunges into the canal to rescue the driver and more lives are saved. The race reaches the drama within a few minutes and the Tour’s medical staff work to help the victims as stunned riders look on, grizzly reports write of body parts in the canal. It’s the Tour de France’s worst tragedy and there is a memorial plaque beside the road today.
The riders resume the route but in a slow procession at first and a few kilometres later someone beside the road, presumably unaware of the tragedy, insults the riders for being lazy. Pierre Everaert gets off his bike to punch the man and the police are required to pull him off. The racing gets frantic for the final 20km and it’s a sprint and there’s a big crash within sight of the line which takes out plenty and Ward Sels wins again ahead of Mario Minieri (Salvarini) who broke his cleats just as he launched his sprint.
Stage 20 is the defining stage of the race, the battle between Anquetil and Poulidor on the Puy-de-Dôme that gives rise to the iconic photo which stands out as a highlight of the decade, possibly of a century of the sport. Only material from the time is rightly marked by the previous day’s tragedy. Poulidor is just 56 seconds down on Anquetil and better suited to the punchy summit finish with the final 4.5km at 11% and there’s a minute’s time bonus waiting at the top. Poulidor’s Mercier team get to work with a high tempo and as they start the final climb the lead group is down to 11 riders and as they reach the double-digit gradients with 5km to go it’s down to four riders: Bahamontes and Jimenez as the best climbers in the race and still locked in a contest for the mountains jersey, plus Anquetil and Poulidor as first and second overall. At 4km to go Jimenez attacks and moments later Bahamontes takes off in pursuit. It’s advantage Anquetil now as the time bonus Poulidor needs starts to look out of reach. The two match each other, riding side by side at times. With 900 metres to go Poulidor attacks and Anquetil’s bluff can last no longer and he cracks, conceding 42 seconds to Poulidor. It leaves Anquetil in yellow but only by 14 seconds, “13 seconds too much” he quips out of exhaustion at the summit but he’s tiring with the Giro in his legs.
Stage 21 and a 311km trip north to Orléans, transfers may be a new thing in 1964 but they’re still rare and the riders have to reach Paris under their own steam. The start sees Bahamontes send a team mate up the road early right at the start to take the mountains points at the Côte du Cratère and it’s job done for Joseph Novalès who wins the points making it arithmetically impossible for Jimenez to win the mountains competition, thus Bahamontes will win his sixth mountains competition. A break forms with 40km to go and the peloton sits up, letting the six quickly take time and it’s from the move that Jean Stablinski (Saint Raphaël), in his French champion’s jersey, wins the stage.
Stage 22 is a 118km morning spin from Orléans to Versailles. Still just 14 seconds down Raymond Poulidor tries an attack but it’s too obvious. Instead it’s the world champion Benoni Beheyt (Wiel’s-Groene Leeuw) who wins the stage, a prestigious win for a rider whose rainbow bands are not as illustrious as he’d like after being accused of “betrayal” in the Worlds where compatriot Rik Van Looy is the big favourite only for Beheyt to pip him in the sprint, a touch of lèse-majesté but Beheyt’s supporters say Van Looy was too confident, launching his sprint from afar and was fading so Beheyt’s move ensured a home win. Van Looy has abandoned this Tour in the first week but is a giant in the sport at the time with a prolific palmarès featuring every one day race worth winning.
The second part of Stage 22 is the final time trial from Versailles to Paris, 22km and on big boulevards lined by dense crowds. Anquetil is still just 14 seconds ahead of Poulidor with a 20 second time bonus up for grabs. It’s advantage Anquetil as the time trial specialist of his era but he’s deep into the third week of the second grand tour of the year, and besides a puncture is sufficient to spoil things. The duel is close with only a few seconds in it with Poulidor catching and passing Bahamontes and able to profit from the draft. It’s close between the pair until the final minutes when Poulidor starts to fade. Anquetil wins the stage with Rudy Altig second at 15s and Poulidor third at 21s.
The final classification sees Anquetil win his fifth Tour de France and his fourth consecutive victory with Poulidor second overall at 55s, the closest ever winning margin in the race so far (and still the ninth closest Tour today). Bahamontes is third at 4m44s and wins the mountains prize. Jan Janssen wins the points competition. Pelforth-Sauvage-Lejeune win the team competition thanks to Anglade, Groussard and André Foucher finishing fourth, fifth and sixth overall respectively. 132 riders started, 81 finished and the average speed was 35.4km/h.
Stage wins by team:
- St Raphaël: Anquetil x 4, Altig, De Roo, Stablinski = 7
- Solo-Superior: Sels x 4, Derboven, Vandekerckhove = 6
- Margnat-Paloma: Bahamontes x 2, Darrigade x 2 = 4
- KAS: Jimenez x 2, team time trial = 3
- Pelforth: Janssen x 2 = 2
- Mercier: Poulidor
- Televizier: Nijdam
- Wiel’s-Groene Leeuw: Beheyt
That’s the stage-by-stage processional account and if this is a long post, well it was a three week race. Indeed the events each stage are edited and abbreviated. The racing was often lively with moves surging clear, being caught, new attacks going and so on and this piece is long enough already without detailing all of each stage’s action from KM0 to the finish and listing the crashes and abandons. Even the flat stages could see a lot of action, only of course there was little TV coverage.
The point of this blog post is to put a bit more structure to the race and to view it day-by-day, to see how the Tour slowly unfolded rather than just look back at what made it such a good race. These days we equate the 1964 Tour to the Anquetil-Poulidor duel but there was a lot more going on, whether Jimenez and Bahamontes in the mountains, Groussard’s strong ride, Sel’s stage wins and more. The next and final part of this mini-series will try to look back at what made this such a good race and why it stuck in the memory.
1964 Tour de France – Part I to set the scene
1964 Tour de France – Part II a stage-by-stage account of the race
1964 Tour de France – Part III a review of what made it so good
- Sources: L’Equipe/Bibliothèque nationale de France, Ina.fr video archives, Tours de France by Antoine Blondin, memoire-du-cyclisme.eu, lagrandeboucle.com
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A great read. Thank you.
Having no idea what you do, Mssr Inrng, for a living–perhaps you are an author?–have you thought of writing a book?
An amateur blogger here (which helps explain the typos etc). I’ve so much material on the 1989 Tour, plenty thanks to readers who were generous with their time, the idea of a book was of interest but in a way it’s too limiting to stick to text. There’s too much colour, music, photo, sound, video and more to encapsulate that maybe a film or documentary would be a better avenue but that’s way beyond a niche blog. I’ll still return to 1989 in time on here though.
as a doc filmmaker i can only agree that a doc is a bit more than a niche blog in terms of scale of undertaking…
the niche blog is a great form in any case!
Fascinating stuff, the stage by stage run down bought it to life.
1989 Tour remains my favourite but probably only because it was my third one and with so much changing of fortunes compared to what came later.
Thanks for this – fantastic, what a race it must have been.
Incredible photo really. Is there a better one in the sport?
It is a great photo. The best? That’s a matter of taste. There’s an interesting story to it too, more on that in the next piece.
Would love to hear how they came to be so close to each other (a similar contact in a modern sprint finish could see a DQ!) Is there any film footage of the incident?
Hyperbole surely? Nudges up a climb are regularly in evidence, and the riders would really need to nut one another for a DQ. The picture looks more like two riders on a tight road being so caught up with riding they inadvertently collide briefly.
Here’s the film from the day:
You can see them Poulidor riding side by side in a duel, a half-wheeling competition. At one moment for the photo they bump shoulders but as the video shows they were side by side for longer parts of the climb.
Lovely as usual. The Guardian has been running similar, though in real time accounts of other sports. I’m sure they might be interested in your wonderful analysis. Do you need an in?
Thanks but happy with this blog, it’s enough.
We all are grateful for your time, talent, expertise and passion for painting these wonderful pictures for us.
Hear, hear. The quality of this blog is incredible and I’m very thankful to Inrng for all of the hard work and expertise put into every post.
Thanks. I ended up getting interested in the 1989 Tour and going into the last week people knew they were enjoying an exceptional edition and 1964 Tour kept coming up as a reference point so this has been a good way to go and explore the topic, having to type up a few pieces helps condense the notes, thoughts down so happy to share a view of it all.
For a long time the history side of the sport has been something that’s important to the sport but I never got too into it but the more you explore it, the more interesting it gets especially as you can cherry-pick the best races.
Ah, poor Pou Pou. That broken spoke cost him dearly. What might have been? If he’d have broken Anquetil’s streak would he have won more? Sport goes like that – victory hangs on a moment of fate, and somehow the luck sits with the favourite.
It’s interesting to read about the manner of victory and the responses to certain events, such as Sels and as Van der Kerkove. Did VdK’s win really make for frosty relations? I presume he was in the break to come the move on the teams behalf.
Also interesting to read about the terrible accident on stage 19. I wonder whether the Tour would be cancelled now, or a go slow out in place for the following day’s race? But on the basis that the incident was not caused by the cyclists racing they might continue the Tour as a way of respecting the spectators themselves? Certainly some of the roads the caravans go down are ill suited to vehicles of their size.
Thanks so much for the write up. I’ve read appreciated histories of these events but this is a really great stage-by-stage breakdown and really brings home the excitement of the ‘64 edition.
Great stuff, merci beaucoup as they say!
I’ll throw in an unabashed plug for my friend Bill McGann’s TdF book here https://bikeraceinfo.com/tdf/tdfbook1.html
Looking forward to your next installment as well as your 1989 Tour posts.
Part of my “luckiest man on earth” claim is that I was able to follow a lot of La Grande Boucle 1989 in-person and attend some exclusive interviews with the eventual winner before and during that unforgettable event.
What a wonderful read! Thank you so much for this thorough and engrossing account. I look forward to your analysis piece with great anticipation!
Cycling was such a different world and that 1964 world is so well captured in the article. Many of the stages were covered at 34km/h or less with the 1964 race average 35,419 km/h, a speed some keen cyclotourists could maintain – though maybe not for 21 stages. What explains the relatively modest pace:
– equipment though only partly and then mostly in the mountains
– roads, maybe a little
– clothing, quite substantially
– stages distances, yes, but as much due to an understanding to take it easy for much of the stage as sheer physical capacity
– training techniques, certainly
– absence of continuous TV as motivation
– large teams and low team numbers
I like to wonder about these things myself, the difference between then and now. So much has changed.
I think that top riders like Merckx, Anquetil in their prime were still very close to what they could be with today’s training. We are lucky we have the world hour record to look at here. I always love to think about the fact that Boardman only put 10 metres into Merckx even when he had advantages in clothing and wheels for far more. And the fact that Merckx’ pacing is widely recognized to be really bad.
Perhaps today the domestiques are a lot better compared to then, and perhaps the riders can hit their peak more predictably and more often – but the top riders back then, when they were in top form would still be world class today.
Training techniques have not really improved. It pisses me off no end that people consider this to be a factor. Back in the day they were pretty close to preparing at their peak. Perhaps there’s a bit more knowledge about over training, and the pros back then were more prone to this. The tendency is to underestimate our predecessors because we believe in the infinite progression of science. To some degree this is true, but only if you take in the dark arts it creates. Around the late sixties blood doping appears on the scene, at the same time as heart rate monitors. Before that there’s amphetamines, cocaine, cortico and anabolic steroids. Thereafter you have the development of EPO and HGH, but which have massively increased speeds – not that speeds have ever significantly decreased despite the claims about testing. One of the biggest differences has been the equipment, but even before Anquetil we know that doping was part of the cycling scene (“in short we ride on dynamite”).
What gets me is this trope that ‘modern training’ and ‘diets’ have improved things. The science behind all of it has not changed in a long time. It used to be the case that British athletes would go to Australia to do their winter training. The truth of the matter was that they could escape the U.K. testers, and Australians were not so shy about playing by the rules (they never have been – in the current world that’s only criticism if you believe that sport is a level playing field). But they would all say it was about ‘better training/weather/diet’ when training in sunshine makes no difference, and you could get all the same food here.
In the field of cycling the trend to train in one place or the other depends on the local laws about doping and where the “best” doctors are based.
I’ll take stage distances as a limiting factor though (and carbon frames). That’s just natural physiology. You can’t race over longer distances.
I’m pretty sure that Anquetil’s bidon was laced with amphetamines – I forget which tour it is where he appears pretty loopy.
Training techniques have improved massively. It pisses me off no end that people consider the only progression in sports science to be ‘better doping’.
OK. So what has improved massively?
I’d suggest riders today can get fitter quicker. It seemed more haphazard in the past with riders doing steady distances over the winter and then using early season races as training events and then other races throughout the year to keep fit. Effort and fatigue can be better measured today although still sometimes indirectly.
Poulidor’s DS Antonin Magne was seen as an expert on sports science in his day, writing books on training and nutrition but accounts of them make it all sound basic (which isn’t a bad thing, simplicity helps).
Over training/racing and long distance stages are likely to reduce the speed, and collectively the understanding of timing your form for a race has probably improved to some degree, but few cyclists are allowed this luxury. Lazy assumptions about training techniques have repeatedly allowed athletes to achieve surprising results. Anyone remember ‘Mo Farah’?
I don’t think we should really let athletes off the hook. I understand people won’t agree with me. But I won’t let people shut their minds off to these things.
Every time I see Ronaldo with his shirt off, and reports about his legendary ability in the gym I think “oh, corticos, eh?”
One thing you left out that I think may explain a lot of the difference between then and now is that the racers back-in-the-day raced so much more. Far, far less of the concentration solely on LeTour each season that is so prevalent today would seem to explain it along with the other things you mentioned.
It’s a funny thing though, I can remember some a-hole (ol’ Heinie perhaps?) going on about how nobody would watch a grand tour run off at speeds slower than they were going during the BigTex era. I wondered why? Who cares about average speeds? IMHO fans want to see competition, head-to-head racing, tactics, spectacle, drama, desire and skill demonstrated on the road, whether the average speed is 30 or 40 kph.
Good point again Larry. Many top riders would ride two GTs, most one day classics, a few one week stage races (Midi-Libre, PN…), numerous minor races and some semi-serious crits. A lot of riding and a lot of intensity with no in-season “fallow” period as now. PCS gives 7007kms for Poulidor in 1964 which must be far from complete. They must have been empty well before the end of the season though at least they didn’t have to go to China to end the season or Australia to start it. How often did Poulidor fly to events (Milan-San Remo and Lombardy by car probably). The whole environment was almost too different to compare.
On your last average speed point, TV covered only the final part of each stage while the French in thier villages would have been happy to see the riders pass by the local bar whether at 28km/h or 40.
I’d add food and drink to the list here, there are regular tales of riders cracking spectacularly, presumably they run out of energy or are massively dehydrated, or both. Plus the evening meals and breakfasts were different.
I’d definitely agree on the food and drink angle. I was relatively seriously into athletics in the late 1970s and there was next to no understanding of diet and eating on competition day. The only rule I recall was to eat nothing for at least 3 hours before your race. Glucose tablets were about but there was no thought of continual hydration and feeding to boost or maintain energy levels.
It’s hard trying to imagine the rider’s life on tour in 1964. No air-conditioned coaches with showers and coffee machines, the drive back to the hotel crammed into a Simca Aronde with a pile of spare wheels, while those of my age will recall the pre-chain rural hotels in France: ten tiny double bedrooms for one small bathroom along a creaky corridor, hot water for the first served…and no team chefs to prepare tasty and balanced meals.
It wasn’t a lot better than that even in the late 1980’s. I can remember sweating like a pig driving all over France in a non-air conditioned Fiat Ducato (or worse, a Renault Trafic) crammed full of vacation clients and their luggage with 10 bikes on the roof. Some of the hotels were as you described (we shared a few with various teams along the way) while the Campaniles and such weren’t much better except for their individual bathrooms vs the down-the-hall awfulness. Food was pretty bad as well – the Italian teams often had a small camper in the parking lot with a guy boiling (properly) up some dry pasta and serving it with jarred sauce. It was grueling and we were just RIDING around rather than racing. We were only half joking when we told our clients “This ain’t no vacation – it’s an adventure!”
The Campanile chain started in 1976 (Ibis 1974) so Poulidor and his team didn’t have the pleasure. They were – at least at first – clean, practical and predictable, and soon accounted for hundreds of Modernes, Cheval Rouges et Blancs, Voyageurs, Terminus, and Commerces all over France. Poor compensation after 250kms on a Stronglight, Simplex and Mafac fitted steel frame. At least they never had the DS screaming “Move up” on the radio, or a spare tubular wrapped around thier shoulders.
And my first high summer 3000kms in France was in an overheating Anglia with slipping clutch. Great days.
IBIS was the other one but I couldn’t recall (blocked out?) the name. Slap-dash construction using what seemed to be the cheapest materials possible, which deteriorated quickly, as did the cleanliness. And way-too-many of ’em, despite being in France, lacked a bidet! Even if you didn’t know what it was for, you could use it to do your laundry. Later there were the equally-awful FastHotel and such, exceeded in awfulness only (later?) by Formula 1. We visited a few teams who were stuck in FastHotels, often backed up to the autoroute so our interviews were conducted trying to hear over the din of traffic. Ah, those were the days – but OTOH I wouldn’t mind a “Stronglight, Simplex and Mafac fitted steel frame.” especially if it was from an Italian “builder of trust”.
A steel frame from a “builder of trust”. I much regret giving away custom made Ellis-Briggs, Mercian and Woodrup frames during a temporary loss of cycling interest in the nineties. As for the trust, I once got a new frame home only to find the BB cup would not enter as the BB shell had visibly deformed (during brazing?). The reputed builder had not even bothered to run a tap through to clean the threads or he would have seen the problem.
Stronglight, yes, Mafac, maybe, but try changing down on Simplex at a delicate moment on the lower slopes.
Sorry to drift off topic Mr IR
Through my rose-colored glasses I thought of SIMPLEX and imagined those wonderful retro-friction shifters (rather than cheezy plastic derailleurs) attached to a lugged/brazed steel masterpiece from one of the (mostly) Italian builders-of-trust of the day. 🙂
Niche fact: Ward Sels’s victory in the first stage was the last time a debutant won their very first stage of Le Tour until Fernando Gaviria in 2018.
This was a fascinating read. Thank you for this type of content! I was not aware of the Stage 19 tragedy. A little investigation showed the intersection where this happened (at D660 and D703 based on Streetview analysis) is completely different 56 years later. There appears to be monument outside the small hotel there now. If something like this were to happen today can anyone imagine the stage would continue??
Thanks for the context around that famous photo on Puy de Dome!
They continued (some racing for the stage win) despite the death of Fabio Casartelli in 1995. I was there near the finish as reports began to come in, so I’d guess most (if not all?) of the riders knew soon enough as well. What would you expect them to do? The day-after is the day to show your respect but contrast this one with 1995’s. A go-slow would have robbed us of the famous duel, perhaps what “Mr. 60%” was thinking when he expressed displeasure with the go-slow?
For Casartelli a lot of the riders and people in the race didn’t know what happened. With the Port-de-Couze deaths, the race certainly knew what happened as the reports on the scene were very graphic with riders looking down from the bridge into the water below. However it seems they had little other option to ride on and eventually set off at a slow pace, which accounts for the punch-up incident later on. There is a large memorial beside the road to the incident.
There are more recent examples too, Goolaerts on Paris-Roubaix or Lambrecht in Poland. I assume most people didn’t know the extent of the incident until after the race was over, and if there has to be a response in the race (neutralization of a stage for instance), it would have to wait until the next day.
I wonder, actually, would Radio Tour would relay the gravity of the injuries of a rider during a race? and if so, would a DS inform his riders before the stage is over?
Later reports said many riders were informed by their teams during the stage though Radio Tour was criticized for not making a general announcement. I guess one could argue how far the news spread in the peloton during the stage but my memory is that few continued racing at full-cry and plenty of race fans (who had all pretty much heard about it by then) wondered if the ones who did didn’t know or didn’t care?
Note the Giro stage didn’t stop for Weyland’s death either as IMHO there’s just too much confusion and rumor when these things happen to expect the entire peloton to just stop and climb off their bikes. Pay your respects the next day, then get on with it.
Thanks for this! I’ve been eking it out over the last couple of days. Just what the doctor ordered.
All things considered, the Tours of 1964 and 1989 are basically two-character dramas, with some extra subplots. In that sense, I think I still prefer 1983, with a wider cast of main characters, more narrative twists, and more complex tapestry of plots. To this day, my favourite TdF of them all.
Ferdi – have you got a link or anything to more fully illustrate your reasons for this opinion? All I can think of is “23 Days in July” which didn’t come close to what you describe, nor did this http://www.bikeraceinfo.com/tdf/tdf1983.html so I’d enjoy reading or viewing anything you can point me to. Grazie!
http://www.lagrandeboucle.com and memoireducyclisme do a great job of summarizing and giving the standings (but they’re in French). As for the narrative, the Luchon I think it’s worth looking at that Tour from the point of view of all the possible contenders. The Peugeot story is only one them (but the one that interests English speakers, because of Anderson, Millar and Roche). There is a strong Colombian narrative (Colombians were decisive), but also the Van Impe story (he was perhaps the strongest man in the race, but he missed the train on the way to Luchon, lack of daring), the other 1970’s stars swan songs (Zoetemelk, Agostinho) the Ti-Raleigh story (Winnen, Lubberding, how they tried to turn the race around on the way to Morzine), the Reynolds story (their number on the Puy de Dôme TT, Spain’s comeback to the Tour as a major force), and of course the Renault-Fignon story. That one day when Kelly wore yellow and was a candidate for the overall. Bernaudeau was a challenger too, and had his moment. 1983 was fascinating, the throne was vacant, the course was really brutal, no one was in control of the race, at any point.
Thanks. Sadly there’s no way I can share your opinion on this race as at the time I was 100% devoted to two-wheeled exploits of another kind, so I’ve got nothing in the way of first-hand memory other than the accounts I listed. CBS TV in the USA got interested later, just as that other two-wheeled interest waned, so the time was right for me in many ways.
Perhaps Mr. Inrng might tackle the 1983 TdF for us as it does sound like a lot was going on as various dramas played out besides what was described in 23 Days in July?
Wonderful stuff, thanks a lot.
Stage 14 deserves a blog post of it’s own! What a story.
surely that was when the race was won?… well not lost anyway…