Sunday, June 5, 2011

1921 Paris-Tours

Francis Pelissier leading his brother Henri, and Belgians Louis Mottait and Albert Dejonghe, struggling through heavy snow between Chatres and Chateaudun.

The Paris-Tours race of April 18th, 1921, was one of the all-time most difficult events in cycling history. The 85 starters who lined up that morning would face 342 kms (212.50 miles) of violent snow squalls, freezing rain, and massive winds. Only 8 riders would finish. The Paris -Tours route was lengthened after 1919, they added a detour through Chinon thus adding the hilly lanes on the south bank of the Loire up to the finish at Tours. This race normally had good weather and was known for high speeds, all changed in 1921 as the picture depicts. It snowed. Nearly half of the peloton climbed off at Chatres leaving the Pelissiers, Louis Mottiat and Albert de Jonghe to race ahead. At Chateaudun conditions were so dreadful even for the iron man Henri Pelissier. H took off his cape and handed it to his brother Francis. He wore two capes for the rest of the race. Legend has it that this swap was done in a cafe over a glass of Martinique Rum. While this was happening Eugene Christophe caught the leaders by a superhuman effort, typical of the man who thrived on hard days. He went clear. Meanwhile Pelissier had several stops to repair his bike and himself but he chased hard and caught him three times, with Mottiat, the only rider in the chase, who was struggling to hang on. Finally Pelissier got clear by a couple of minutes but then he had a flat tire. His hands were frozen and he was unable to do the repair. So he tore the tire off with his teeth. Riding on the rim, Pelissier caught Christophe once more and then dropped him on the climb out of Azay-le-Rideu finishing alone.
Francis Pelissier

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