Monday, August 22, 2011

Parc des Princes Velodrome

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Parc des Princes Velodrome 1906


In one corner of the 19th century Parc des Princes was a laboratory. It was demolished in 1897 and the site became a sports stadium. It was so quickly and badly built that spectators were denied access to the stands when it opened on July 18. There were fears that the stands would give way under the weight of spectators.
The track, managed by Henri Desgrange, who in 1903 founded the Tour de France, was 666 metres round, egg-shaped and almost without banking. The cycle track was the main feature but the size of the inner field meant other sports could be held there and, as Paris's main sports stadium, it accommodated the Olympic Games in 1924. By then the seating had expanded to 20,000 places. Desgrange and his successor, Jacques Goddet, then expanded capacity to 40,000. In fact there were 46,000 for the opening and the two were disciplined by the city authorities for overcrowding. At the same time, the track was reduced to 454 metres, given parallel straights and steeper bankings.
The second Parc des Princes hosted the final of the inaugural Rugby League World Cup in 1954, when Great Britain defeated France 16–12.
The last man to win a race on the track was Raymond Poulidor, when he won the last stage of the 1967 Tour de France. Roger Pingeon, the overall Tour winner, accepted his yellow jersey in a stadium in which demolition had already started.


The cycle track was demolished to make room for a bypass, the Périphérique, to be built around Paris. Keeping the road to a straight line took it under one end of the track. Two of the Parc's four stands were demolished, and the rest stayed up for another two years before neglect meant they too had to come down.
Jacques Goddet, who had taken ownership of the track on the death of Henri Desgrange, fought the demolition order. He said:
That the administration of the city, with an especially motivated sports advisor, should want to interrupt the activities of the company running the Parc – my company – demands explanations. We had been model partners going right back to the previous century, having the most courteous, the most straightforward dealings with the administration of the city of Paris, which owned our land from its beginnings. We were its tenants and therefore we had a lease. It had all the clauses that any lease would have, right down to rights to raise the rent, terms for extension of the period of lease… As tenants, paying rent, we were therefore entitled to our rights, which were that when the time came to eject us, there was a duty, without discussion, to pay us the costs of the ending of the lease. Those would have been considerable sums, because our little Parc, its buildings and installations, just 32 years old, and its pretty pink track were in excellent state and produced a good income... We found out that what the city of Paris had told us was a lease – something that nobody denied – wasn't one! What had been called a lease, treated as a lease, was just an error of description on the part of the city of Paris. Since 1898! And we who thought we were tenants, with all the rights of tenants, rights that until then had always been respected, suddenly found that under the law we were common concessionaires, people who could be shown the door without any legal discussion and without any damages.
—Jacques Goddet
A lawyer had found that the hiring agreement in the 19th century included a clause that children of a local school were allowed free use of the stadium on Thursday afternoons. The city of Paris claimed no tenancy agreement would include such a condition. A tenant had exclusive use of what he rented. Therefore Goddet had just a concession to use the land and could be evicted without compensation.
Goddet took the argument to appeal but failed. The velodrome became rubble to form the foundations of a soccer stadium. The track's shareholders received nothing in damages.

Riders ready to race on the Parc des Princes Velodrome.

Henri Desgrange

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