Friday, January 13, 2012

1910 Tour de France

The 1910 Tour de France was a tour of several firsts. It was the first Tour de France to have two stages in the Pyrennes mountains, first time for a broom wagon, first death of a racer during the Tour and the first time a few of the racers used bicycles with gears.

With 110 starters the 1910 edition of the Tour was 4,737 km (2,944 miles) raced at an average speed of 28.680 km/hr (17.82 miles per hour). 

The first death of a racer during the Tour de France happened in 1910. On a rest day between stages 6 and 7 cyclist Adolphe Heliere died while swimming.
Adolphe Heliere

The course of the Tour de France since the first edition in 1903 had been drawn up each year by Henri Desgrange's, the tour organizer, assistant Alphonse Steines. For the 1910 Tour de France Steines wanted to include the high mountains and 2 stages in the Pyrennes. Desgrange was not in favor of adding these difficult mountain passes for fear that it might not be possible for the racers to complete the stages. 

 Prior to the start of the Tour Desgrange sent Alphonse Steines to see if it was possible for the riders to climb the mountains in the Tour de France. He went there on January 27th, 1910 and asked an innkeeper about the mountain pass. The innkeeper told Steines that it was barely passable in July and practically impossible in January. Steines hired a car anyway and headed up the mountain. The car was stopped by a snow drift while trying to get up the mountain. Steines continued on by foot. Eventually he fell off a ledge of snow into a ravine. A search party formed by locals didn't find him until 3:00 AM. The next morning Steines sent the following famous telegram to Henri Desgrange: "No trouble crossing Tourmalet. Roads satisfactory. No problem for cyclists. Steines"

Desgrange announced in L'Auto that the 1910 Tour route would include ascents of the Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet and Aubisque mountains. Originally there were 136 cyclists that had entered the Tour, 26 of these racers dropped out when they heard about the route. Other newspapers reacted to the Tour's route as "dangerous" and "bizarre".

A first time addition was the broom wagon to pick up cyclists that abandoned during the race. During the tenth stage over the four mountains in the Pyrennes it was ruled that riders that couldn't make it could finish the stage in the broom wagon and still start the race the next day.

Riding with gears on their bikes for the first time ever in a Tour de France were Lucien Petit-Breton, Maurice Brocco, Henri Cornet, Charles Pavese and Jean Alavoine.

As in the 1909 Tour the 1910 Tour de France was scored on points. This made it possible for a sprinter or a climber to win. As in modern times a major team was split over two potential winners among their teammates. Alcyon had assembled a huge amount of talent within it's team members. Two Alcyon team members, Octave Lapize and Francois Faber, were both contenders capable of winning. 
Alcyon teammates Francois Faber (left) and
Gustave Garrigou.

Faber had won the 1909 Tour de France and was set to win again. He was a big man and had trouble getting across the mountains. His teammate, Octave Lapize, excelled at climbing mountains on his bike. 

The tenth stage of the 1910 Tour was 326 km (202.57miles) that included the 4 monster mountains, the Peyresourde, the Aspin, the Tourmalet and the Aubisque. Desgrange didn't want to watch this stage and sent his assistants to supervise. The riders started at 3:30 AM so that they would be able to finish the stage. 

 On the Aubisque Steines and an assistant, Victor Breyer, stationed themselves 150 km from the finish of the stage. Beyer described when they saw the first man coming up the mountain:

And suddenly I saw him, a rider, but one I didn't know. His body heaved at the pedals, like an automaton on two wheels. He wasn't going fast, but he was at least moving. I trotted alongside him and asked, "Who are you? What's going on? Where are the others?" Bent over his handlebars, his eyes riveted on the road, the man never turned his head nor uttered one sole word. He continued and disappeared around a turn. Steines had read his number and consulted the riders list. Steines was dumbfounded. "The man is Francois Lafourcade, a nobody. He has caught and passed all the "cracks'. This is something prodigious, almost unbelievable!"

Still the minutes passed. Another quarter-hour passed before the second rider appeared, whom we immediately recognized as Lapize. Unlike Lafourcade, Lapize was walking, half leaning on, half pushing his machine. His eyes revealed and intense distress. But unlike his predecessor, Lapize spoke, and in abundance. "You are assassins, yes, assassins [Vous etes des assassins!]" To discuss matters with a man in this condition would have been cruel and stupid. I walked at his side, attentive to all he said. After more imprecations, he finished by saying, "Don't worry, at Eaux-Bonnes [the town at the bottom of the mountain] I'm going to quit".
Octave Lapize walking his single speed bicycle up the Tourmalet.

Lapize tore down the unpaved rutted paths of the descent of the Aubizque. He regained his strength, caught Lafourcade and won the stage. Lapize didn't quit.

Both Alcyon riders Faber and Lapize and many flats. The lead was traded back and forth between them. Faber had the misfortune of colliding with a dog during stage 7 and crashing hard. At the end of the 1910 Tour de France Lapize won over Faber by a mere 4 points. 

The Alcyon Team was dominant in the 1910 Tour de France, winning 9 out of 15 stages and taking the top 4 places in the general classification.

Top 5 places in the General Classification:
1. Octave Lapize (Alcyon) 63 points
2. Francois Faber (Alcyon) 67 points
3. Gustave Garrigou (Alcyon) 86 points
4. Cyrille Van Houwaert (Alcyon) 97 points
5. Charles Cruchon (independent) 119 points
Octave Lapize winner of the 1910 Tour de France
Lapize won Paris-Roubaix 3 times, Paris-Brussels 3 times and the Championships of France 3 times. He never again finished the Tour although he tried 4 more times. In World War I he was a fighter pilot and was shot down and died. He was only 29 years old. Click here to learn more about Octave Lapize.
Francois Faber
Click here to learn more about Francois Faber.

Gustave Garrigou during the 1910 Tour de France

Cyrille Van Houwaert
Click here to learn more about Cyrille Van Houwaert.

Charles Cruchon

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