Saturday, March 9, 2013

1923 Tour de France

A traffic jam during the 1923 Tour de France

The 1923 Tour de France was the fifth Tour de France to take place after the end of World War I. It was made up of fifteen stages that covered 5,386 kilometers (3,347 miles) and was raced at an average speed of 24.23 KPH (15.06 MPH). The race started out with 139 riders, and only 48 of them finished. 

The bike industry was recovering from World War I and was able to sponsor riders under their own teams for the first time since the war began. They had to combine their resources to sponsor riders under the name La Sportive in the other four years since the end of the war. 

Automoto was the power-house team of the 1923 Tour de France. It had the dominate French bicycle racer at the time Henri Pelissier and his brother Francis Pelissier. Francis Pelissier was a champion cyclist too. 
Francis and Henri Pelissier having some fun during the 15th stage of the 1923 Tour de France.

Having business interests in Italy, Automoto, wanted some of their Italian racers to compete in the 1923 Tour de France. Several of their Italian team members were hired to travel to France for the race. Only one racer made the journey, Ottavio Bottecchia. The young Bottecchia had only turned pro the previous year. Two weeks before the start of the 1923 Tour he had finished in fifth place overall in the 1923 Giro de Italia. Automoto decided the plan to use Italians wasn't worth while with only one Italian making the trip, and they planned to send him back. At the last minute they decided to let Bottecchia ride the 1923 Tour de France. The only French words Ottavio Bottecchia knew when he first arrived in France was "No bananas, lots of coffee, thank you."
Ottavio Bottecchia in his team jersey

There were a couple of important changes made to the rules of the Tour de France in 1923. One of those rule changes was the addition of time bonuses for stage winners. The winner of each stage had two minutes deducted from his time. The other rule change was that the riders would now be able to swap out parts instead of repairing them. They could be aided by team directors and receive parts from them, but they were not allowed to receive them from other riders on their team. The second rule change was made so that the winner would be decided more by the ability of the racer, rather than dependent on good luck. Several times in previous editions of the Tour de France the lead rider had suffered a mechanical which cost him the overall victory. 

The riders were still required to finish each stage with everything they began the stage with. The items they had to carry to the end of the stages included tires that had been flattened and warm cloths they had on when they began the long stages in the cool early morning hours.

Francis and Henri Pellisier had not raced the Tour de France since they withdrew during the 1920 edition. They were both considered by many to be the most talented professional bicycle racers in France. During the 1920 Tour de France both Pellisier Brothers quit the race after Henri was given a two minute time penalty for throwing away a flatten tubular tire after changing it. They had an ongoing fued with the race organiser Henri Desgrange. It was a two way grudge. Desgrange wrote of Henri in his newspaper, L'Auto, "This Pelissier knows nothing about suffering, he'll never win the Tour." Henri Pellisier had won all the other major races in France during 1923 except the Tour de France. In recent years the Tour had been dominated by Belgian cyclists. Desgrange knew that if the Pellisiers raced the Tour de France it would be good for the race and the circulation of his newspaper, L'Auto. Henri Desgrange wrote an article in his newspaper saying that Henri Pellisier was too old to win the Tour de France, and would never enter the race. That same day the Pellisiers signed up to enter the 1923 Tour de France. 

Henri Pellisier repairing a punctured tire during stage 12 of the 1923 Tour de France.

Ottavio Bottecchia's ability was obvious from the very early stages of the Tour. He finished the first stage in second place and won the second stage in a sprint finish. At the end of the second stage Botttechia was wearing the yellow jersey of the race leader. 

The Pelissier brothers, Henri and Francis, showed their domaince in the third stage. The third stage was from Cherbourg to Brest and 405 kilometers (256.66 miles) in length. Henri won the stage and Francis came in second. Bottecchia had a flat tire, but only lost 37 seconds on the stage, and retained his spot as overall race leader.

During the fourth stage Henri Pelissier was given a two minute penalty for throwing away a punctured tire. Bottecchia also suffered a flat tire and the overall race lead was taken over by Robert Jacquinot.

Nothing really changed during the fifth stage of the 1923 Tour de France. The top three places were:

1. Romain Bellenger
2. Hector Tiberghien @ 3 minutes 15 seconds
3. Ottavio Bottecchia @ 3 minutes 54 seconds

The Sixth stage contained the mountain climbs of the Aubisque, the Tourmalet, the Aspin and the Peyresourde. It was 326 kilometers (202.57 miles) in length. Robert Jacquinot was known as a sprinter, but in the sixth stage he was the first racer over the first three climbs.  It looked as if Jacquinot would take over the race leader's position. While climbing the Peyresourde, he ran out of energy and fell off his bike. Jean Alavoine passed him and won the mountainous stage. Jacquinot got back on his bike and finished the stage in sixth place, 16 minutes behind Alavoine. Henri Pelissier finished twenty three minutes behind Alavoine.  Bottechia crossed the finish line  over 27 minutes after the stage six winner. Bottecchia took over the yellow jersey of race leader at this point in the Tour.

Below are the top three places after the first mountain stage of the 1923 Tour de France:

1. Ottavio Bottecchia
2. Jean Alavoine @ 8 minutes 28 seconds
3. Romain Bellenger @ 21 minutes 50 seconds

Henri Pelissier on the Tourmalet during the 1923 Tour de France.

Jean Alavoine went on to win the seventh stage, which was in the Pyrenees mountains. Bellenger, Bottecchia and the Pelissier brothers were able to stay with him this time and finished with the same time for the stage. There were no changes to the overall general classification after the seventh stage.

Bellenger had a bad day during the eighth stage. He lost twenty minutes to Bottecchia and twelve minutes to Alavoine. This moved Henri Pelissier up in the standing to third place. 

The top three spots after the eight stage were:

1. Ottavio Bottecchia
2. Jean Alavoine @ 14 minutes 19 seconds
3. Henri Pelissier @ 22 minutes 8 seconds

The positions of the overall general classification stayed unchanged for the most part up until the tenth stage. The tenth stage was the first alpine stage and contained the mountain passes of the Allos, the Vars and the Izoard. Henri Pelissier planned to attack his teammate, Bottecchia, even though he was wearing the yellow jersey of the race leader. Francis Pelissier was riding with an injured knee, but was determined to help his brother win the stage. On the first stage a break from the field contained Buysse, Alancourt, Alavoine, Bottechia and Henri Pelissier. Pelissier noticed that Bottechia was riding in too big of a gear and attached on the climb. In order to change gears on his bicycle Bottechia would have had to stop and take his rear wheel off and turn it around. He would have lost even more time if he had of stopped to make this gear change. Henri Pelissier rode away from Buysse, Alavoine and the rest of the riders on the final climb of the Izoard. He won the stage and took over the race leader's position of the 1923 Tour de France.

The top three spots now were:

1. Henri Pelissier
2. Jean Alavoine @ 11 minutes 25 seconds
3. Ottavio Bottecchia @ 13 minutes 16 seconds

Francis stayed with his brother Henri Pelissier and helped him win the eleventh stage, which contained the Galibier and the Aravis mountains.  Bellinger was in second place, eight minutes behind them. Bottechia finished the stage almost fourteen minutes behind the Pelissier brothers in fifth place. There was little chance that Henri would not win the Tour after the time gains he made during this stage.

After the last mountain stage of the 1923 Tour de France the top three positions were:

1. Henri Pelissier
2. Ottavio Bottecchia @ 29 minutes 12 seconds
3. Romain Bellenger @ 1 hour 5 minutes 14 seconds

Romain Bellenger winning stage 13 in a sprint finish.

The remaining stages of the 1923 Tour de France were relatively flat and offered little chance of gaining time. Henri Pelliser went on to win the 1923 Tour de France. He saw the talent of his Italian teammate, Ottavio Bottecchia and said after the end of the Tour "Bottecchia will succeed me." Bottecchia did go on to win the 1924 Tour de France.
Ottavio Bottecchia leading the field during the fifteenth stage of the 1923 Tour de France.

The race organizer, Henri Desgrange, was happy to have a french rider win the 1923 Tour de France. Henri Pelissier was the first Frenchman to win the Tour since 1911. Sales of Desgrange's newspaper, L'Auto, went up tremendously after Pelissier's victory.

The top five final places in the overall general classification of the 1923 Tour de France were:

1. Henri Pelissier (Automoto): 222 hours 15 minutes 30 seconds
2. Ottavio Bottecchia (Automoto) @ 30 minutes 41 seconds
3. Romain Bellenger (Peugeot) @ 1 hour 4 minutes 43 seconds
4. Hector Tiberghien (Peugeot) @ 1 hour 29 minutes 16 seconds
5. Arsene Alancourt (Armor) @ 2 hours 6 minutes 40 seconds

Henri Pelissier, winner of the 1923 Tour de France.
Click here for more on Henri Pelissier.
Ottavio Bottecchia, second place finisher of the 1923 Tour de France.
Click here for more information on Ottavio Bottecchia.

Romain Bellenger, third place finisher of the 1923 Tour de France.
Click here for more information on Romain Bellenger.

Hector Tiberghien, fourth place finisher of the 1923 Tour de France.
Click here for more information on Hector Tiberghien.

Arsene Alancourt, fifth place finisher of the 1923 Tour de France.
Click here for more information on Arsene Alancourt.

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