Tour de France Trivia: Stage By Stage
Happy Birthday to the Tour, 100 years young and stronger and more vibrant than when Henri Desgrange, editor of L’Auto newspaper, appropriated a brilliant marketing idea from his colleague Gйo Lefиvre. Lefиvre proposed that the paper organise a multi-day race calling at some of France’s major cities, and so the Tour grew out of what was basically a brainstorming session. We’ve trawled the archives for snippets to mark each of the stages, that you can use to fascinate, bore or frustrate your colleagues, training buddies and partners!
Young Gйo, for his enthusiasm, got the job of co-ordinating the whole affair, and ended up following the stages by bike most of the way, before hopping the train to the finish. He was astounded to find that on one occasion Maurice Garin had raced to the stage finish faster by bike than the train!
PezCycling News has trawled the archives to give you a few snippets to mark each of the stages of this year’s race, that you can use to fascinate, bore or frustrate your colleagues, training buddies and partners!
Starting under the Eiffel Tower, this is the first time in 40 years that Le Tour has actually kicked off in Paris. The prologue as an idea came from the Paris-Nice race and the first one in the Tour was in 1967, won by Josй-Maria Errandonea at Angers. It was his one claim to fame as far as Le Tour was concerned.
The first of the heroes of the Tour set off from the Rйveil Matin cafй in 1903. This year’s riders will do the exactly same after a neutralised section leading them across Paris, via the Bastille.
The Amaury Sport Organisation which basically runs the show as far as French cycle races are concerned give themselves a pat on the back today, by taking the race towards Charleville where they stage the Criterium International every March.
They also pay tribute to Gйo Lefиrve, who had the Tour ‘idea’ in the first place. He came from nearby Vitry-le-Franзois.
A day for those who like flat, really tough races. Also, a chance to pay homage to the legendary Jean Robic who was born on the race route at Vouziers. Robic won the Tour in 1947, and won a bravery medal from the French Resistance for carrying messages during the occupation in WW2.
Team time trials were first introduced in the late 20’s but were a disaster as the strong teams flattened the opposition, putting the races totally out of sight. Nowadays, they’re the most spectacular of events with the riders each following the same drill and sweeping along in a co-ordinated blur of colour. This year’s TTT starts in Joinville and ends in Saint Dizier, 2 towns new to the Tour.
Nevers was on the route of the first ever Tour de France stage. Look out for someone like Thor Hushovd or Jens Voight to have a real go at winning today. Why? Because the finish is in Nevers, base of the Look bike company who kit out Credit Agricole.
Lyons hosted the finish of the first ever Tour de France stage, an all-night affair over 467km from Paris to Lyon. Maurice Garin was the winner that day, and held his lead for the rest of the Tour.
The Col de la Ramaz features for the first time in a Tour this year, and will have been thoroughly scoped by anyone harbouring winning intentions. Morzine hosts its 13th stage finish, and has a roster of top-class victors including Mariano Martinez, Robert Alban, Peter Winnen, Fabio Parra, Marco Pantani and Richard Virenque.
L’Alpe d’Huez is one of the sport’s ‘holiest’ sites. Yet it’s also the scene of one of its blackest, most farcical episodes. Having taken the yellow jersey with a spectacular lone win on the Alpe, there was a delay in getting Michel Pollentier to the dope test. When he finally showed up, he and another rider were busted with rubber tubing and prepared quantities of urine hidden under their clothing. A multitude of claims and counter-claims suggest Pollentier had been royally set up. He was disqualified and lost a fortune due to cancelled criterium contracts.
L’Alpe d’Huez first featured in 1952, with Fausto Coppi using it as a launch pad to overall victory. The fastest climb, though, was by Marco Pantani in 1997 who took only 37’ 35”. A time 10 minutes quicker than Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond took when they finished hand-in-hand in 1986.
Le Bourg-d’ Oisans is an ideal starting point for an Alpine stage and has seen 15 stage starts since 1952.
The terrifying, scree-strewn landscape of the Col d’ Izoard is one of the Tours most famous theatres. First raced in 1922, it was where Gino Bartali was gifted a stage win by rival Fausto Coppi, whose grave contained soil brought specially to Italy from Izoard.
Marseilles hosted the end of stage 2 from Lyon in the 1903 Tour, won by the fabulously named Hippolyte Aucouturier. It has seen 32 stage finishes, but only 5 since the 1950s, due to problems finding decent roads in and out of the city.
July 17th is an unhappy anniversary for Richard Virenque and his former Festina colleagues still in the sport, who were thrown out of the Tour exactly 5 years ago to the day after a doping scandal.
Today’s stage is just under a third of the distance of 1903’s 423km leg from Marseilles to Toulouse, which passed through Narbonne en-route!
The Tour was founded as what was essentially a publicity stunt, and that tradition is carried on today. The 1st individual time trial of the race finishes at a theme park in Cap’Decouverte, with the hope that more visitors will be attracted.
Today’s finishing climb, the Plateau des Bonascre appears for only the 2nd time. In 2001, the winner was Felix Cardenas. It also features another lesser-known climb up the Port de Pailheres.
In 1910 the Col du Peyresourde first appeared on the Tour route. It almost sent the Tour’s riders crazy, as they ranted to reporters that they were being sent into the ‘Circle of Hell’.
The Col du Porte d’ Aspet saw the tragic death of Fabio Casertelli, in a fall, in 1995. A little over 30 years earlier, it witnessed the end of the career of the mercurial Federico Bahamontes – the Spanish climbing genius (6 times King of the Mountains) had had enough and simply climbed of his bike, never to race again.
As a kid watching the 1983 tour, Roberto Laiseka rode up Luz Ardiden to watch his cycling heroes come by. When he pulled out his camera to take pictures, he was distraught to find he’d spilled yogurt all over it, wrecking it. The disappointment was wiped away in 2001 when he raced to victory at Luz Ardiden as a hero himself in front of his Basque fans.
Finish town Bayonne is another regular on the Tour route, especially after a clockwise trip westwards out of the Pyrenees. This stage holds special memories for Frenchman Ronan Pensec, who was first over 2 of today’s lesser-known climbs – the Col du Bargargui and the Col du Burdincurutcheta back in 1986.
By the time the 1988 Tour reached Bourdeaux, there were whispers that all was not what it seemed as Pedro Delgado of Spain proudly held the yellow jersey. A ‘positive test’ for Probenicid, a masking agent of anabolic steroids was unveiled. Only Delgado wasn’t positive – cycling’s governing body hadn’t put Probenicid on its banned list. The affair has never been fully explained; neither has the reason that nothing showed up in the half-dozen previous tests Delgado had taken on that Tour.
Bourdeaux was a stage finish in the first Tour, and 2003 will be the 78th time it’s hosted the Tour. Traditionally, Bourdeaux usually sees a sprint finish.
St Maxient l’Ecole hosts the Tour de France for the first time ever today. This part of France seems to have missed out on the Tour in the past, as it has apatchy history. However, Cognac was a control check point during the very first Tour de France, offering the chance for the region to say it’s been there from the very start.
This year’s final Time Trial finishes in Nantes, just like the Tour’s first ever in 1934. Antonin Magne won that day, on his way to a 2nd overall Tour victory.
Nantes was one of the famous 6 cities that hosted the first ever Tour; Maurice Garin won on that first visit in 1903.
French rider Vincent Barteau has calculated the very piece of road on the Champs-Elysйes where his team leader Laurent Fignon lost the 1989 Tour to Greg Lemond, and cost his team-mates their win bonus.
Another American to taste victory on the Champs Elysйes was Jeff Pierce who won the last stage in 1987.
Finishes in Paris are almost equally famous for their crashes. Among the most notable fallers were Djamolidine Abdoujaparov (who spectacularly wiped out in 1991, but returned to score 2 wins in Paris) and Andrй Darrigade who smashed into a security man on the Parc des Princes finish in 1958 fracturing his skull; the security man died.