Monday, July 9, 2007

Tour de France: Blood, sweat and no gears

Not until 1937 were the riders of the Tour de France allowed to use gears, since the sporting event's creator Henri Desgrange thought they were only for the old and the weak. For the riders to change gearing they had to stop, dismount, turn over the rear wheel and put the chain on the smaller/bigger cog on the other side of the hub. Henri himself preferred to ride with a fixed gear, i.e. no freewheel. Even though the modern derailleur was not invented until the late 1940's by a certain Tullio Campagnolo, hub gears had been available since the turn of the century.

"I still feel that varable gears are only for people over forty-five. Isn't it better to triumph by the strength of your muscles than by the artifice of a derailleur? We are getting soft...As for me, give me a fixed gear! "

- Henri Desgrange, 1902.

Adelin Benoît displays the bike equipment of 1924.

In 1924, the year the photo was taken, the tour had one of it's first cases of doping. The defending champion frenchman Henri Pelissier, commented his box of pills (amphetamines?) with the words "You have no idea what the Tour de France is. It's a calvary. But the road to the cross had 14 stations. We have 15...". Only 60 of 157 riders starting reached the finish in Paris that year, Pelissier was not among them.

In the following year 1925 Adelin Benoît from Belgium was the only rider besides the winner italian Ottavio Bottecchia to wear the leader's yellow jersey. He held it for 5 stages, but lost 45 minutes in one single stage and was effectively out of the fight for the overall victory. Bottecchia had won the year before as well, but while training for his comeback in 1927 (he didn't finish in 1926, due to a severe thunderstorm) he was assaulted and beaten to death during a training ride in Italy. There's speculations that the reason for the murder was because of his socialist sympathies and therefore not being popular among the fascists.

(Listening to while posting: Arvo Pärt - Lamentate)

1 comment:

LS said...

No gears? Those were really hard times then! Did they walk up the Alps?