Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Tales from the Tour.....

As this years Tour heads gently towards an ignonimious, Cav-Free finale, I wonder whether it's all become a bit banal? - where's the drama? Apart from the farcical day on the Ventoux there's not been a great deal of spectacle so far? There's been a few minor crashes but nothing like the usual skin lacerating affairs. I suppose it makes a change. Since the race started in 1903 there has been hardly a year where riders (or their supporters) haven't resorted to dubious methods to ensure success.

The second tour, in 1904, was one of the most scandalous. Riders were punished for skulduggery including taking shortcuts and using cars and trains. Others, such as race favourite Maurice Garin, were beaten up by their rivals' supporters. The following year saw nails being strewn on the course, a practice that continued for several more Tours.

Tales of riders seeking chemical assistance began to make the news in the 1920s when brothers Francis and Henri PĂ©lissier (the 1923 Tour winner) boasted to a journalist that they had...

 "cocaine to go in our eyes, chloroform for our gums, and do you want to see the pills? We keep going on dynamite. In the evenings we dance around our rooms instead of sleeping."

 Needless to say, the PĂ©lissier brothers were French cycling heroes. While not all competitors relied on "dynamite", it was common practice for Tour cyclists to drink alcohol during the race until the 1960s, when the French passed a law forbidding the use of stimulants in sport. However, the British rider Tom Simpson reportedly drank brandy before his death on Mont Ventoux during the 1967 Tour.

Stories of other methods of assistance, especially in the mountain stages, regularly crop up. A 1938 article described how a former champion was praised for making a miraculous recovery – only for it to be later revealed that he was hanging on to the back of a car. In 1955 the Guardian reported a long list of riders who had been fined for receiving an "unsolicited push" from spectators.

Meanwhile, in 1950, the French government had to apologise to Italy when drunk spectators blocked the road in the Pyrenees and threatened favourite Gino Bartali, forcing the Italian team to withdraw. Even more extreme was the case of the "fan" who punched five-times Tour winner Eddy Merckx in the kidneys during the 1975 race. Merckx finished the stage, but his attempt to win a sixth Tour was fatally damaged.

Doping tests were introduced in the mid-60s and so began a long history of riders trying to fool the doctors. One infamous case was that of Michel Pollentier who was disqualified in 1978, after it was discovered that he had an elaborate system of tubes running from his armpit to his penis containing clean urine.

Recent drug scandals have included cases of riders using testosterone. Perhaps they should have taken note of Italian cyclist Mario Cipollini who used a more natural method to boost his supply of the male hormone – taping a picture of Pamela Anderson to his handlebars.

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