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Tour de France 1904 – 2007 Part Two
 
By Podofdonny
Date: 7/30/2007
Tour de France 1904 – 2007 Part Two
 
Have things changed that much since 1904? A review ……..

Click on photos for a larger image

Final Podium: Cadel Evans, Alberto Contador and Levi Leipheimer.
Photo © www.benrossphotography.com Click on photo for a larger image

On the 6th July 2007 I wrote the following article which argued that the “prophets of doom for cycling racing are wrong both in a historical and realistic perception.”. In the highlight of the well documented troubles that have beset the Tour de France 2007 it is perhaps worth reviewing that article to see if 24 days in July have altered that argument.

CHEATS

With no dopage control or even rules about doping in 1904, it’s a fair bet that some riders were taking normal over the counter medicines of the day such as cocaine and morphine. Of course, like today, in the shadows lurked individuals like “Chopper” Warburton, the Michele Ferrari of his day, who also supplied their riders with more exotic compounds such as arsenic and strychnine and like Ferrari was also banned by the authorities for a period of time.

The fight against dopage did not start until the mid 1960’s. The death of Tom Simpson 40 years ago on Mont Ventoux was supposed to hail a new era. We still wait, but there is hope for optimism. The reality is despite all the scandals over the last 40 years it is only in the last 12 months that there seems to be a major commitment by an increasing majority of Teams to eliminate dopage.

Of course here is the irony. On 18 July the T-Mobile Team suspended team rider Patrik Sinkewitz for violations of the Team Code of Conduct. Sinkewitz had returned an adverse analytical finding for testosterone following an out-of-competition test taken by Germany's National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) on June 8th. The success of the vigilance of T Mobile ironically brought bad press on the Team. Instead of being hailed as a success in the fight against dopage, German Sponsors and broadcasters seemed to take a very short sighted view on the situation.

Meanwhile, the race controls are also working, with Alexandre Vinokourov and Cristian Moreni both failing A and B tests. The fact that riders are being caught is showing that the tests are beginning to work. Nobody failed a dopage control in 1904 simply because no one was testing.

International Cycling Union (UCI) anti-doping chief Anne Gripper is quite right when she says "The results, disappointing as they are for the short-term, will help the sport move into that new future that we all know is there, The results clearly show that the anti-doping system is working." .

CARS, RADIO’S AND OTHER CHEATS

In part one of this article I noted

The problem is that there will be always those who want to cheat the system.

In 1904, the second edition of the race, Pierre Chevallier seemed to get dropped from the peloton on several occasions yet managed to get back to the leading group, probably by a ride in a car. It was even suspected that some riders were being towed from a car with a wire fitted to a piece of cork which they held between their teeth.

Rather surprisingly, for all the time and effort put into anti dopage control, rather more primitive forms of cheating still abound in the peloton of 2007, which owe a remarkable similarity to those of 1904.

During Stage Eight, on the descent of the Cormet de Roselend Levy Leipheimer suffered a derailleur problem and free-wheeled down the hill, waiting for assistance. With the Montée d'Hauteville looming, rather surprisingly no Discovery riders came back to help their Captain.

The decision had already been made by the Discovery Channel Team, when the team car reached Leipheimer he changed bikes and then was quite literally towed back into the peloton by the car. The cavalier attitude of Pierre Chevaillier is still alive and well in 2007 (although it should be noted that Chevaillier was banned for life for his vehicle assistance)

His actions were noted by officials and Leipheimer was fined 50 CHF and penalized 5 points and 10 seconds and fined an additional 50 CHF for illegal mechanical assistance.

Leipheimer himself admitted the fine was not equivalent to the advantage he gained.

"It could make a difference, but if I hadn't gotten back, it would have made a bigger difference," he said.

Too many times in this race we saw team cars interfere with the racing, either directly, as in the Leipheimer case (and many others), and indirectly by just getting in the way of the racing.

Enough is enough. The lessons of 1904 have not been learnt. What is the point of racing on closed roads if the race itself then clogs it up with an armada of cars and motorbikes. It is time to ban team cars from the road, let the riders rely on their team mates and neutral assistance (which the excellent Mavic and bidon replacement motor bikes already do).

The team managers should also be banned from radio contact with their teams during the race – the public deserves a race which approaches some purity of the concept of racing bicycles.

After 103 years of external interference to the race surely it is time for a fresh start?

FANS AND THEIR INFLUENCE

In Part One of this article I wrote-

1904 was also a bad year for fan behaviour.

On the Col du Grand Bois, near St Etienne, an ugly mob blocked the path of the race. Fauré (who it must be said was innocent of any incitement) slipped through. Garin and the Italian Giovanni Gerbi were less lucky. The mob set upon both. Garin escaped relatively unscathed; Gerbi was less lucky, ending up with broken fingers which eventually caused his retirement. The riot was only broken up when Géo. Lefèvre arrived in the organiser's car and started firing his pistol over the heads of the crowd! (Tom James- Veloarchive)

As in 1904, once again in 2007 we saw the road side fans exert an enormous influence on the race. By the time the race had reached Stage 16, the fans frustration with Rasmussen’s explanations for his whereabouts before the test and how he managed to miss so many out of competition tests erupted into a chorus of boo’s when he appeared at the start of the stage and when he finished in what seemed to be a race winning move on the Col d’Aubisque.

Rasmussens explanation only seemed to high light the problems –

“It’s true that I was booed at the start and again during the stage also. I believe that, for the moment, there’s a lot of frustration amongst the people who follow cycling and in the peloton about what’s going on – about what happened to ‘Vino’ yesterday – and I think that since he is not here and the Astana team has gone home, people are taking their frustration out on me”.

It was the straw that broke the Rabobank back. What is the point of sponsoring a rider who wins the greatest race, and only attracts negative publicity? They probably did not know it but those booing fans had an equal influence to the thuggery of 1904.

CONCLUSION

In Part 1 of this article I wrote

In 1904 Henri Desgrange declared "That the Tour was finished" , today Christian Prudhomme, the director of the 2007 Tour de France faces the same challenges ....

The headline “The Tour is Dead” is as old as the Tour itself. However the decision of the Tour de France organisers (ASO) to distance themselves from the International Cycling Federation (UCI) is maybe a step too far.

The UCI should concentrate on the rules and regulations of the sport, rather than grandiose projects like the Pro Tour cartel. ASO should learn from the lessons of 1904.

In 1904 the race was anything but a success. What really happened on those dark roads nearly a century ago can now never been known: what is known is that on November 30th 1904, four months after the end of the race, the Union Vélocepedique de France issued a communiqué with the following effect:

The first four overall - Maurice Garin, Lucien Pothier, Cesar Garin and Hippolyte Aucouturier - were excluded from the results.

9 other riders were excluded from the result

Maurice Garin was banned for two years, Chaput, Chevallier and Lucien Pothier for life, Payan and Prévost for a year

Overall winner (after the exclusions) Henri Cornet was "warned", as was Jean-Baptiste Dortignacq. Aucouturier was "warned" and had a "reprimand inflicted" on him

The 1904 Tour, is a perfect mirror of the race in 2007. A young winner (Cornet / Contador), big names disqualified (Garin/Vinokourov), vehicles asisting riders (Chevaillie/Leipheimer) and fan behaviour having a direct influence of how the race developed.

Cycling in Crisis? No change there then.


Daily Peloton Man to Watch - Alberto Contador crosses the finish line and celebrates his victory.
Photo © www.benrossphotography.com

PART ONE

Tour de France 1904 – 2007 Part One (6th July 2007) In 1904 Henri Desgrange declared "That the Tour was finished" , today Christian Prudhomme, the director of the 2007 Tour de France faces the same challenges ....

It is no surprise that a race which has always been a passionate affair should sometimes start in disarray.

This year, such is the success of the UCI and racing organisers in defending the sport against cheats who use “dopage” to enhance their performance, means that no rider will begin the race wearing the number one on his back.

Floyd Landis, who finished with the best time last year tested positive for testosterone, still argues his innocence, and will not start.

Maybe he is as clean as the driven snow, but it was either with supreme unintended irony or with insight knowledge that Eurosport commentator David Harmon said “you can almost see the testosterone oozing out of him.” when Landis crossed the winning line after his remarkable solo run last year.

It is clear that both broadcasters and advertisers are being pushed to the limit by the continuing dopage saga which has always haunted cycling.

However, the prophets of doom for cycling racing are wrong both in a historical and realistic perception.

The Tour de France has always tottered between scandal and jubilation. It is this very juxtaposition between human triumph and frailty that makes the race so engaging. If you devise a sport that will push its competitors (and even followers) to the limit, you will have Teams, Racers, Sponsors and Fans who will ignore the rules.

The problem is that there will be always those who want to cheat the system.

In 1904, the second edition of the race, Pierre Chevallier seemed to get dropped from the peloton on several occasions yet managed to get back to the leading group, probably by a ride in a car. It was even suspected that some riders were being towed from a car with a wire fitted to a piece of cork which they held between their teeth.

1904 was also a bad year for fan behaviour.

On the Col du Grand Bois, near St Etienne, an ugly mob blocked the path of the race. Fauré (who it must be said was innocent of any incitement) slipped through. Garin and the Italian Giovanni Gerbi were less lucky. The mob set upon both. Garin escaped relatively unscathed; Gerbi was less lucky, ending up with broken fingers which eventually caused his retirement. The riot was only broken up when Géo. Lefèvre arrived in the organiser's car and started firing his pistol over the heads of the crowd! (Tom James- Veloarchive)

History does not change it just alters to the times.

In November 1904, the Tour Founder, Henri Desgrange declared the the “Tour was finished”, for reasons probably lost in the mists of time, the first four overall - Maurice Garin, Lucien Pothier, Cesar Garin and Hippolyte Aucouturier - were excluded from the results. 9 other riders were excluded from the result .Maurice Garin was banned for two years, Chaput, Chevallier and Lucien Pothier for life, Payan and Prévost for a year . Overall winner (after the exclusions) Henri Cornet was "warned", as was Jean-Baptiste Dortignacq. Aucouturier was "warned" and had a "reprimand inflicted" on him.

Christian Prudhomme, the director of the 2007 Tour de France faces the same challenges as Henri Desgrange, in 1904.

In 1904 the threat was of local mobs endeavouring to aid their champion, in 2007 it is the same scenario of disaster but the danger is from International terrorism and drunken fans dressed in fancy dress aiming for their five minutes of fame.

As for dopage clearly the UCI and the Tour de France are winning.

The flood mark was probably reached last year when both Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso found themselves excluded from the race.

Since then a succession of confessions, all prompted by very personal reasons, and better police work and testing have named and in some cases shamed both former and present professional bicycle racers.

The flood is on the ebb but both the UCI and race organisers are building strong and sensible defences for the future.

Christian Prudhomme believes, quite rightly, that

"The world of cycling is really going through a revolution. There is wrestling between those who dream of a different sport and those who cannot quit their old habits."(Reuters)

Old habits die hard, and the sport still faces a long period of reflection.

Fortunately, with an open field and, by Tour standards, a fairly dramatic parcours, cycling could emerge from this Tour with a far better image than it will start with.

The race is wide open, Vinokourov, Klöden, Sastre, Evans, Leipheimer, Menchov, Schleck, Contador , Moreau and Kashechkin all have backers for the final podium.

It will have a dramatic and theatrical start in London and and equal climax in Paris.

And one thing is certain.

The riders who complete the prologue in London Town, will have an audience and world wide press which would have been unbelievable to those riders who started the 1904 edition.

Ultimately it is up to the riders, fans and press to respect their sport.

Realistically the lessons of 1904 can never be learnt, cycling will always be in the twilight zone as a sport because of its basic simplicity.

Which is its attraction.

As Tom Simpson said, “Football is a game” (as a matter of interest one of his brothers played professional football for Blackpool, team of Stanley Matthews) “but cycling is a sport”.

When passion is involved, the results are hard to predict

Daily Peloton Man to watch

Alberto Contador


A statue of Christ on the road to the Col d'Aubisque.
Photo © www.benrossphotography.com

Sources – VeloArchive, BBC, Velonews, Memoire Cyclisme.

 
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