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Tour Preview Special - Stage Fourteen
By Podofdonny
Date: 7/20/2002
Tour Preview Special - Stage Fourteen

Stage 14: Lodève - Mont Ventoux:  220 kms

In the newly styled "short Tour" this stage is the second longest in the race. It is a stage of simple concept but grand design. The parcours are pancake flat over most of the first 190 kilometres but then the riders tackle the mythical Mont-Ventoux, the Giant Of Provence for a mountain top finish. To look at the profile click here.

Today's starting point is Lodève ( 7.600). It was once famous for its cloth and its uranium deposits. Now the town is better known for its painting exhibitions, cycling trials, fossils and local Saint Fulcran (who amongst other things once raised some one from the dead in order to make sure his will was correct). Check out the atmosphere of this sleepy town (until the Tour arrives!) by clicking here.

As the peloton speeds along the flat parcours, taking in two bonus sprints along the way, with no doubt escapees trying to gain enough time on the peloton, the mountain (or more correctly extinct volcano) will gradually dominate their view. A constant and nagging reminder of the task each rider is about to face. As the last Alpine mountain peak before the Rhône plain, Mont Ventoux can be seen almost from everywhere in Provence. It is not the highest mountain in the Alpine chain but its isolated position gives it a dominating feature hence one of its many nicknames: "Géant de Provence."

At the start of the climb the riders will pass through the ancient village of Bédoin and its cooling pine trees before the vegetation gets starker and starker until there is no greenery left only the bare sun reflecting rocks, the 'lunar,' or bald part of the climb, covers the last 6500 metres of climbing. “It’s another world up there, the white rocks and the blinding sun," was how Simpson described the mountain in his book “Cycling is my Life ". Indeed it is, its unique micro-climate can make it extremely hot (the day Simpson died the temperature was recorded at 55C ) or alternatively, freezing cold, with the highest wind speeds recorded any where on the planet . If it is hot and heavy catching a breath is difficult for a walker - never mind a racing cyclist . The bizarre, almost lunar, landscape can be blamed on the French navy, who once pillaged its forest to build ships 30 miles to the south on the Mediterranean coast. for some great pictures of the mountain click here.

Mont Ventoux was probably the first Mountain ever to be climbed for no other reason than because it was there. Climbed in the Middle Ages by the Italian poet Pétrarque, the Tour organisers for many years were too fearful to send riders over it’s summit. Eventually the mountain was included and in 1951 Lucien Lazaridès became the first man to win on the mythical mountain. As the riders reach the last mile they will pass Simpson’s famous memorial. It has become a cyclists shrine; David Millar, stage winner today, paid his respects by tossing a cap towards the memorial during the 1999 Dauphine Libere race - but by the time the peloton reaches this point there will be only half a dozen men at most still in contention - the question is which half dozen?

 Daily Peloton’s Stage Prediction
"I've said many times that I regard that (Ventoux) as the hardest climb we'll do this year. It may not necessarily be the hardest stage because there's no other climbs on the day, but it's very difficult," warned Armstrong after his second consecutive stage win in the Pyrenees Friday. Meanwhile Beloki is still feeling confident: "The Ventoux stage will be decisive, I hope to attack on the Ventoux."  However, it must be said the Heras / Armstrong combination would seem unbeatable unless another rider from the peloton launches a surprise attack and catches everyone out. Belli wants desperately to gain one last big win, and if Guerini can recapture the form he showed when he rode to the top of Alpe d’Huez, in spite of a photographer's best efforts, he too might surprise. Armstrong and Heras arm in arm over the finishing line does, however, seem the most likely outcome.

Tour Talk
"Soigneur" - Official attached to the team primarily as a masseur, but is also concerned with the treatment (or even better, prevention) of minor ailments such as boils, stomach upsets, chills or sunburn. These men will be particularly busy after today's stage.

Tour Hero
Tom Simpson

"My lucky number is 13," he said. "My daughter was born on Friday the 13th, my wife also. Perhaps Friday, stage 13, will be lucky, too."

Click here to see one of the last photos of Simpson.

To see the film of the tragic and disturbing events click on la mort en direct here, or in the above link.

July 13th 1967 -Simpson in trouble on the Ventoux - he pushes himself literally beyond the levels of human endurance - his energy wilts from his body and he falls. Harry, the team mechanic jumps from the car and says, “That’s enough Tom."
“Put me back on the bloody bike."
He only manages a few metres before he falls for the last time. A contemporary account seems enough.

Cycling Weekly, July 13, 1967: The Simpson Tragedy
Simpson lay white, inert and ghastly by the roadside. The first man on the scene, team mechanic Harry Hall, was fighting for Simpson's life with the Tour's doctor, Pierre Dumas.
As Dumas clamped an oxygen mask over Simpson's face, Hall switched from mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to massaging his chest.
"At that point," he told me, "there was what I thought was a bit of response."
He saw Simpson's chest rise and fall with the resuscitation, but he realises now that Simpson was probably already dead. He still has no idea how long they struggled - "Time doesn't record."
They were in the position of having done all they could do. They had given first-aid. The experts were there, the car was blocking the road and the medical team had taken over. Hall, Taylor and Ryall moved on. Eventually one of the two police helicopters escorting the Tour arrived to whisk Simpson away. Macorig (Dumas's assistant) and Nurse Daumas continued the massage on their way to the central hospital at Avignon.
The police said Simpson was put aboard the helicopter at 4.40pm and arrived at the hospital at 5.15. His death was announced to the press room at 5.40 by the race's co-organiser, Felix Levitan. Burial permission was refused.
Sid Saltmarsh, one of the few British reporters on the Tour, told me: "Heaven knows what I wrote that night. I just sat and I wrote. I don't remember. Normally I can remember, but not that night."
There's a famous picture of Simpson on the Ventoux. It was on the front page of Cycling. It is not the drawn cheeks that you notice most, or that rudder of a nose. It is the eyes, staring, empty, cold, fixed. Alan Gayfer, who left Cycling to join the American press agency UPI, eventually met the photographer who took it.
"Robert had gone up the mountain on his motorbike and seen Tom climbing, took this picture because he was taking pictures of all the riders - of the former world champion climbing in British colours, and he looked at it and he thought, 'No, quick, back to the finish.'
"They went straight down to the stage end and he had the picture developed and sent it off and said 'Tom Simpson has died.'
"The UPI staff in London said 'How do you know? How did you know he was dead?'
"He said: 'I saw it when I went past him. Death was in his face'."
The news was already spreading, but the British team did not know. They were worried when Tom did not make the finish but they knew no more. What's more, their hotel was about 20 kilometres away - far enough.
Vin Denson: "I had spoken . . . I had taken my bike for some work to he done, to Harry Hall. Harry turned to me and he said 'He is dead. You know, I am certain he is dead.'
"I said 'No, no, that is not possible, Harry." Harry said 'He was taken to hospital, we can hope for the best, but I am certain he is dead.' This knocked me, personally, and I started to think there was a possibility that he could have been dead. Then suddenly, as we went in for the meal, Alec Taylor pulled me to one side. He said 'We have had positive news from the hospital. He has been announced dead on arrival at the hospital.'
"Although I knew I was a grown man, I remember being almost hysterical in tears. I felt as if something inside me died when Tom died."
Alec Taylor, half-British, half-Belgian, fair-haired, eyes disbelieving behind tinted glasses: "I was asked to go down to Carpentras to meet the race organisers at the headquarters, I was alone in the car, I opened the radio and every station in the whole of Europe was giving out the news.
"It was, I must admit, a pretty dreadful time."
A preliminary investigation at Avignon showed that Simpson's jersey pockets held three small tubes. Two were empty and the third contained a few of two kinds of tablets. They were Stenamina and Tonedrin, made respectively by the Pepitit company of Milan and Laboratoires Grimault of Paris. Both were banned to athletes in France by Republican Law number 65,412. Searches of the team's baggage at Sete, the next stage town, revealed more drugs in Simpson's luggage.
Eamonn Andrews once asked Simpson: "Do professional cyclists burn themselves out by the use of drugs and so on that we sometimes hear about?"
Simpson, slightly hesitantly, answered: "Well, I don't think that is the right term to use. I don't think they burn themselves out. A man who gets to the top usually stays there for several years, and he will not get to the top by using drugs."
Albert Beurick, who had befriended Denson in Belgium says of Tom: "The best times in my life, I spent with Tom Simpson. Sorry I get emotional when I talk about it. I lost, well, I have a brother but, I will never meet anyone else in my life like him".
He also says of Simpson and drugs: "Maybe Tom took something. They admit that, because everybody took something, even these days. I have been in cycling, I have never raced myself but I have a lot of experience. I have been in cycling for so many years and I have seen a lot of things and I know everybody takes it in a big race. You cannot go around a race for 22 days, 3,000 kilometres without taking it. They are only human people.
"I remember Tom won the World's, the next day he had to ride a criterium in Paris the next day in the south of France. The travelling they have to do.
"I know he took them, I am the first to admit, but I am sure he didn't take them like. . . he was a very, very intelligent man and he knew what he was doing. Tom knew what he was doing. He was not a man who takes drugs, drugs, drugs all the time. There were some riders, big riders, taking them a lot.
"Tom was not like that. I remember going to one race and he said to me, the championship of Flanders, no, I will not take anything today. I do not need it.
"Tom took it when he needed it but he was very, very careful."
Beurick's cafe, near St Pietersplein in Ghent - Simpson's daughters still live in the city - is about four kilometres from the Simpson home in Mariakerke. Women were not allowed to follow the Tour, so Helen Simpson had taken a holiday in Corsica.
"I used to go down to the beach with the radio," she told me. "It came over on the radio that he had fallen. I was with Jean Leulliot's wife, Blanche. I was listening to it, sort of in dribs and drabs really, and she had heard that it was more serious than she had thought.
"She said 'I think we had better go down to the village and find out. She phoned the permanence (race headquarters) of the Tour and spoke to Jean, and all she was saying was yes and no, and yes and no.
"I could see on her face there was something wrong. My parents had arrived the day before and it was my father who broke the news to me."
Denson, several hundred kilometres away in Carpentras, wanted to pack in the Tour there and then. "I really, basically, wanted to go to the funeral. I felt as though I should and one of the team should be represented at the funeral. I did not think we should have continued."
In fact, in the end Denson quit the race on the day of the funeral. Alec Taylor had spent much of the night at the police station answering questions. It was, after all, uncommon for riders to die in the Tour de France. The question of drugs, he said, did not arise. When he returned, he and the team voted, with a view to changing their minds again in the morning if they wished. Some wanted to withdraw. Others, like Barry Hoban, wanted to continue. In the end, on Bastille Day, 1967, the team re-appeared for the stage to Sete, their arms circled by a band of black tape.
Riders of half-a-dozen nationalities weeped openly. Silently they shook hands with the remaining Britons. Then a grizzly little French Pole, Jean Stablinski, pushed his way through to Denson.
"You were Tom's closest friend," he said. "He has gone and now you are pere de famille. You must win today for Tom. Just go to the front and take a lead of a couple of minutes and do not race too hard. Nobody wants to race hard today."

So the race set off. What happened next depends on who tells you the story.

It was not Denson who went out alone, it was Barry Hoban. At his bike factory in Wales, he told me: "We were all riding at the front and the next thing, I looked round and there was no one there.
"To this day, I do not know how far I rode on my own. I could give you every inch of Ghent-Wevelgem which I won, but I cannot tell you much about that."
Denson himself: "I was riding along in a complete trance and every now and again I would just break down in tears. When I saw another English rider, I kept looking and thinking it was Tom again. I kept listening to Tom - I could hear his voice all the while."
The drugs story broke in the Daily Mail. The author, J. L. Manning, shocked a domestic cycling fraternity not yet quite ready to concede that riders took dope. I remember the vague phrase "scientific training" was as popular as it was undefined.
When a letter appeared in Cycling saying, perhaps not unreasonably, that Simpson should be condemned as a cheat rather than lauded as a champion, Sid Saltmarsh reflected that it was easy to misunderstand. This, he said, was not a man doped beyond comprehension. The autopsy said that Simpson had died of dehydration, lack of oxygen and overwork. The insurance companies which had refused to pay out on their policies, were finally forced to concede the point - it was not drugs which killed Tom. Although, there again, the Tour de France introduced dope tests promptly after that.

Thousands of people - personalities and ordinary folk who had never seen Simpson let alone met him - crowded Harworth when he was finally buried. The church was only small and most heard the service on loudspeakers outside. It rained during the service and cleared up immediately afterwards.
It surprised nobody that so many would turn up. I remember sitting in Albert Beurick's home in Ghent and hearing why.
"When Tom came to Belgium, I met him and he was just a normal boy. He was a working-class boy. He was just a very nice person and a gentleman."I remember one day, when he was world champion, some friend who works in the hospital - we have a big hospital in Ghent university - and they have a department there, children who have water on the brain. The kids were not stupid, they were just sick. They were asking Rik Van Looy to come and Rik refused, he had no time."
"I told this to Tom and Tom said 'Right, we go.'
"This kid was ever so happy. He never mentioned it . . . Tom turned up, three great big sacks of sweets, without asking them. Nobody knew. That was Tom, you see. He was a man who was kindly- he had a great heart.
"After his death everybody was very sad. My mum, for example, he was like one of her sons. She was in bed for two weeks. She was really, really ill.
Everybody in Ghent was sad about it. In church we had a ceremony afterwards.
We lost somebody from us, you know. He was one of us, he was one from Ghent."
Twenty years afterwards, with the memorial long-established on the Ventoux, Beurick still weeps as he recalls a lost friend. "Because his death, I think, was an accident. No matter what they say. It was just bad luck. What happened to him could have happened to hundreds of others and he was just, maybe Friday the 13th, he was just unlucky. It could have happened to everybody . . . Anquetil, Poulidor, Merckxt Van Looy.
"The same thing happened a few years later with Merckx and Vandenbossche, the two Belgians. Exactly the same thing, but then the Tour finished at seven o'clock in the evening. They took their lessons. When Tom was there, the finish was at four o'clock in the afternoon in the heat of a burning sun.
"There was no re-animation (oxygen) car there. Well, they learned their lesson afterwards. Now when the Tour finishes these days on Mont Ventoux, they finish at seven o'clock in the evening. They have re-animation."
There was a fairy-tale ending. Among the many who consoled Helen Simpson, amid sympathy letters from all over the world, was Barry Hoban. Helen Simpson is now Mrs Helen Hoban.

When you go into their bike factory at Newtown, the first thing you see is a huge photograph of Tom Simpson on the day he became champion of the world.

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