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
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
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.
"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.
"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
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
“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
"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
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
"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
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.