Archiv der Kategorie: History

Polens Radsport-Legende Szurkowski gestorben

Er gewann zwei Mal Silber bei den Olympischen Spielen im Teamwettbewerb und vier Mal in Folge die Friedensfahrt. Nun ist der polnische Star-Radfahrer Ryszard Szurkowski gestorben.

Das polnische Rad-Idol Ryszard Szurkowski ist tot. Der Rennfahrer sei am Montag im Alter von 75 Jahren in einer Klinik in Radom gestorben, sagte seine Frau der Nachrichtenagentur PAP. Der aus Niederschlesien stammende Szurkowski gewann bei den Olympischen Spielen in München 1972 und in Montreal 1976 jeweils Silber im Team-Straßenrennen.
1973 wurde Szurkowski in Barcelona Straßenweltmeister der Amateure sowie im Mannschaftszeitfahren. Viermal hintereinander gewann er die Friedensfahrt. Dabei trug er auf insgesamt 89 Etappen 52 Mal das Trikot des Gesamtführenden. Bald zeigten westliche Rennställe Interesse am „Eddy Merckx des Ostens“, doch Radsportlern aus sozialistischen Ländern war damals eine Profi-Karriere verwehrt.
Schwerer Sturz in Köln 2018

Nach seiner aktiven Laufbahn arbeitete er als Trainer und bekleidete von 2010 bis 2011 das Amt des Präsidenten des Polnischen Radsportverbandes. Im Jahr 2018 nahm Szurkowski am Jedermann-Rennen „Rund um Köln“ teil und stürzte schwer aufs Gesicht.
Er erlitt zahlreiche Frakturen der Wirbelsäule und wurde in Deutschland mehrfach operiert. Nach seinem Unfall blieb er teilweise gelähmt und konnte sich nur noch im Rollstuhl fortbewegen.

The Tour to the power of 10

2010: Reconquering the Tourmalet (10/10)
At the turn of each decade, the Tour de France has gone through organisational changes and backstage struggles that have variously turned out to be decisive or utterly inconsequential. The journey back in time proposed by comes full circle with an ending on the Tourmalet. 100 years after the peloton launched its first assault on the Giant of the Pyrenees, a stage finish at the top of the mountain thrust the technical aspects of the Tour into the spotlight. Overcoming that logistical challenge a decade ago opened the door to summit finishes on peaks such as the Galibier and the Izoard.
The Tour de France sure knows how to celebrate its anniversaries. 2010 marked the centennial of the first appearance of high mountains on the route of the race. A hundred years after Alphonse Steinès‘ odyssey (retold in episode 1 of this series), the Tourmalet again took centre stage. This time, the plan was to draw the finish line at the top of the mountain, a whopping 2,115 metres above sea level. While it was not the first time that someone had come up with the idea —Jean-Pierre Danguillaume had won a stage here in the 1974 Tour—, much had changed in the intervening 36 years. At a time when media coverage of the Tour had boomed around the globe, the resources needed to broadcast the race worldwide were at least five times as big. „I wanted to take the Tour where sport wants us to go, gambling that we would be able to adapt our resources to the terrain“, points out Christian Prudhomme. Jean-Louis Pagès was tasked with finding a solution to the logistical conundrum. In essence, the stage finish designer was asked to fit a dozen elephants into a matchbox. „I was a bit reluctant at the time because I was an old-school man“, explains the former history and geography teacher, who joined the Tour in 1984. „Having time, place and action on the same wavelength was my core tenet. This time round, we had to enter the era of resource fragmentation.“

The team had to think outside the box to make a stage finish on the Tourmalet possible. Only a handful of structures would be set up on the mountain for radio and TV crews, who would have to get there by ski lift. Guest coaches would have to park in Barèges, while the press room was to be set up in La Mongie, on the other side of the massif. On paper, at least, it seemed possible to crowbar everything into the limited space available, „although we only had half as much room as we usually had“, says Pagès. However, the weather threw a curveball on 22 July 2010. „To top it all, it started raining, so we had to improvise from the morning to save the lorries from getting bogged down. We made room for them on the road and it worked because we overhauled the layout. Cramming everything into that space was a technical wonder, but I stayed calm. I used to send Christian a picture of the finish around 11 am to let him know the finish line was ready. This time, we were still rushing to set up the timing control room at 2:30 pm, so I didn’t send him anything.“

In the end, everything was in place for Andy Schleck to outsprint Alberto Contador for the stage win on the fog-shrouded and rain-soaked Tourmalet. „Those moments were packed with strong emotions because I knew it was a test run, that it would allow us to envisage other finishes in spectacular places“, explains Pagès, who comes from the Lozère department but is now enjoying life in Nîmes. Indeed, it only took one year for the Tour to organise a stage finish on the Col de Galibier, 2,645 metres above sea level and with the technical area spread out across three levels. Sometime later, in 2017, the concept produced a spectacular finish on the Izoard, where Warren Barguil came out on top clad in the polka-dot jersey. After this string of successes, the format will be used again in the 2020 Tour, in which a similar concept was used to design the finishes on Puy Mary and the Grand Colombier.

The Tour to the power of 10

2000: The Tour on the archi-pedal-o (9/10)

At the turn of each decade, the Tour de France has gone through organisational changes and backstage struggles that have variously turned out to be decisive or utterly inconsequential. The journey back in time proposed by continues with the run-up to the 2000 Tour de France, when a spectacular start on Guadeloupe, almost 7,000 km from Paris, had been planned and preparations put into motion. A transatlantic Tour was almost within the realm of possibility.
Seen from the mid-1990s, the year 2000 was an equally thrilling and daunting prospect. For the Tour de France, it was an exciting opportunity to craft a route like no other. A lot of good ideas were thrown around, but one in particular stood out from the rest, especially because it came directly from the French president. Jacques Chirac told Jean-Claude Killy, the president of ASO at the time, that he would do everything in his power to support a Tour start from the French overseas territories and, especially, Guadeloupe, then governed by his ally Lucette Michaux-Chevry. No other part of overseas France was as passionate about cycling, with a generation of track cyclists bursting onto the stage and a bicycle race that had been an integral part of the archipelago’s sporting scene ever since its launch in 1948.
For Jean-Marie Leblanc, the boss of the Tour, this left-field idea hit all the right buttons: „I liked the idea because we needed something compelling for 2000. It was a powerful symbol and a great way of showing that the French overseas territories are an integral part of the Republic.“ Meetings were soon held and reconnaissance trips organised to study the feasibility of the project. Jean-François Pescheux, who at the time served as director of competitions, took on the leading role in meticulously analysing the plan: „The key issue was taking as little material to the other side of the Atlantic as possible. We had decided to get rid of the prologue to preclude the need for time-trialling bikes, to allow each team a single car and to significantly cut down the size of the publicity caravan. The route itself was interesting and featured a flat stage in Grande-Terre and a hillier one in Basse-Terre, both of which would have finished in the same place near Pointe-à-Pitre Airport“ Indeed, the second big problem with taking the Tour to the Antilles was „shortening the distance“ and mitigating the impact of the time difference with mainland France.
The „Guadeloupe plan“ hinged on a significant logistical assumption: the Concorde was the only aircraft that could be used to transfer the riders without putting them through the wringer of jet lag.
In order to avoid throwing the riders‘ circadian rhythm out of whack, the idea was to travel to the island as late as possible and get out as quickly as possible. Furthermore, Brest was chosen to host the first European stage to gain an extra 20-odd minutes. Pescheux’s timetable covered all the bases: „If we scheduled stage 2 to finish at noon, when it was 4 pm in metropolitan France, riders could be in bed in Brest by midnight and ready to tackle a short 120 km stage to Quimper the next morning. This overcame all the problems.“ Guadeloupe had more than enough hotels to host the Grande Boucle, while ASO communications manager Philippe Sudres, at the time in charge of relations with broadcasters, had already designed the outline of the TV production set-up: „The idea was to source the helicopters used to cover the race, along with other heavy equipment, from Florida.“
However, the „Guadeloupe plan“ hinged on a significant logistical assumption: the Concorde was the only aircraft that could be used to transfer the riders without putting them through the wringer of jet lag. Pescheux recalls that the talks with Air France were what finally buried the dream: „We met with the Minister of Transport and we came to the conclusion that our plan required six Concorde aircraft. However, their fleet was not big enough and, at any rate, they could not stop all their other operations just for us. It was a real pity because it would have been amazing to use the Tour to show just how close the Antilles are.“ At the time, the waivers that have since allowed the 2009 Vuelta a España to start in the Netherlands and the 2018 Giro d’Italia to start in Israel by starting the race on Friday and/or adding an extra rest day did not exist yet. In the end, the Tour gave up on its dreams of coconut palms and got the show on the road in Futuroscope near Poitiers, where the prologue saw a promising young power rider, David Millar, seize the last yellow jersey of the 20th century in his race debut.

The Tour to the power of 10 / 1970: Leblanc, a team rider with huge potential (7/10)

1970: Leblanc, a team rider with huge potential (7/10)

At the turn of each decade, the Tour de France has gone through organisational changes and backstage struggles that have variously turned out to be decisive or utterly inconsequential. The journey back in time proposed by continues in 1970, in the slipstream of Jean-Marie Leblanc, a rider competing in his second Tour de France after some minor successes in other races. A career in journalism beckons for the man from northern France, who has no idea yet that he will one day become the director of the Tour. Yet the seeds of the attributes needed to helm the race have already taken root in this humble team rider.

Those who still have vivid memories of cycling in the late 1960s would no doubt argue that Jean-Marie Leblanc was a good rider despite his modest results -no offence meant to the Grand Prix d’Aix-en-Provence or the Circuit d’Armorique. He was also what journalists know as „a good customer“, someone who can be relied upon to offer a quote that will grab the reader’s attention before the start of the race and never fails to spice up conversations with anecdotes that can be used to flesh out the „news in brief“ section. A paradigmatic example can be found in the coverage of the 1970 Tour by L’Équipe. The Bic rider was working as a devoted domestique for Jan Janssen and Luis Ocaña in what was only his second Tour de France (58th in 1968), but he seemed to appear in the newspapers far more often than would have been expected from his performance on the road. The mystery was solved in the first week of racing, when author Guy Lagorce wrote A brief portrait of a future colleague and gave the floor to Leblanc: „Starting a career in journalism would also be a way for me to prove to the world that cyclists are more than just a bunch of lads with big thighs […] I won’t deny it: every time that things get tough out there and a press car overtakes me, I feel a pang of jealousy when I peek inside. You have no idea how soft the cushions of a car look when seen from the saddle of a bike.“
Just as Leblanc showed glimpses of the potential of a future journalist, he also had the makings of a man devoted to the best interests of cycling.

Aware that he would never be good enough to earn a champion’s wages, the young father and media darling was already planning his future in a different field. By 1970, he had ample experience in this area after taking advantage of the winter breaks to lay the groundwork for his transition. Half a century later, he still remembers his first foray into the sports press clearly: „I was shy, but in the winter of 1966–67 my friend Philippe Crépel persuaded me to call Émile Parmentier, the sports editor of La Voix du Nord. He welcomed me with open arms and I’ll never be able to thank him enough for it. He sent me to report on cyclo-cross, of course, and put me in charge of the boxing section. I loved it and I even obtained a coaching diploma to be a credible source in such a special world.“ A cyclist in the summer and journalist in the winter, the young Economics graduate was definitely not your average cyclist.
Jean-Marie Leblanc continued to learn in the 1970 Tour, eagerly fielding questions. „I loved hearing them talk about this profession I wanted to practise“, insisted the aspiring reporter, who would eventually be hired by La Voix du Nord in 1971, right after the end of his final season in the peloton. Just as Leblanc showed the promise of the future journalist who a few years later would receive a call from the chief editor of L’Équipe, Noël Couëdel, offering him the post of cycling editor, he also had the makings of a man devoted to the best interests of cycling. It was his thorough understanding of the matter that led to him becoming the secretary-general of the National Union of Professional Cyclists (UNCP), where he proved his mettle as a leader: „At UNCP, for example, we fought to get two-year contracts for neo-pros, which did not exist before that. I had always wanted to help organise my profession, and when I became a journalist, I took on an active role in the trade union of French sports journalists (USJSF)“. Jean-Marie Leblanc took it to a whole new level in 1988, when he became the director of the Tour de France a mere 20 years after his first participation as a rider.

Discover or rediscover the previous episodes in the series:
1960: When President de Gaulle greeted the Tour (6/10)
1950: Divorce Italian style (5/10)
1940: The Tour that wasn’t (4/10)
1930: The Tour revolutionizes (3/10)
1920: “sportsmen”according to Desgrange (2/10)
1910: Alphonse Steinès’great deception (1/10)
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The Tour to the power of 10

1960: When President de Gaulle greeted the Tour (6/10)

At the turn of each decade, the Tour de France has gone through organisational changes and backstage struggles that have variously turned out to be decisive or utterly inconsequential. The journey back in time proposed by continues in 1960, specifically on the penultimate stage, when the peloton was paid a visit for the first time by a President of the Republic when the Tour passed through Colombey-les-Deux-Églises where General de Gaulle was staying. A form of mutual reverence between the statesman and the champions marked this unprecedented moment.
On the 1960 Tour de France, the battle on the road was severely hampered by a cascade of no-shows and retirements that limited the competition. Anquetil opted out, exhausted after his victory on the Giro, while defending champion Federico Bahamontes withdrew after not even completing stage two. And to add injury to insult, the French team, already in the throes of a malaise, lost any chance of victory when Roger Rivière fell tragically on the descent following the Col de Perjuret in the Lozère Department. There were barely any more combatants after the Avignon stage, one week prior to the finish, to contest Gastone Nencini. And even less so on the penultimate stage, which he tackled with a more than five-minute lead from his closest challenger, Graziano Battistini. Between Besançon and Troyes, the peloton dawdled with little motivation, but as they approached Colombey-les-Deux-Églises, rumour had it that a spectator like no other could offer an historic tone to this dreary day.
Staying in his family property of La Boisserie, General de Gaulle mingled with the public gathered on the sidewalks of the Haut-Marne village as he awaited the passage of the Grande Boucle. With no social networks or mobile phones, Jacques Goddet was alerted to this presidential surprise when he passed the support station in Chaumont, some twenty kilometres away. There was just enough time to get the message to the peloton that a stop would be observed, the absence of a breakaway allowing a quick neutralisation. When the peloton arrived and without even getting out of his convertible, the Tour boss used his megaphone to declare that „The Tour sends its affectionate greetings to President De Gaulle“. A little embarrassed by this impromptu ceremony, the president made the most of the encounter to congratulate a few riders and in particular the Italian in the Yellow Jersey, who was honoured with a handshake and the encouragement of a connoisseur: „you are going to win the Tour“.
With or without a suit and tie, on the roadside or in a car during the race, the presidential visit has become a ritual pioneered by Charles de Gaulle.

In the past, the Tour had been stopped by a railway crossing, but never by a spectator. From a purely sporting point of view, this unique stop was a Godsend for Pierre Beuffeuil. The rider from the Centre-Midi regional team had been delayed by a puncture, but thanks to the general, this was his lucky day. Beuffeuil regained contact with the peloton in Colombey as well as his confidence. With 26 kilometres to go to the finish, he put in a solo attack to claim his first stage victory on the Tour de France. „I’ve always voted de Gaulle“, said Beuffeuil after his victory in Troyes.

With or without a suit and tie, on the roadside or in a car during the race, the presidential visit has become a ritual pioneered by Charles de Gaulle. Only his immediate successor, Georges Pompidou, did not come to meet the riders, while Valéry Giscard d’Estaing waited for them in Paris to present the Yellow Jersey to Bernard Thévenet for the first final finish on the Champs-Elysées in 1975. As for François Mitterrand, he had played the spectator-photographer card on an alpine stage in 1985 and Jacques Chirac, already very familiar with the event as Mayor of Paris, followed a stage in Jean-Marie Leblanc’s car on the 1998 Tour.
However, it was during Nicolas Sarkozy’s term of office, himself a cyclist in his own right, that presidential visits became more frequent… and better organised. A few months after his election, Jacques Chirac’s successor went to the Briançon stage of the 2007 Tour, won by Colombian Mauricio Soler. At that time, the reception of a president on the Tour began to be part of a much more rigorous process than that of Colombey, as explained by the Tour’s deputy director Pierre-Yves Thouault, who was notably in charge of preparing these special invitations: „We usually get in touch with the services of the Elysée Palace in the spring, in order to think first about a date that corresponds to the president’s itinerary, and then about a stage that sometimes comes naturally. For example, François Hollande made the trip in 2014 to the Arras-Reims stage, which went past places of remembrance of the First World War on the occasion of the centenary celebrations. But the previous year, he drastically changed his schedule to go to the Bagnères-de-Bigorre stage to support the residents of the towns flooded by the Garonne a month earlier“. In any case, the planning of this visit, which is kept secret for as long as possible, is carefully tracked to ensure the security of the president by all law enforcement agencies: „Nothing is left to chance, Thouault says. We know exactly where his helicopter will land to meet us, and then how he will be evacuated at the end of the stage. However, you have to be able to adapt to any last-minute changes.” Last year, Emmanuel Macron was lucky enough to witness Thibaut Pinot’s victory on the Col du Tourmalet, while Julian Alaphilippe continued to wear the Yellow Jersey around the country. The Tour is also a certain idea of France, as the general could have said…

The Tour to the power of 10

1950: divorce Italian style (5/10)

At the turn of each decade, the Tour de France has gone through organisational changes and backstage struggles that have variously turned out to be decisive or utterly inconsequential. The journey back in time proposed by continues in 1950, marked by the collective departure of the Italian riders after incidents that resulted in Gino Bartali being threatened and assaulted by French spectators in the Pyrenees. Between the resurgence of the old internal squabbles within the „Squadra“ and the diplomatic consequences of the Col d’Aspin affair, the 1950 Tour extended well beyond the roads of France.
A quarrel between neighbouring countries on the Tour de France is both simple and, at the same time, much more complex than an anecdotal overzealousness and wine in the ranks of the supporters of both sides. In 1950, traces of World War II remained and the memory of the Mussolini regime’s collaboration with Nazi Germany was still fresh. On the political front, there was a genuine desire to reintegrate Italy into the community of nations on both sides of the Alps, but progress was slow and sport had its place in this process. In the world of cycling, the Italian federation (UVI) was not readmitted into the UCI until 1947. In concert with the authorities, the organisers worked to bring consistency to the peloton and to provoke a maximum number of encounters between the champions of the two countries, for example with the creation of the Desgrange-Colombo Challenge, in tribute to the founders of the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia. As a symbol of the newfound friendship, Sanremo hosted a stage finish on the 1948 Tour, where Gino Sciardis won ahead of Urbain Caffi… two French riders of Italian origin!

The understood interest of the two organizing newspapers, L’Equipe and La Gazzetta was to ensure that their races had the highest possible density, coexisting with the chauvinistic fibre that also sold newspapers. But this approach tended to heat up controversy and in the 1949 Tour, the French riders were copiously insulted, pushed and targeted by stone-throwing Italian supporters during the stage leading to Aosta. After the domination of Bartali and Coppi in the two previous editions, and a minimalist strategy that hardly made Italian riders popular in France, the 1950 Tour began in a climate of hostility towards them. Heralded as the rider to beat when Coppi was unable to ride, Gino Bartali felt threatened from the very first days, when the Italians won three of the first five stages. In the time trial in Brittany, he narrowly avoided falling after a spectator threw a stick into his wheels, but his team manager, Alfredo Binda effectively negotiated with the Italian journalists present not to worsen the situation. Gino himself declared in La Gazzetta on the eve of the Pyrenees that „it is better not to win“, just to ease tensions.

Jacques Goddet paid a visit to the Hotel de France in Loures-Barousse. The boss decided to meet the Italian delegation and convince Bartali to stay in the race. But his arguments didn’t change a thing. The leader of the „Squadra“ felt he was in danger.

The fears of the two-time winner were well-founded and the atmosphere grew increasingly tense in the Pau-Saint-Gaudens stage. On the Col d’Aspin climb, the pressure of the crowd sent both Robic and Bartali off their bikes, then the situation degenerated. Accounts of this scene of confusion varied greatly, but the limits of simple intimidation were largely exceeded and there were certainly punches thrown. In any case, Bartali, enraged, managed to get back to the leaders of the race and won the sprint in Saint-Gaudens, while his young team-mate Fiorenzo Magni claimed the Yellow Jersey, and immediately afterwards decided to leave the Tour where he felt in danger. That night, Jacques Goddet paid a visit to the Hotel de France in Loures-Barousse. The boss decided to meet the Italian delegation and convince Bartali to stay in the race. But his arguments (including financial ones, according to some…) didn’t change a thing. The leader of the „Squadra“ felt he was in danger and explained himself diplomatically in L’Equipe: „In many circumstances, I’ve been wonderfully welcomed in your country. But I think it only takes one crazy person for a disaster to happen. And that’s the madman I’m afraid of. Please understand, I have children and a family. Why take such risks? No, it’s for Italy that I’ll leave tomorrow“.

In fact, opinions were divided in the Italian camp. Fiorenzo Magni, who led the general classification, could legitimately believe in his chances of going for the greatest victory of his career. Bartali did not like this, partly because of Magni’s militia past. Alfredo Binda, who coached the team, rather thought about the need to maintain friendly relations with the French, but finally agreed with Bartali’s position and assumed the group withdrawal of the two Italian teams, taking the „Cadetti“ with him. The situation helped Ferdi Kübler, the new rider in the Yellow Jersey, but more than anything else caused a lot of upheaval. Very soon after the departure of the Italians, it was decided to cancel the arrival in Sanremo scheduled four days later for fear of reprisals from the tifosi. In the rush, Goddet and his services took on the logistical challenge of preparing a fallback arrival in Menton, with more than 1000 people to house and feed.

Practical considerations were quickly relegated to the back burner, as the Aspin affair entered the judicial arena with the opening of an investigation, and political considerations as soon as the stability of Franco-Italian relations was compromised. The diplomats of both countries were much less heated than their respective supporters and tried to calm things down. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Robert Schuman, first of all hastened to send a message to the Italian ambassador, expressing his „deep regret at the incidents of which the Italian riders were victims“. The issue also came up in parliamentary debates in both countries, with Edouard Bonnefous, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, solemnly declaring that „the Italians are friends who came to our country to demonstrate their class, not to be insulted. We cannot allow a handful of scoundrels to jeopardise good relations between the two countries“. In the same spirit of appeasement, the Italian Ambassador in Paris replied that „the regret expressed by the French Minister for Foreign Affairs served as a reminder that such incidents could never disrupt the friendly relations between the two governments and the two peoples, whose collaboration will increasingly develop in all areas“. As far as cycling was concerned, the presidents of the two federations, Adriano Rodoni and Achille Joinard, met in the second week of August with the Tour de France organisers to talk about the future. The Italian riders would definitely come to the 1951 Tour de France.
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The Tour to the power of 10

1940: The Tour that wasn’t (4/10)

At the turn of each decade, the Tour de France has gone through organisational changes and backstage struggles that have variously turned out to be decisive or utterly inconsequential. The journey back in time proposed by continues in 1940: when the country entered the war, Henri Desgrange tried to keep the 34th edition of the Tour alive until spring, but had to resign himself to its cancellation. Before July France was already under German occupation, and Desgrange left the Tour orphaned in August.

According to the tautological principle that you can’t suppress something that doesn’t exist, the 1940 edition of the Tour de France is the only one in history to have been cancelled. Although its detailed route was never published and its dates were not officially announced, its organisation was well thought out, envisaged and programmed in the offices of the organising newspaper, in a France that was nevertheless at war and whose youth had been drafted in September 1939. It would be far-fetched to suspect L’Auto of existing naively in a sports bubble ignoring the major issues in the balance on the battlefield, quite the contrary. From mid-September, the newspaper even assumed a total commitment by changing its title to L’Auto-Soldat, and its editorial line then split between news of the world conflict, analysis of the competitions that continued to take place and news of the champions called up to serve in the armed forces. On 16 September, the headline was accompanied by an unequivocal quote from Voltaire: „Every man is a soldier against tyranny“. It is in this line that Henri Desgrange, who, although seriously ill, did not let go of his pen but distanced himself from sport, multiplied patriotic editorials and caricatures, for example Hitler, whom he described as a „house painter“.

In its services, all the assistants were active and strove to give shape from the very beginning of winter to a cycling season that could also sustain the idea that France continued to live on. In December, discussions began with the heads of the bicycle manufacturers to try to come up with a calendar and invent a new formula. How can a bunch of riders of at the same skill level be formed when most of the riders in the 1939 Tour were fighting? Were foreign cyclists from non-belligerent countries going to be accepted? Who would therefore have their best people available? Where can we get bicycles when the entire industry is focused on the war effort? The debate was launched, and even initiated in the columns of the newspaper, which transcribed the content of the negotiations like a soap opera. Alcyon’s boss was optimistic, but not as determined as Colibri’s: „I’ve come, like all my colleagues, to put a white ball in to get unanimous congratulations,“ read the 16 January edition of L’Auto. On the other hand, Genial-Lucifer had more misgivings („Maurice Evrard felt that in his own opinion the uselessness of certain road races was obvious“, L’Auto of 13 January), and the tone was also very cautious from the head of Dilecta. However, we manage to get everyone to agree year after year on a formula published on 6 February which, among other measures, only admits riders who are not yet old enough to carry weapons and limits the number of foreigners to 33% of the peloton.

On 11 July, on the BBC, an anonymous columnist chose sport to make the voice of London heard. „Today, if Mr. Hitler had agreed to let Europe live in peace, the 34th Tour de France would have set off joyfully.”

Everything seemed more or less in place, but while it was business as usual at the velodromes throughout the winter, there were great difficulties at the start of the road racing season. Paris-Roubaix, whose route was initially validated by military authorities, was transformed into Roubaix-Paris and finally saved in-extremis as Le Mans-Paris! It looked like there was also going to be course reversal for Paris-Tours, and the clouds were particularly threatening on the Race to the Sun, which L’Auto was exceptionally associated with the Le Petit Niçois newspaper in an attempt to save the organisation. Above all, Henri Desgrange published a paper with a very pessimistic tone for the future of the 1940 Tour de France. He evoked a course in the form of a „deflated bladder“, listed all the constraints he faced, and concluded as follows: „It would be enough, wouldn’t it, for you to expect this article to end with the announcement that the 1940 Tour de France will not take place? Well! It is not enough for us and we still have one last hope of being able to triumph over all these difficulties, and we want to give it a try“. The sentence was not long in coming. Four days later, the announcement was posted on the front page: „The Tour de France will not take place this year. It is postponed to 1941. See the explanations provided by its creator, Henri Desgrange, in the 13 and 14 April issues.”

Events then precipitated the country into the dark sequence of the German occupation following the signing of the armistice of 22 June 1940 by Philippe Pétain. Meanwhile, Charles De Gaulle launched his 18 June appeal on the BBC, the Free France timidly structured itself behind the „Leader of the French who continue the war“. It so happened that from London, the following 11 July, a small French enclave decided to act as if the Tour de France had started. The programme „Ici la France“ was broadcast daily for half an hour on the BBC. That day, an anonymous columnist whose name remains unknown chose sport to make the voice of London heard. „Today, if Mr. Hitler had agreed to let Europe live in peace, he would have set off joyfully on the 34th Tour de France*. A completely fictitious story began, as a way to reunite the divided country and to find itself in a shared and happy wistfulness. This was far from reality, but in the legend of the Tour, the story is as important as the race.

It is unlikely that Henri Desgrange could have heard this report, which would have certainly given him chills, perhaps even drawn a few tears. For the 1940 Tour de France, even if it had been able to take place, would also have been the first without him. Operated on a few months earlier and seriously weakened, the father of the Tour de France died on 16 August, at the age of 75. His successor and spiritual son, Jacques Goddet, took over the reins of the newspaper and the following year he opposed the organisation of a Tour de France whose prestige would be claimed by the Vichy regime. The return of the real Tour de France had to wait until 1947.

The Tour to the power of 10

1930: The Tour revolutionizes (3/10)

At the turn of each decade, the Tour de France has gone through organisational changes and backstage struggles that have variously turned out to be decisive or utterly inconsequential. The journey back in time proposed by continues in 1930, the year of a major revolution when, Tour boss and editor-in-chief of L’Auto, Henri Desgrange decided riders would compete in national teams and no longer for bicycle manufacturers. To pay for this costly reform, the newspaper also found a new source of income with the creation of the advertising caravan.

Tensions between the bicycle brands and the organisers were a common thread that followed and forged the history of the nascent Tour de France and then the interwar period. Henri Desgrange, who was a purist and uncompromising in his conception of sporting competition, despised and fought against any form of agreement likely to contaminate the simple athletic confrontation between the heroes of the Grande Boucle. Since the resumption in 1919, following the First World War, the Tour de France boss introduced regulations to reduce the influence of the most powerful manufacturers in the industry, which had a tendency to dictate race scenarios. The situation even began to disgust Desgrange following the 1929 Tour, won by Maurice De Waele, a Belgian champion who was certainly solid and exemplary, but in the end wasn’t challenged nearly enough by the competition on his victorious ride to Paris.

For the 1930 edition, Desgrange decided to radically change the format. Teams were no longer formed by bicycle manufacturers, but were made up of national selections whose composition was also decided by L’Auto. In order to be in complete control, he committed to supplying the bikes to the Tour riders, at least those entered in the Aces category, even if it meant making the “tourists-routiers” wait a few years. The great project quickly developed in the mind of Desgrange, who announced precisely his plans and objectives in L’Auto on 25 September 1929: „The major change is the suppression of commercial rivalries that have been significantly shattering the success of the race every year since 1903. With only one brand available for the Aces, we can say that there is no longer a commercial battle, and that the race will be able to take place in a sporting manner. From now on, nothing will prevent the best from winning“.

The change to national teams must not be considered as a declaration of war, as the brands retain their riders in all other competitions throughout the year and could, for example, require them to boycott the Tour.

The transformation wanted by the organizing newspaper implied major constraints since the bicycles, accommodations and provisions were fully taken care of. The financial expenditures to be made were significant and had to be paid for by some income if the reform was to be feasible. This is where a genius idea was born to balance the accounts. Desgrange was assisted by an advertising director, Robert Desmarets, who had noticed that for several years, brands had taken advantage of the exceptional crowds around the peloton to set up commercial ventures. Vehicles in the colours of Menier chocolates, for example, were already handing out thousands of bars to the public in 1929. “Grand Bob”, as he was nicknamed, decided to officially accept them at the opening of the race, in return for a fee covering most of the extra expenses for the year. Menier, Fromagerie Bell (Vache Qui Rit), Biscottes Delft and Montres Noveltex formed the Tour’s first publicity caravan.

The power struggle between Desgrange and the bicycle manufacturers can, however, be put into perspective, as the co-dependent relationship remained very real. The move to the national teams should not have been seen as a declaration of war, as the brands retained their riders all year round on all other the competitions, on the roads of France as well as on the velodromes, and could for example require them to boycott the Tour. This context of more or less harmonious cohabitation partially explained the tone adopted by Desgrange in his opening article on the day of the race’s start: „It will be the honour of the bicycle manufacturers to have accepted this experience, which may seem to deprive this or that of a profitable advertisement, but which must benefit the entire bicycle industry. (…) They did not accept this experience passively; they followed it and will follow it, for a month, with great interest. (…) Yes, we owe André Leducq and Delannoy to Alcyon, Marcel Bidot to La Française, Demuysère to Génial-Lucifer, Bonduel to Dilecta, and the Magne Brothers to the Société Française de Cycles. Our great brands have lent them to us, or better said… they gave them to us without any restrictions. What a guarantee of success that such a gift, and what recognition for such a gesture do we not owe to our major cycle manufacturers?”. The recognition was also that of a businessman, well aware that these firms were also huge advertisers who contributed to the financial health of the newspaper throughout the year.

In any case, in the Aces category there were five national teams of eight riders at the start. Belgium’s black jerseys, Italy’s green, Spain’s red, Germany’s yellow and France’s blue-white-red were about to spark phenomenal enthusiasm among the public… and among the readers. Desgrange naturally found that the patriotic fibre was working to full effect with the French Tennis Musketeers, who were taking the entire country by storm in their matches with the Australians and Americans in the Davis Cup. He found his Musketeers on wheels with André Leducq, Antonin Magne and Charles Pélissier. As if by magic, while the French were generally outclassed during the 1920s by the Belgians, Luxembourgers and Italians, the collective force of the French squad was impressive. Pélissier won a total of eight stages, a record that still stands, while „Dédé gueule d’amour“ won the general classification after a hard-fought battle with Alfredo Binda and Learco Guerra among others. The success of the French clan was also a tremendous victory for Henri Desgrange, who concluded the Tour with these words: „This is now, indisputably, the National Bicycle Holiday. From now on, we will celebrate it every year under the same conditions, to the greatest glory of this divine machine and to the glory of our great cycling industry. (…) Thus the Tour de France will henceforth be a great international and peaceful competition where cycling nations will come every year to measure the value of their champions“.