A Little Tour History
The Tour de France first visited the Pyrenees in 1910. Three years earlier, Alphonse Steines had reconnoitred the Tourmalet. Forced to abandon his car in snowdrifts 4 km from the summit pass, he staggered 12 km on over the southern slopes to grateful refuge in a gendarme post. Next morning he telegrammed Henri Desgrange, the Tour originator: “have crossed the Tourmalet on foot by night. Road passable to vehicles. No snow.”
The Tour de France began as a fairly flat race, whose difficulty was in its length. Length was but one dimension of the Tour de France, however. The other measure of skill and stamina came when race organizers began to add mountain stages to the tour design. The first “real” mountain to be included first in 1905 was the “Ballon d’Alsace” at the south end of the Vosges Mountains in Alsace in eastern France. This was just a beginning, however, as the organizers began adding minor Alpine passes over the next few years. The real mountains came in 1910, though, when the remote mountain roads of the Pyrenees were included in the tour and the famous Col d’Aubisque and Col du Tourmalet were added. These were almost unimaginable mountain passes to drive over in 1910, not to speak of pedaling them. Today’s mountain bikers would have loved those rides – with today’s mountain bikes!
An epic moment in Tour de France history:
1913: Eugène Christophe, Ste. Marie de Campan and the forge
In 1913 the Tour reverted back to a classification based on time, and straight away gave rise to one of the most famous incidents in of all time in the Tour: the story of the forge in Ste. Marie de Campan.
The crucial stage was stage 6, Bayonne to Luchon in the Pyrenees. Leading the race overall was the 1912 winner, Odile Defraye but he was long dropped, and the leader on the road was Eugène Christophe. At the top of the Tourmalet, Christiophe led by five minutes from a group containing Philippe Thys, Lucien Petit-Breton, Gustave Garrigou and Firmin Lambot – Tour winners of the past or future all. On the descent of the Tourmalet, however, Christophe crashed after his forks snapped: nothing for it but to collect the pieces and find a forge. Half running, half stumbling, cutting through the undergrowth on occasions to cut away a bend, eventually Christophe reached the village of Ste. Marie de Campan. Finding a forge, he lit the fire, shaped a piece of metal and repaired his bicycle – all under the watchful eye of Henri Desgrange, there to see he didn’t cheat. When Christophe asked a small boy present to work the bellows, Desgrange fined him 10 minutes – despite Christophe having, by this stage, already lost about four hours.
With Christophe gone from the final reckoning – gallantly he carried on, to finish seventh overall in Paris – the lead was taken by Philippe Thys of Belgium. Going into the penultimate stage his lead of over an hour looked secure, especially when second-placed rider Lucien Petit-Breton dropped out after a crash. But Thys was not yet home and dry; a spectacular collapse on the road to Dunkerque saw him lose 56 minutes, and with it, most of his lead, to Gustave Garrigou. It was a somewhat relieved Thys who reached Paris the next day to win his first Tour.