Unstoppable, he removed the flint from his eye, re-mounted his bike and finished the stage

Dave has kindly sent me the URL of the online version of a superb book packed with brilliant photos, The story of the Tour de France by Bill and Carol McGann, who in their spare time run Torelli, a Californian racing gear import business. Dave liked the blinding of Honoré Barthélémy story quoted in the post title, while I felt particular sympathy for the guys who pushed their fixed wheel bikes for substantial sections of the Pyrenean stages in the 1910 Tour:

Alphonse Steinès desperately wanted to expand the Tour and make it even more monumental, so for the 1910 edition he badgered Desgrange [the Tour boss] into including the first modern high mountain stage. Steinès knew that the story of the assault on the high mountains would be great for the race and fantastic for L’Auto’s circulation. It would be an exciting exploit, seizing the attention of the public…

With 2 months to go to the start of the 1910 Tour, Desgrange sent Steinès to the Pyrenees to see if indeed, it was practical for the riders to climb the mountains in the Tour de France. His reconnaissance trip was very eventful. Ascending the Tourmalet his car was stopped on the mountain by a snowdrift. Abandoning the car, he set off on foot and lost his way on the snowy mountain at night. He finally fell off a ledge of snow into a ravine. The locals who set out to find the missing scout found him at 3 A.M. Steinès sent the following famous telegram to Desgrange: “No trouble crossing Tourmalet. Roads satisfactory. No problem for cyclists. Steinès” …

The tenth stage of the 1910 Tour was a 326-kilometer brute that indeed included the 4 monster mountains, the Peyresourde, the Aspin, the Tourmalet and the Aubisque. Desgrange didn’t have the heart to watch and had his assistants supervise the stage… The riders departed at 3:30 AM…

On the Aubisque, the last of the big climbs, Steinès and an assistant, Victor Breyer, stationed themselves well up the mountain at a point in the stage with 150 kilometers to go. They waited for the first rider. Breyer wrote of the moment when they saw the first man coming up the mountain:

And suddenly I saw him, a rider, but one I didn’t know. His body heaved at the pedals, like an automaton on two wheels. He wasn’t going fast, but he was at least moving. I trotted alongside him and asked, “Who are you? What’s going on? Where are the others?” Bent over his handlebars, his eyes riveted on the road, the man never turned his head nor uttered one sole word. He continued and disappeared around a turn. Steinès had read his number and consulted the riders’ list. Steinès was dumbfounded. “The man is François Lafourcade, a nobody. He has caught and passed all the ‘cracks’. This is something prodigious, almost unbelievable!”

I’m way over my fair use allocation, so please get out your card and buy Vol 1 (1903-64) now in the USA or the UK.

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