Tour de Maurice Garin

Day 73 of Colourisation Project – July 19

As the 2014 Tour de France nears its completion, I am reminded after researching today’s subject for colourisation that cycling and the Tour de France have a very long history of cheats and scandals.

What is it about cyclists and cheats in this sport? Today’s subject is Maurice Garin, a road bicycle racer best known for winning the inaugural Tour de France in 1903, and for being stripped of his title in the second Tour in 1904 along with eleven others disqualified for cheating.

Garin, a two-time winner of the Paris-Robaix Classic, won the first Tour de France on this day in 1903 with a margin of 2 hours and 49 minutes. This handsome margin remains the largest in the history of the race…hmm.  The last finisher came in two days behind.

Maurice Garin

Agence de Presse Meurisse‏ – Bibliothèque Nationale de France – Maurice Garin 1911 – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

The first race in 1903 was by no means an easy course. Running around the perimeter of France, it took nineteen gruelling days in six stages, from Paris to Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Nantes and back to Paris with a total distance of just over 2,400km (1,500 miles). Distances covered in each of the stages averaged 410km (250 miles) with one and three rest days scheduled between stages for recovery. Unlike today’s riders, they rode over unpaved roads without helmets. Riding as individuals, not team members they could receive no help. Responsible for making their own repairs cyclists rode with spare tires and tubes wrapped around their bodies.

Defending his title in 1904, Garin was the first to cross the finishing line and although he was declared the winner of the 1904 Tour, he was later disqualified when it was discovered he had caught a train instead of riding his bike. That’s right, he caught a train! In fact he had actually traveled most of the race by train. At least he could enjoy the views from this mode of transport.

I just don’t get this ‘win at any cost’ mentality that pervades the sport of cycling. Given the shady history of the Tour de France you would think modern day cyclists would have learned. Since its inception in 1903 there has been a long list of cheats and scandals, some of which make Lance Armstrong look like an altar boy, so much so that it warrants renaming the race the Tour de Farce!

The 1904 Tour really was a farce. Rampant cheating and audience participation were par for the course! Cyclists were hampered by saboteurs who felled tree across the road and threw tacks under cyclists’ wheels. Some cyclists were beaten up by rival fans as they neared the top of the Col de la République. All this skullduggery did not go unnoticed. The first four finishers were disqualified and in all, twelve riders were disqualified for various reasons including illegal use of cars and trains.

In 1905 after having also jumped on a train the year before, the cunning Hippolyte Aucouturier hitched a wire from his bike to a car that enabled him to easily glide through several stages.

In 1911 Paul Duboc of France was favourite to win the race but he collapsed in a ditch in the Pyrenees after drinking from a spiked or poisoned bottle, allegedly handed to him by a rival team manager. He still managed to finish in second place.

In the 1924 brothers Francis and Henri Pélissier (winner of the 1923 Tour de France)  bragged to a reporter about the substances coursing through their bloodstreams, after quitting the race over another scandal involving jerseys.  They used everything from cocaine and chloroform to strychnine and horse ointment in order to improve their performance.

Two-time winner of the Tour de France in 1949 and 1952, Fausto Coppi openly used a mixture of doping substances including amphetamines, caffeine, opiates, ether, cocaine, chloroform and alcohol in his drink bottles, which he christened La Bomba. This man is generally considered one of the greatest Italian champions of all time. Well, sadly he bombed out at the age of 40, under a cloud of suspicion. Some say he died from a drug overdose of cocaine while officially he died from malaria contracted in Burkina Faso.

In 1955 Jean Malléjac of France collapsed on Mont Ventoux during the Tour ten kilometres from the summit. Unconscious for 15 minutes he claimed he had been drugged against his will.

A five-time Tour winner in the early 1960s, Jaques Anquetil was known for injecting morphine into his muscles as well as taking amphetamines. When asked in a recorded interview if he took stimulants, Anquetil replied, “You would have to be an imbecile or a crook to imagine a professional cyclist who races for 235 days a year can hold the pace without stimulants.” Further adding, “For 50 years bike racers have been taking stimulants. Obviously we can do without them in a race, but then we will pedal 15 miles an hour instead of 25. Since we are constantly asked to go faster and to make even greater efforts, we are obliged to take stimulants.” [1]

In 1967, Tom Simpson paid the ultimate price for a shot at victory, by becoming the first person to die on the Tour after taking amphetamines. During the historic 22km climb up Mont Ventoux, (there’s that hill again) Simpson collapsed 3km from the top. Officials found three empty vials and an array of pills in his jersey pockets. Simpson washed these the pills down with a bottle of brandy. Results from his autopsy showed extreme dehydration, lack of oxygen and over-exhaustion.

Belgian champion, Michel Pollentier went to extraordinary lengths for victory. After taking the yellow jersey in 1978 up Alpe d’Huez, he fooled doping controls with the use of tubes and a condom filled with someone else’s urine. Pollentier held the condom in his armpit connected to a tube which ran down into his shorts to give the impression of urinating.

He would have got away with it, if not for another rider who experienced difficulty operating his own system of tubes thus arousing the suspicion of the doctor, who then demanded Pollentier lift his jersey to show if he too was cheating.

Since 1998, nearly half of the top finishers in cycling’s premier race have been busted. I could go on citing more examples but I just don’t have the time! Since the race started in 1903, a year hasn’t gone by where riders or their supporters haven’t resorted to dubious means in their quest for the ultimate prize…the maillot jaune, the yellow jersey (oh and a cool 450,000 Euros).

By the way, Garin died in 1957 aged 86.


“I’ll win the Tour de France provided I’m not murdered before we get to Paris.” Maurice Garin 1904

1. Sports Scientist 2007

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