The Tour de France is much more than a cycling race. There are lots of facts beyond the cycling that are worth knowing. This is my top 10 historical facts in the Tour de France that you should know:
- The first Tour de France took place in 1903 and started on July 1st. The winner was Maurice Garin. The tour has been disputed every year since then, except in the years 1916 to 1919 (First World War) and 1941 to 1947 (Second World War). This way, in 2019 took place the 106 edition.
- In 1910 happened the first big mountain stage in the Pyrenees, including the Col du Tourmalet. Octave Lapize was the first cyclist at the top after cycling but also walking some parts of the climb. When he arrived at the finish he said the famous sentence to organizers “Vous êtes des assassins! Oui, des assassins! “You are murderers!”.
- Eugene Christophe broke his fork in the descent of Tourmalet in Tour de France 1913, and he had to fix it himself after walking more than 14 km to Sainte Marie de Campan. There is a statue dedicated to Cristophe at St Marie de Campan to remember it. Curious, that this odd fact of breaking the fork happened to Cristophe still twice more in later TdF 1919 and 1922.
- In 1919, for the first time the leader is wearing the yellow jersey in the Tour de France (not from the very beginning, but from stage 11). Yellow color is due to the color of the newspaper L’Auto, which was the organizer of the tour by that time. Tour de France was a great way to explain the adventures of the cycling heroes and sell more newspapers. The pink leader jersey of Giro d’Italia is the same, being La Gazzetta dello Sport a paper with pink pages.
- The longest stage in TDF history was Les Sables d’Oloron-Bayonne with 482 km. It was also the Tour de France 1919 and the same stage took place following years 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, and 1924.
- Win van Est crashes in Cirque du Litor (Aubisque) during Tour de France 1951. Due to a flat tire (according to Van Est himself), he slipped away and fell into a 70 m deep ravine. Miraculously, he survived the fall and had no serious injuries. Using a chain of tires, and helped by spectators and his manager, he managed to get back to the road. The picture of Van Est rescue is an icon.
- Mont Ventoux 1967: Tom Simpson dies in the final slopes of Mont Ventoux because of a mix of heat, attenuation, and drugs. There is a memorial dedicated to him which is a pilgrimage destination for many cyclists in the world.
- Col de Menté 1971. The Spaniard Luis Ocaña was the only cyclist who challenged Eddy Merckx in the best years of the Cannibal. In fact, in the Tour 1971 defeated Merckx in Orcieres Merlette and had a nice gap, but in the Pyrenees stage, in the descent of Col de Mente in a very heavy rain episode, Ocaña crashed and had to give up. A plaque remembers this fact in the Col de Mente.
- Final Time trial 1989 and the shortest victory, just 8 seconds. The final stage in Paris is a time trial. The french Laurent Fignon arrives with 50 seconds advantage over Greg Lemond. Surprisingly, the American, using a TT handlebar, takes the victory of the stage and the final general classification for just 8 seconds. Fignon will never recover psychologically of this defeat.
- Portet d’Aspet 1995: Fabio Casartelli died in the descent after a crash in a very steep part of the descent. Casartelli was the Olympic champion and raced for the Motorola American team. Nowadays, there is a nice monument dedicated to Casartelli very close to that point. Wearing a helmet would have saved his life probably, and in fact, helmets became mandatory shortly after the crash.
Sure there are lots of historical facts around the Tour de France that are worth knowing but this is a good starting point, don’t you think?