The Tour de France has always courted controversy with flamboyant characters both organising and competing in the race. Protests by the peloton and the public, fiery rider rivalries, attempts at cheating and catastrophic crashes combine to make the Tour one of the most dramatic sporting events in the world.
Facts 21 to 30 in my list of 100 Tour de France facts are about these enthralling moments.
- Four riders were kicked out of the 1906 Tour de France after stage 3 when it was discovered that they had used the train to get up the climb of the Ballon d’Alsace.
- Following a row about removing layers of clothing the reigning Tour champion Henri Pélissier abandoned the 1924 Tour after stage 3. The next day he gave a sensational interview to a newspaper journalist which told of the pills, cocaine and chloroform riders used to cope with the stress of the Tour.
- Stage 7 of the 1935 race saw the Tour’s first ever fatality. Spaniard Francisco Cepeda crashed on the descent of the Galibier in the Alps. He fractured his skull and died three days later in hospital.
- Stage 15 of the 1950 Tour was staged on a blistering hot July day – it was so hot that half the peloton stopped as they rode along the Mediterranean coast and went for a swim in the sea while still wearing their team kits.
- Tiny French climber Jean Robic was so small and light (he measured only five foot in height) that he could not descend with any velocity. During stage 11 of the 1953 Tour, Robic’s team decided to tackle this problem by passing him a drinks bottle full of lead at the top of the Col du Tourmalet. The 1947 Tour winner effectively doubled the weight of his bike and managed to keep ahead of the peloton and win the stage.
- On 13 July 1967, British rider Tom Simpson died of heart failure during the ascent of Mont Ventoux on stage 13 of the Tour. Amphetamines were found in Simpson’s jersey and blood.
- Following stage 8 of the 1968 Tour Jose Samyn of the French ‘A’ Team was the first ever rider to be kicked out of the race for a doping offence.
- Eddy Merckxwas punched by a spectator as he challenged for a record-breaking sixth Tour win in 1975. In the final few hundred metres of Stage 14 to Puy de Dome a man punched Merckx in the gut as he chased two of his rivals up the final climb. The Belgian vomited after finishing 49 seconds down on the leader and dropped out of the race for yellow as he struggled through the following stages.
- On 18 July 1995, Italian rider Fabio Casartelli crashed at 88 kph (55 mph) while descending the Col de Portet d’Aspet and died from his head injuries. The Team Motorola rider had not been wearing a helmet and in the wake of his tragic death the UCI made it mandatory to wear a helmet when racing.
- As the peloton sprinted into the town of Marennes at the climax of stage 6 in 1997 Belgian sprinter Tom Steelsthrew his drinking bottle at another rider. He was expelled from the Tour.
Next time – facts 31 – 40: Tour riders