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Friday, 27 June 2014

Tour de France is getting closer!


Hello there!

After yesterday's small lunch I had for my family, to celebrate this blog's birthday, today is "business as usual", as they say.
But, not quite. I feel anxious, as I do every year in this time...

I am an avid fan of cycling. As a matter of fact, it is my favorite sport. No, it is the only sport I was and am interested in (despite the fact that the major population of my countrymen are dazzled by tennis and football these days). I'm counting days 'till it starts... the greatest of the races: Tour de France.



First of all, let me show you my bicycle:

Not a vintage bike, I'm aware of it (I got a 1970's model, but I had to trade it)
Not the prettiest of bikes, not even a new one... but for the places I'm going
this yellow-fella is perfect companion

And now, let me give you a story about a Tour from days-gone-by.

Tour boss Henri Desgrange was steaming over the 1929 Tour. Maurice De Waele, even though he had taken ill in the Alps, had emerged the victor. At one point during the '29 Tour De Waele was unable to eat solid food and could only swallow water with a little sugar dissolved in it. His all-powerful Alcyon team had protected him, pushing him up mountains and blocking attacks. Collusion with other teams was assumed. Feeling that the trade teams were ruining his race and its integrity, Desgrange set about recasting the Tour de France.

Desgrange was never one to stick stubbornly to a formula that didn't work, even if it were his own brainchild. Desgrange searched for a new way to inject sparkle and competition into his race. He found it. He dispensed with the trade teams he hated so much. Not until 1962 would bicycle companies and other manufacturers again sponsor teams in the Tour de France. In the place of trade teams, he created a system of national and regional teams. Riders would now ride for France, Italy, Spain and other countries. To fill out the race, when needed, regional teams such as Normandy and Alsace-Lorraine also rode. At the inception of this system the riders would ride identical, yellow (of course) anonymous bikes.


The public instantly greeted the national team proposal as a fine idea. The team sponsors grumbled that they lost publicity during the most important race of the season. Moreover, they were still obliged to continue to pay the racer's salaries.

This presented a huge problem and a huge risk. No longer would the team sponsors pay the substantial expenses of running the teams during the Tour. The Tour organization would be responsible for transport, food and lodging, a huge undertaking. Where would the money come from? And suppose the bicycle manufacturers became sufficiently angry at Desgrange's move and withdrew their advertising from his newspaper and Tour sponsor, L'Auto? L'Auto was born out of just such an advertiser's rebellion 30 years before.


Desgrange had an audacious idea. He invented the publicity caravan. Companies could pay the Tour a fee to follow the Tour with their logo'd trucks and cars, advertising their products.

The publicity caravan took a while to get going. The Menier Chocolate company was the first to sign up, and was 1 of only 3 companies that participated in the caravan the first year. Today, even with trade teams back in the race, the caravan continues to be an important part of the color and magic of watching the Tour.

Desgrange also disposed of his team time trial format and went back to mass-starts. He dispensed with the riders-must-do-their-own-repairs and finish-with-the-starting-bike rules. Now a rider could get a bike from a following vehicle and receive assistance from his teammates. As we will see in the 1930 Tour, this had a huge effect on the outcome. With these changes Desgrange had officially recognized that professional bicycle racing is a sport contested by teams and won by individuals.


With the best French riders now all on one team, French teams were able to begin a run of 5 straight wins. At the time France possessed cycling talent with real depth. The 1930 team was filled with great riders: Charles Pélissier, André Leducq, Antonin and Pierre Magne, Victor Fontan and Marcel Bidot.

The Italian team included immortal riders Alfredo Binda and Learco Guerra. Belgium sent Joseph Demuysére, Aimé Dossche and Louis Delannoy. This was a race with truly worthy competitors.
The touriste-routier classification of independent riders was retained, with some of them put into regional teams.




Desgrange cut the distance from the 5,276 kilometers of 1929 to 4,818 kilometers. He also reduced the number of stages from a high of 24 in 1927 and 22 in 1929 to 21 in 1930. This gave him an average stage length of 229 kilometers. Compare this to 1916's (about the same in 1923) 360 kilometers and it becomes clear that the Tour was becoming a race with greater emphasis on speed and less on brute endurance.


The French team won the Tour, won 12 of the 21 stages and put 6 of their riders in the top 10 in the General Classification. Needless to say, the French were well pleased with the new format. Charles Pélissier, giving almost daily lessons in sprinting to the other racers, had won 8 stages.
Final 1930 Tour de France General Classification:
1. André Leducq (France): 172 hours 12 minutes 16 seconds
2. Learco Guerra (Italy) @ 14 minutes 13 seconds
3. Antonin Magne (France) @ 16 minutes 3 seconds
4. Joseph Demuysére (Belgium) @ 21 minutes 34 seconds
5. Marcel Bidot (France) @ 41 minutes 18 seconds
6. Pierre Magne (France) @ 45 minutes 42 seconds

Oh, let me introduce you to the winner; this is André Leducq:

Pretty as a picture, right?
(one of the reasons why us girls should watch the Tour)

The organizing newspaper, l'Auto named a meilleur grimpeur ("best climber"), an unofficial precursor to the modern King of the Mountains competition.
All in all, Tour de France from 1930 introduced a lot of new things to cycling. It also lifted some cyclist to stardom (this fella above is the proof of that - he won 25 stages in nine rides) and it introduced this amazing sport to masses - yours truly among those fascinated by it.

I hope this story was as interesting to you as it is to me (or, at lest, that you have allowed yourselves to learn something new). I don't know about you, but there's seven more days, and I'm looking forward so much...
Marija

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