“"I don't mind being beaten,
what I hate is being beaten
when I haven't tried.”
Jacky Durand (Fra)

  _March 2005



Additional Story: Tour de France 1910: "Assassins..."

The early races of the Tour de France (TdF) were still considered the pioneering years. Race director Henri Desgranges was always looking for new and innovative ways to avoid the pitfalls of complacency. Desgranges skeptically embraced a new idea put forth by Alphonse Steines, his assistant at Le Auto, for the inclusion of the monstrous climbs of the Pyrenees Mountains. “Steines, are you crazy?” responded Desgranges. But after significant persuasion, Desgranges dispatched Steines to the south of France for a look at the Col du Tourmalet.

As this legendary ‘Tale of the Tour’ described: Alphonse Steines arrived at an inn near the Col du Tourmalet on January 27, 1910. He asked the innkeeper for directions to pass over the Tourmalet. This being winter, the innkeeper cynically replied “...you can barely cross it in July.” Undaunted in his determination to have the TdF climb over the Pyrenees, Steines hired a car and proceeded up the cart path that was the passage over the monster mountain. Near the top of the climb the car was stopped by deep snow and turned back. Stubbornly, even though the late afternoon sun was setting, Steines continued on foot. He walked through the night and at 3am, when a search party found him Steines was dazed and bewildered. They quickly got him food and a hot bath. The next morning Steines sent the now famous telegram back to Desgranges in Paris:

Crossed Tourmalet… Stop
Very Good Road… Stop
Perfectly Passable… Stop
signed Steines

The expedition convinced Desgranges and the race schedule was altered to include an incursion into the high mountains of the Pyrenees. The press wrote of the new stage routes in the wilderness of the Pyrenees as “dangerous” and “bizarre.” This was much to the delight of race director Desgranges and his newspaper Le Auto.

The first ascents of the Col du Peyresoure, the Col d’Aspin, the Col du Tourmalet, and the Col d’Aubisque were featured on stage 10 from Luchon to Bayonne. The day, July 27, 1910, was a very hot day in southern France and Octave “le Frise” Lapize (the guy with curly hair) was aggressive from the start of the stage. He won the first three climbs and was only followed by Frans Lafourcade early on the Col d’Aubisque. Anxious race officials waiting at the top of the Aubisque watched to see if any rider could make it over the fourth major climb of the day, the brutal Col d’Aubisque. Lapize, a climbing specialist, walked, ran, and pedaled his way up the final climb. Halfway up, local rider Lafourcade passed him and won the climb. Fifteen minutes after Lafourcade, the second rider appeared, Octave Lapize in great distress and pushing his bike. Upon reaching the top Lapize angrily shouted “ASSASSINS...” at the race officials as he passed. Across the top of the Aubisque, a furious Lapize charged down the mountain, made up the 15-minute deficit to catch Lafourcade and won the stage.

One by one the riders going over the top of the Aubisque were muttering and yelling “Assassins” or “Murderers.” The media eagerly picked-up the thought and coined the term “the Circle of Death” or “Circle of Dead Men” [NOTE: stay tuned for a future CyclingRevealed article on this subject] referring to the hardest day in the Pyrenees Mountains.

The titanic battle of the 1910 Tour was selling newspapers at an excellent rate back in Paris. Not only had the Pyrenees Mountains peaked reader’s interest, but also the battle for the overall championship had TdF fans rushing out for the daily updates in Le Auto. Today the events of 1910 are looked at as a ‘master stroke of marketing’.


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