The Dark Hours of the Race

Father Desgrange forever watching...
by Pellos 1934 Tdf.

Here's another story from the fine pages of, "The Folie du Tour". I like to thank Carolle for helping me with the French translation.

Before 1939, Tour stages were agonizingly long, in fact, so long riders had to start in the middle of the night (last posted here). The first Tour in 1903, had stages well over 471 kms. With some riders taking 35 hours or more to complete a stage.

The night transformed misfortunes in the day (punctures, broken chains) into catastrophes. Journalist, Alphonse Steines said, "The climbs are easier than the treacherous downhills." In the evening in 1909, on the descente to Landerneau, Henri Anthoine hit a level crossing gate. Ideally, it was safer for the riders to follow behind the bright rear lights of the motor cars.

The nocturne start meant that the riders' had an invaluable friend to follow. A harrowing lonely ride in darkness, in the cold and often fraught with accidents, followed into the welcoming dawn with thousands of spectators. After a long stage was far over, where most riders made it to the finish. There were a few missing even after 24 hours in the saddle. Leaders of velocipedic clubs were dispatched into the evening to search for the late riders. Equipped with lamps matching the colors of the clubs, made searching relatively easier.

walking is safer for Bartolomeo Aimo

1903 survivor...
At the end in Paris, Alexandre 'The Flying Carpenter' Foureaux finished
31 hours 35 secs behind Maurice Garin.

Follow that car...
a car like this 1924 18 CV was used by Desgrange
during those nocturnal adventures.


empidog said…
Excellent..Alexandre looks like me after a hard day on the sofa.....Credit where credits due tough hard men, I wonder how they would do on todays equipment..
Richard said…
I think I rather be in that old car than riding those enormous long stages. More gear ratios lighter frames what a huge plus for those guys. I imagine they wouldn't finish over 35 hours or more. talk about sleeping on your bike!