Chairman Bill's History of the Tour de France:
How a Newspaper Promotion Became the World's Greatest Sporting Event
Alphonse Steinès desperately wanted to expand the Tour and make it even more monumental, so for the 1910 edition he badgered Desgrange into including the first modern high mountain stage. Steinès knew that the story of the assault on the high mountains would be great for the race and fantastic for L'Auto's circulation. It would be an exciting exploit, seizing the attention of the public.
Desgrange, ever the fearful boss of the Tour, was reluctant to include a challenge that might be beyond the racers. Even though that first climb in 1905 had been successful and tougher climbs than the Ballon d'Alsace had been included in subsequent editions, the Pyrenees were another matter again. These were mountains!
With 2 months to go to the start of the 1910 Tour, Desgrange sent Steinès to the Pyrenees to see if indeed, it was practical for the riders to climb the mountains in the Tour de France. His reconnaissance trip was very eventful. Ascending the Tourmalet his car was stopped on the mountain by a snowdrift. Abandoning the car, he set off on foot and lost his way on the snowy mountain at night. He finally fell off a ledge of snow into a ravine. The locals who set out to find the missing scout found him at 3 A.M. Steinès sent the following famous telegram to Desgrange: "No trouble crossing Tourmalet. Roads satisfactory. No problem for cyclists. Steinès"
Desgrange was sucked in. He announced in L'Auto that the 1910 Tour route would include ascents of the Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet and Aubisque mountains. It would be 4,737 kilometers long and divided into 15 stages. The penultimate stage from Brest to Caen would be the longest, at 424 kilometers. Stages 9 and 10 would feature climbing in the Pyrenees with the tenth stage the promised colossus.
Alcyon teammates François Faber (left) and Gustave Garrigou
In modern times teams bulging with talent have come under terrible stress as the best riders vie for the honor of being the team's protected man. The most famous recent example is probably the 1986 Tour with the tension in the La Vie Claire team. Bernard Hinault reneged on his promise to help Greg Lemond win, and both men fought hard for victory. Hinault insists, it must be noted, that he did help Lemond, but that story must wait. The rivalry between Hinault and Lemond tore the team into 2 separate camps. The past is prologue. Alcyon had assembled a magnificent stable of superb athletes allowing them to take the first 5 places in the 1909 Tour. For 1910, it was assumed that their man François Faber would be the man to win the Tour. But the addition of the Pyreneen stages tipped the balance a bit towards another rider on the Alcyon team, Octave Lapize, setting up the intra-team competition.
With a victory in stage 2, Faber was on track to repeat Petit-Breton's 2 consecutive Tour wins. Faber was riding just as he had the year before. His second stage win was a solo victory with Garrigou 7 minutes back and third place Octave Lapize a stunning 17 minutes slower. Eleventh place Trousselier was almost an hour behind.
By stage 4, Faber had won half the stages and was assembling a substantial lead. He had 8 points while second place Garrigou had 23. Faber flagged a bit on the fifth stage, which went over the Col de Porte. Octave Lapize showed that he had his climbing legs on for this Tour, winning the stage with Faber sixth, 22 minutes back.
Faber struck back, winning stage 7 despite a crash that would leave him injured for the rest of the Tour. At the end of stage 8, before the Tour's first day in the Pyrenees, here was the General Classification:
- 1. François Faber: 33 points
- 2. Octave Lapize: 48 points
- 3. Cyrille Van Houwaert: 56 points.
All 3 were riding on the Alcyon team. This was not turning out to be the Faber runaway that 1909 was.
Stage 9 was 289 kilometers from Perpignan to Luchon. The riders were to climb the Portel, the Col de Port, the Aspet and the Ares. This was not the epic day that Desgrange had promised. This was only the lead-in. Octave Lapize won by 18 minutes over Émile Georget and was 22 minutes ahead of third-place Faber. Now Faber's Achilles heel was showing. The massive man had trouble getting his giant body over the bigger mountains. Yet because the race was determined by points, not by time, Lapize had only slightly closed the gap to Faber.
The tenth stage of the 1910 Tour was a 326-kilometer brute that indeed included the 4 monster mountains, the Peyresourde, the Aspin, the Tourmalet and the Aubisque. Desgrange didn't have the heart to watch and had his assistants supervise the stage. If the stage were a debacle, at least he wouldn't have to witness it. Fearing the worst, he made another addition to the 1910 Tour, the Broom Wagon. It followed the last rider to pick up those who could not finish the stage. Desgrange had ruled that a rider unable to finish the mountain stage could ride to the finish in the Broom Wagon and start again the next day.
The riders departed at 3:30 AM in order to finish the titanic stage. Lapize took off and was first over the Peyresourde and the Aspin. On the Tourmalet, Lapize's teammate Garrigou caught him. The 2 dueled up the mountain with Lapize getting a 500 meter lead over the top.
Octave Lapize walks his single-speed bike up a mountain in the Pyrenees
On the Aubisque, the last of the big climbs, Steinès and an assistant, Victor Breyer, stationed themselves well up the mountain at a point in the stage with 150 kilometers to go. They waited for the first rider. Breyer wrote of the moment when they saw the first man coming up the mountain:
- And suddenly I saw him, a rider, but one I didn't know. His body heaved at the pedals, like an automaton on two wheels. He wasn't going fast, but he was at least moving. I trotted alongside him and asked, "Who are you? What's going on? Where are the others?" Bent over his handlebars, his eyes riveted on the road, the man never turned his head nor uttered one sole word. He continued and disappeared around a turn. Steinès had read his number and consulted the riders' list. Steinès was dumbfounded. "The man is François Lafourcade, a nobody. He has caught and passed all the 'cracks'. This is something prodigious, almost unbelievable!"
- Still the minutes passed. Another quarter-hour passed before the second rider appeared, whom we immediately recognized as Lapize. Unlike Lafourcade, Lapize was walking, half leaning on, half pushing his machine. His eyes revealed an intense distress. But unlike his predecessor, Lapize spoke, and in abundance. "You are assassins, yes, assassins [Vous êtes des assassins!]" To discuss matters with a man in this condition would have been cruel and stupid. I walked at his side, attentive to all he said. After more imprecations, he finished by saying, "Don't worry, at Eaux-Bonnes [the town at the bottom of the mountain] I'm going to quit"
- ---from Uphill Battle, by Owen Mulholland.
Octave Lapize on the Tourmalet
Lapize didn't quit. He tore down the Aubisque, riding dangerously on the unpaved rutted paths. He caught Lafourcade and won the stage with Pierino Albini, beating third-place Faber by 10 minutes.
Pierino Albini and Charles Crochon chasing Lapize after the Tourmalet.
Lapize and Albini on the Aubisque.
At the end of this historic stage, Faber still had 36 points in the General Classification to Lapize's 46.
With the mountain stages finished, it was a fratricidal war between the 2 Alcyons to the end of the Tour with Lapize slowly closing the gap on Faber. Faber had an unexpected string of misfortunes, crashing and getting many flat tires. On stage 13, Lapize took the lead and put it on ice when he won the penultimate stage to Caen.
The closeness of the final General Classification showed how worthy both Faber and Lapize were.
- 1. Octave Lapize (Alcyon) 63 points
- 2. François Faber (Alcyon) 67 points
- 3. Gustave Garrigou (Alcyon) 86 points
- 4. Cyrille Van Houwaert (Alcyon) 97 points
- 5. Charles Cruchon (independent or isolé) 119 points
The winner of the 1910 Tour de France, Octave Lapize, in an undated photograph.
Lapize was by no means a shock winner. By the time the 1910 Tour came around, he had already won Paris-Roubaix twice as well coming in second in Paris-Brussels. He went on to win a third Paris-Roubaix as well as 3 Paris-Brussels and 3 Championships of France. Lapize never again finished the Tour de France although he tried 4 more times. In World War One he was a fighter pilot and was shot down near Verdun and died. He was only 29.
1911. The Story of the 1911 Tour de France has been moved to the 1911 Tour results page.
1912. The Story of the 1912 Tour de france has been moved to the 1912 Tour results page.
1913. The Story of the 1913 Tour de France has been moved to the 1913 Tour results page.
1914. The Story of the 1914 Tour de France has been moved to the 1914 Tour results page.
1919. The Story of the 1919 Tour de France has been moved to the 1919 Tour results page.