So i know it’s the vuelta and all right now, but the Tourmalet is not really that far from Spain and well, just to get everyone in the mood for the first big climbing day tomorrow (or maybe today or maybe even yesterday if you are australian, seeing as how they are ahead of everyone else) i thought i'd share this. On a recent stay in the pyrenees i stumbled across this newspaper article (from La nouvelle république des pyrénées) almost a month after it was published (21 july) and quite enjoyed this story.
So i’d prefer to just butcher, uh, translate it, but i guess that would be like stealing (cuz otherwise you guys would all go out and buy a copy of a two month old newspaper from france?), so instead i will just paraphrase it - that’s not stealing, it’s paraphrasing.
So here goes. "Le 18 of August 1902, there were 43 to attack the Tourmalet on machines often weighing close to 20kg (44 lbs). The exploit would be realised by a young Stéphanoise (woman from stephanoise region around St Etienne)."
So after already having had to push the date back a day in order to avoid clashing with the opening of hunting season and horse racing, the organisers of the Touring-Club de France were confronted with another problem just a day before they were to send the racers in the direction of the Tourmalet to cross it two times. The 18th was the date for the 22 communes with sheep on the flancs of the pass to bring them back down to the valley!
"A peloton of 43 men against a migration of around 2000 head of sheep - the battle promised to be unequal." So capitain Perrache, high member of the Touring-Club, managed, in particular with bills of 100F, to convince the sheep farmers to descend their sheep the following day.
So on the big day, M Appell, member and professor of mechanics at the Sorbonne and president of the Touring-Club of France and colonel Rouville, director of military construction at Tarbes, as well as commandant Marcet, attended the departure of the race. At 4 in the morning the riders started in front of the "caserne de la Remonte" (whatever and wherever that is) in pelotons of 4 each at 5 minute spacing.
Before sending the riders off M Appell reminded them of the goal of the day’s activity: the bike manufacturers of Tarbes have had 7 months to design a machine which would be solid, comfortable, useful and have all the most recent improvements. So in order to judge the bikes they had chosen a route very difficult to place the machine under the most stressful conditions. The feat could only be accomplished by men in excellent form, capable of covering a distance of 225km at 15 to 16 kmph on average with a total ascent of about 3700 meters.
Amoung the riders there were professionals and amateurs. Amoung those who had machines equipped with derailleurs tailor made for the Tourmalet was Jean-Baptiste Fischer, born on Mach 30 1867 who was an Alsacien champion nicknamed "Le Grimpeur" (the climber). He rode a Brown Brothers BSA with a gearing of 4.40 m (equivalent to a 42x20 of today). His palmarès included a victory in Paris-Tours and a second place in Toulouse-Luchon in 1901. His grand rival was Müller who rode a Clément with 2 speeds, 5.34m and 4.06m, equipped with a mud-guard and weigning 17kg.
It was beautiful weather that day and the afternoon promised to be very hot. There were spectators all over the slopes of the pass, all the hotels were full from Argelès-Gazost to Bagnères. They were all there in admiration of the 43 first riders to make the assault on the Giant of the Pyrenees. They shouted a thousand hurras to four amoung them, victors of the pass without one time touching a foot to the ground. (!!!!!) (and Will, are you listening? They didn’t stop to take photos! ;))
The honor went to Viviant (rode L’Hirondelle" (the swallow), 16.65kg and gearing of 6.15m and 2.8m), Barbé (Peugeot), Coppet (Richard). Above all, honor goes to Marthe Hesse. Yes, a woman, signed up at the last minute by the president of the club because of a cancellation. Her bike was a Gauloise de Paul de Vivie (better known by the nickname "Velocio"). It came with a mud-guard, 2 chains, weighed 16.5kg and had 3 speeds (5.85m, 4.1m and 2.75m).
Sure, Marthe finished 4h27 behind Fischer (1st place), but she beat a man, Sarazin (whose bike weighed 21kg), by 1h10. Little importance that Mlle Hesse, this unhappy Sarazin, and 6 other riders turned in their numbers at the control in Lourdes at the end of the first lap, especially since all the members of the Vivie team, Marthe Hesse included, had ridden to Tarbes by bike from St-Etienne - 700km! This explains why they were satisfied with only one lap. ;)
(well, ok, in the end i did just kind of half-steal it in butchered form - i at least left some stuff out, wonder if that helps)