Title: Goggles & Dust - Images from Cycling's Glory Days
Author: Shelley Horton and Brett Horton
Subject: A collection of 100 images drawn from the Horton Collection and depicting cycling in the first forty years of the twentieth century, mostly the 1920s and 1930s
Strengths: Sometimes you can only really understand the Tour - and the other bike races depicted in this collection - by actually seeing what the conditions of the time were like
Weaknesses: Words. Me, I would deliver each picture with a lot of words. But that would make it a different book
Goggles & Dust is one of those wonderful coffee table photo albums, offering a glimpse into the photo archives of the Horton Collection - 170,000 vintage photos and growing - and showing the reader the world of cycling as it existed in the years before the Second World War, mostly the 1920s and 1930s. It's the sort of book of which there really isn't a lot to say, the best thing I can do is show you some of the images from it. But rather than just show you some images, let's attach some stories to them, to try and explain the context of the pictures and why they are not just about aesthetics, that they are also about story-telling.
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At some point or another in the late 1920s or early 1930s the American author F Scott Fitzgerald probably saw the Tour de France arriving into either Nice or Cannes. Whether or not it was this same peloton from stage twelve of the 1928 Tour (racing into Nice from the west and the city of Marseille) is something for which there is no evidence one way or another (that I am aware of) but certainly the arrival of a Tour peloton into Cannes is something Fitzgerald depicted in his 1934 novel Tender is the Night, the arrival of the Tour punctuating a conversation between the two men at the heart of the story's love triangle:
"Boys sprinted past on bicycles, automobiles jammed with elaborate betasselled sportsmen slid up the street, high horns tooted to announce the approach of the race, and unsuspected cooks in undershirts appeared at restaurant doors as around a bend a procession came into sight. First was a lone cyclist in a red jersey, toiling intent and confident out of the westering sun, passing to the melody of a high chattering cheer. Then three together in a harlequinade of faded color, legs caked yellow with dust and sweat, faces expressionless, eyes heavy and endlessly tired.
"Tommy faced Dick, saying: 'I think Nicole wants a divorce - I suppose you'll make no obstacles?'
"A troupe of fifty more swarmed after the first bicycle racers, strung out over two hundred yards; a few were smiling and self-conscious, a few obviously exhausted, most of them indifferent and weary. A retinue of small boys passed, a few defiant stragglers, a light truck carried the dupes of accident and defeat. They were back at the table. Nicole wanted Dick to take the initiative, but he seemed content to sit with his face half-shaved matching her hair half-washed."
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André 'Dédé' Leducq won the 1930 Tour the France, the first to be raced under the national and regional teams format Henri Desgrange introduced in an attempt to break the power of the trade teams. Desgrange wanted his Tour to be a race for individuals, even though those individuals raced as teams. He particularly wanted his Tour to have a French winner (which it hadn't had since Henri Pélissier in 1923), having grown tired of the way the trade teams used French riders as domestiques for Belgian and Italian riders, particularly after Maurice Dewaele - described by Desgrange as a corpse - had been nursed to victory in 1929 by his Alcyon team-mates. So Leducq's victory, it was welcomed by Desgrange. But the grand irony of it is it was very much a team effort, almost a repeat of 1929. Leducq - had he been left to his own devices - would have abandoned the race in the Alps and the Tour would probably have been won by an Italian.
Leducq came into the 1930 Tour with the 1928 edition of Paris-Roubaix on his palmarès, along with five stages in the 1929 Tour. By the time the race reached its sixteenth stage (of twenty-one) Leducq had a lead of 16'13" over Italy's Learco Guerra with his team-mate Anontin Magne in third, at 18'03". That sixteenth stage took the riders from Grenoble to Évian, by way of the Col du Lautaret, the Col du Galibier, the Col du Télégraphe and the Col d'Aravis.
Over the summit of the Galibier Guerra was leading Leducq by nine seconds, with a couple of other riders up the road. On the descent Leducq decked it and Guerra left him for dead. Aided by a team-mate, Pierre Magne, Leducq remounted and gave chase. But near the base of the Télégraphe his pedal broke and he went down for a second time. At which point the fight seemed to go out of him. Sitting there by the side of the road, blood pouring from his knee, he wept.
Leducq, wearing the maillot jaune, might have been willing to give up, but the fight was not gone from his team-mates. Marcel Bidot caught up and sourced a new pedal for Leducq's bike. Charles Pélissier and Antonin Magne had arrived too and it fell to Pélissier to take charge. Évian was a good sixty kilometres away and the thick end of a quarter of an hour had already been lost to Guerra by the time the French riders got Leducq's bike repaired and their team leader back in the saddle. Both of the Magne brothers, Bidot and Pélissier turned those final sixty kilometres into a pursuit race, powering along the road, Leducq cocooned in their slipstream. For two hours they towed the maillot jaune along. And then, on the outskirts of Évian, they made the catch, caught up with Guerra. At which point Pélissier - who had already won four stages (and would go on to land another four, setting the all-time record for stage wins in a single Tour, which only Eddy Merckx and Freddy Maertens have equalled) - delivered the coup de grâce by leading out his team leader and letting the injured Leducq take the stage win. The maillot jaune was saved. And the Tour won.
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Roger Lapébie shares an unusual distinction with René Pottier (1906), Sylvère Maes (1939), Fausto Coppi (1952) and Bradley Wiggins (2012): those five men are the only Tour winners to bow out at the top, to have left the Tour as champions and never returned again. Some Tour champions lingered too long in the race after adding their name to its role of honours, coming back year after year only to be defeated time and again. Not those five.
Lapébie was one of the Tour's tough little rabbits, his 1937 Tour victory brought about through a mix of dogged determination and a little bit of luck. That's not to say he didn't deserve his win: he'd already that year won Paris-Nice and the Critérium National (though a crash in Marseille during the Race to the Sun required the commissaires to creatively interpret the rules in order to protect Lapébie's race lead). But ... well 1937 was a complicated Tour.
This was the one Gino Bartali was supposed to win for the greater glory of Benito Mussolini and his new Italian Empire but which Bartali lost after tumbling into a river and catching a chill (coincidentally, his tumble came while descending the Galibier, where Dédé Leducq's Tour had almost ended seven years before). The maillot jaune Bartali had been wearing passed to Belgium's Sylvère Maes who was defending the Tour title he had won the year before. The Belgian, he had the mighty Black Squadron - bossed by the ever resourceful Karel van Wijnendaele, creator of the Ronde van Vlaanderen - at his beck and call, the Belgians having discovered that the esprit de corps that had delivered French victories every year between 1930 and 1934 could also be harnessed to deliver Belgian wins.
One rider challenging Maes for victory was Lapébie, of the French squad. By the end of the race's first day in the Pyrénées Maes was leading Lapébie by 2'18". And then things got ... weird. Stage fifteen was taking the riders from Luchon to Pau, by way of les juges de paix, the Col de Peyresourde, the Col d'Aspin, the Col du Tourmalet and the Col d'Aubisque (today they are known as the Circle of Death, but back then les juges de paix was their more common appellation, it was in these mountains that the Tour was often decided).
As Lapébie warmed up before the stage start (it really isn't the modern invention some would have you believe) his handlebars broke: someone had taken a hacksaw to them. The French rushed to find a replacement set and attach them to Lapébie's bike. Which they managed to do just before the start. But without attaching the bottle cages which, in those days, were handlebar-mounted. So Lapébie was forced to set off without water and would have to work out some way around the draconian rules which allowed him to pick up drinks only in designated places.
What happened next wasn't much of a surprise: Lapébie bled time on each of the day's climbs. He was two minutes down on the Peyresourde, five on the Aspin, seven on the Tourmalet. And then ... and then his luck turned. Maes punctured. The Black Squadron waited for him to replace his tyre and then set off, aiming for the stage win. And they slaughtered themselves as they chased the Spanish climbing sensation Julian Barrendero, who was soloing to the stage win. As the Belgians wilted Lapébie seemed to come strong. He began to close the gap to the maillot jaune. And on the Aubisque he caught Maes. And as the maillot jaune group barrelled for the line, it was Lapébie who won the sprint, sealing second on the stage (which Barrendero had won barely a minute before) and enough bonifications to close his gap to Maes to just 1'33".
The Belgians complained, cried foul (the French were also complaining and crying foul, over what had happened to Lapébie's handlebars, but they had no one they could firmly point the finger at). Lapébie, the Belgians said, had been pushed up the mountains. Worse, he had drafted behind cars - actually held on to cars, the Belgians said - on the flats as well as the climbs. The commissaires listened to the Belgians and they agreed that the Frenchman had a case to answer. That he had broken the rules and was caught bang to rights. So they handed him a time penalty. Of a minute and a half.
The next stage, Lapébie closed the gap to Maes to just twenty-five seconds, this time with the help of the commissaires (who penalised Maes twenty-five seconds for taking pace after a puncture from riders who weren't part of his team) and a French rail-worker operating a level crossing (which, mysteriously, closed just after Lapébie passed and before Maes could). Van Wijnendaele, the Black Squadron's directeur sportif, he could see that the game was up and the deck was now stacked against his riders. So, figuring a noble retreat to be better than an ignoble defeat, he pulled the Belgian team from the Tour, gifting the yellow jersey to Lapébie.
The karma bank, though, likes to balance out luck, good and bad. And in 1938 it was Lepébie's misfortune to find himself on the wrong side of Henri Desgrange, who was no fan of his new Tour champion, and certainly no fan of the derailleur the Frenchman had used while en route to victory the previous year. Lapébie wasn't selected to ride the 1938 Tour, not for the French team, not even for one of the regional squads. A crash in Bordeaux-Paris in 1939 left Lapébie with a broken knee which ruled him out of the Tour and more or less ended his career, even before the war arrived. He never returned to the Tour, except as a spectator.
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Those are some of the stories which can be read into just three of the images to be found in Goggles & Dust. There's another ninety-seven images for you to find your own stories in. A few of them are reproduced below.