The Tour and Drugs
Backgrounder on 100 years of doping in cycling.
Last year, the centenary of the Tour de France was celebrated. It was in 1903 that the sporting newspaper L?Auto launched the Tour, principally to boost the paper?s circulation and help it outdo its competitor Le Velo. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /?>
Not much is being said this year about the Tour that followed the very successful inaugural in 1903. With good reason.
The Tour of 1904 was a scandal. Spectators attacked riders with sticks and stones. Gamblers got involved and tried to influence the outcome. And there was clear evidence that riders cheated.
In the early years of the Tour, riders rode at night and it was relatively easy to take shortcuts without anyone seeing. And in 1904, they did just that. They also grabbed lifts with cars and one of them actually took a train to shorten the distance in one stage.
So outrageous was the cheating that French cycling authorities disqualified the first four finishers, including the Tour?s 1903 winner Maurice Garin.
Henri Desgrange, organizer and principal publicist of the early Tour, was in despair after the 1904 event. He as much wrote the Tour?s obituary in L?Auto:
?The Tour has ended, and I fear very much that its second staging will have been its last. It has been killed by success, by the passions it has released, the injuries and filthy suspicions caused by the ignorant and the wicked.?
Of course, the Tour survived but the 1904 edition presaged the sort of controversy that dogs the Tour of 2004 even before it has begun.
Cheating, or suspicions of cheating, has been a part of the Tour almost from Day One.
And drugs, even if they weren?t part of the 1904 scandals, have been a long-running theme in the Tour and professional cycling in general.
In 1924 , three riders, including the famed P ?lissier brothers Henri and Francis, dropped out of the Tour while it was in progress. The ostensible reason was that Henri had discarded several jerseys during a race (he wore them to warm up). This was against the rules laid down by Desgrange.
Journalist Albert Londres, interviewed the P ?lissier brothers. They said riding the Tour was like ?a calvary.? Riders experienced diarrhoea and weight loss among other deprivations. To survive they took drugs, including chloroform, cocaine and pills described as ?dynamite.?
Londres supplied his own label for the riders ? ?les for?ats de la route? ? the convict labourers of the road. Or, more loosely, the chain gang. This theme was to be taken up, especially by <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /?>
The P ?lissier brothers? testimony challenged the Desgrange?s ?story line? about the Tour ? that it was a contest that brought out ?superhuman? performances in its competitors as the battled with brute nature in heat and cold, on treacherous mountain passes and so on.