In 1902, George Newnes, Limited published The Hound of the Baskervilles, arguably the best-loved novel featuring the world's most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. At least twenty different film and television productions have adapted the work, and the title lends its name to the Baskerville effect, a statistical observation linking cardiac mortality to psychological stress. It's not a stretch to call The Hound an essential part of the mystery genre.
And, without even meaning to, the first 25 editions of the Tour de France stomped Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in terms of unusual and baffling shit. Stuff like the 1904 spectators regularly attacking the riders? Doesn't even begin scratching the surface:
1906 winner René Pottier learned that his wife had taken a lover and hung himself from his bike hook.
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Bicycles are terrifying, you should not ride them
In this episode of the Punt Brothers podcast, Jon and Ryan are delighted to talk to their friend Pete Holby, bicycle enthusiast and teller of amazing Tour de France stories.
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François Faber, the victor in 1909, won a stage in which he was blown off his bike by the wind and got knocked off his bike by a horse AND THE HORSE KICKED THE BIKE AWAY. Faber later died in the First World War on the same day he got a telegram informing him of his daugther's birth. (Life was a real horse-kicking asshole in the early 20th century like that).
Two years later, Paul Duboc wound up puking on the side of the road after he was allegedly given a poisoned drink, and none of the other riders were permitted to help him because the Tour de France was originally started to emphasize that friendship is an illusion and death is man's only true companion.
Bonus! Because fans suspected eventual winner Gustave Garrigou had orchestrated the poisoning, the Tour gave Garrigou a disguise to wear on the stage that went through Duboc's hometown.
Under the original rules of the Tour de France, riders had to perform all of their own repairs. So, in 1913, the following actually happened:
A scenic road in the Pyrenees.
Eugène Christophe: Hey, I was leading but then my fork - you know, the whole steering and balance part - broke.
Tour Official: Carry the bike with your arms to the nearest village.
Christophe: Okay, I carried this damn bike over ten kilometers and found a place to weld my bike back together.
Tour Official: Nobody gets to help you or you will be penalized.
Christophe: But what if this little kid just pumps the bellows a little since I don't have four arms?
Tour Official: PENALTY. Also you're behind by a lot now.
Tour Official: Also you never go on to win the Tour because ours is a devastating and unkind French god.
We haven't even mentioned Henri Pélissier, winner of the 1923 Tour and an asshole so amazing he deserves his own set of bullet points:
- Quit one Tour because he wasn't allowed to have an extra glass of wine
- Quit another because he wasn't allowed to take off an extra jersey he had been wearing to keep warm
- Bragged to a journalist about using cocaine, chloroform, and horse liniment to keep going in competition
- Made his first wife so unhappy that she shot herself
- After that, attacked his lover with a knife and died when she shot him with the same goddamn gun
Pélissier still met a kinder end than Ottavio Bottecchia, winner of the 1924 and 1925 Tours. Ottavio was found on the side of the road near his Italian village with a variety of broken bones and an undamaged bicycle; he died twelve days later in the hospital. The official cause of death was listed as "sunstroke," continuing a 93 year run in which nobody in Italy was officially found to be the victim of murder. Just super fortunate and respectful of law enforcement, those Italians.
The early Tour was also one of the first eco-conscious sporting events, requiring riders to start and finish each stage with the same equipment. Blow a tire? Change it, and carry the old one with you. Break a fork and find a replacement bike, like Victor Fontan did in 1929? Strap the old bike to your back like it's fucking C-3PO and ride with it to the finish line.
And this is just all the shit we know about. Imagine what kind of insanity was going unreported! An angry crowd could have probably kidnapped a lesser-known rider and convinced the Tour that he'd never existed in the first place. Real life was just crazy like that before World War II. No wonder a chemically-enhanced hell dog was bestseller material.