I had the next steps locked - I was getting to France early, the car was all lined up and Don Álvaro, fresh from his triumphant la Vuelta debut, was already in place waiting for me. The Don would again be bringing his enviable European cycling and cultural experience back to the Caravan, as well as his exuberant, and eminently likable, lack of life experience. We were ready for anything - we weren’t just off to see the wizard, we were the wizards, with 1.5 beards (the 0.5 being Álvaro’s commendable bum-fluff) to prove it.
The reality was quick to descend on us, though, like a rampaging peloton overrunning a foolhardy breakaway - who had clearly gotten ahead of themselves. We weren’t in Kansas anymore - we were in Paris, a city now teeming, seemingly, with cycling press. They had arrived before us and we could hear them whispering in hushed tones about the reconnaissance they had already done to find the best spots and the stories they were already working on. Whilst eating Swiss cheese, this mouse might have gotten a little fat.
There were more photographers than I remembered - and lots of new faces, eager to prove themselves. Photographers doubling as social video editors, moonlighting as travel blog writers - and already very well connected. Triple, quadruple and more-uple threats as far as the eye could see. Then it hit me - I thought the student had become the master, when, in fact, the hunter had now become the hunted. Lions and tigers and bears...
Fear not, though, as I relish the pressure. Memories of the hard yards it took to get this Caravan on the yellow brick road have been flooding back to me. The audacious adventures to bring you those shots, the sleepless nights of photo editing, the living on a shoestring just to survive.
So, yeah, my hunger is back. Not just for grissini, but to deliver my best Tour de France Caravan yet. Game on, Dorothy.
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Beardy’s Pub Trivia - Tour de France 2018 edition
Some of the stuff that may or may not make it into the Tour de France cycling news...
The hidden scandals of le Tour
While a picture may be worth a thousand words, it doesn’t always tell the full story. From the very first black and white photos of the inaugural Tour de France in 1903, there have been tales of cheating, doping and sabotage behind the scenes. Forget modern day urine tests, these are the real scandals from the history of le Tour.
Think footy fans are hooligans? After the huge success of the first Tour de France, things spiralled out of control the following year in 1904, with regions getting a little too fired up in support of ‘their’ riders.
When Antoine Fauré took the lead close to his hometown, 200 fans tried to stop the rest of the peloton from following him. One set of broken fingers and a concussion later, race officials managed to break it up by firing shots in the air.
In Nimes, fans of Payan were angry about his disqualification, throwing rocks at the riders and barricading the road. Several were injured and race favourite César Garin's bike was broken.
Riders who managed to make it through the mobs found nails and broken glass spread across the road in several locations.
Doping on “dynamite”
Stories of chemical assistance started to crop up in the 1920s, when brothers Francis and Henri Pélissier (the 1923 Tour winner) told the papers they had "cocaine to go in our eyes, chloroform for our gums, and do you want to see the pills? We keep going on dynamite. In the evenings we dance around our rooms instead of sleeping."
Boozing (and smoking) on tour was common practice, so much so as to hardly rate a mention until the 1960s, when the French banned use of stimulants in sport. However British rider Tom Simpson reportedly drank brandy before dying on Mont Ventoux in the 1967 Tour.
With the introduction of doping tests in the mid-60s came ever more elaborate schemes for riders trying to avoid detection. One such was Michel Pollentier’s disqualification in 1978, when he was caught using an intricate rigging of tubes to run clean urine from his armpit to his genitalia.
Say what you like about Mario Cipollini, at least he used a natural method of testosterone doping, in 1999 taping a picture of Baywatch’s Pamela Anderson to his bars.
Cheating may not be fair dinkum, but you have to admire the sheer audacity of some of these efforts.
Such as Hippolyte Aucouturier, who, in the infamous 1904 Tour, was discovered being towed by a car by means of a length of string attached to a cork that he gripped between his teeth.
Or 1947 winner, petite Frenchman Jean Robic (nicknamed “Kid Goat”), who flew up the hills ahead of the pack, receiving a bidon from his support crew at each summit. Rather than water, the bottle was filled with lead, designed to increase his weight during the descent.
And finally, the story of an unnamed Belgian rider who would ride alongside Tour founder Desgrange’s open-top car and pick an argument with the rule-obsessed organiser. In the heat of the following debate, Desgrange wouldn’t notice that he was holding onto the car door.