Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Locomotive

The young urban messenger posers of today think they invented single-speed bicycles. This is from the olden days when men were men and the Tour de France was a single-speed event. As you process that sentence look at the terrain in this painting by Pat Cleary. Isn't it remarkable how little bicycle have changed since 1921? Even less changes on track bikes, which are virtually unchanged.

From Wiki: "Léon Scieur won the Tour de France on his fifth attempt, in 1921, when he was 33.He went into the lead on the second day and rode so hard to defend his position that reporters nicknamed him The Locomotive. He pedalled fast on a low gear, winning won two stages, from Cherbourg to Brest and from Nice to Grenoble.

Another Belgian, Hector Heusghem, attacked when Scieur punctured on the Col d'Allos, which climbs to 2,240m. Scieur was so angry at the breach of etiquette that riders weren't attacked when they had mechanical trouble that he set off after Heusghem, lectured him on politeness and tradition, raced off angrily alone and won the stage to Grenoble. The feud that developed between them brought still more reporters from Belgium - this was the first year that foreign reporters could follow the race by car - and made life hard work for everyone. The organiser, Henri Desgrange, wrote a column in L'Auto criticising riders for being too scared of Scieur to challenge him.

Desgrange wasn't slow to criticise or discipline riders who he thought weren't riding hard enough. The 12th stage was 371 km from Geneva to Strasbourg. Scieur was leading the race with Heusghem and a French rider, Honoré Barthélemy. Two Belgians, Firmin Lambot and Louis Mottiat, stayed in the main group rather than chase and spoil Scieur's chances. All five riders were on the same team and were using tactics that today would be considered normal. Desgrange, however, believed riders should compete as individuals and not in teams and he banished Lambot and Mottiat to last place.

The Tour became duller after Heusghem and Scieur settled into a sullen truce but it wasn't without incident. Scieur broke 11 spokes on the last but one stage, from Metz to Dunkirk and again fell foul of Desgrange's rules. He managed to get a replacement wheel but new rules for that year's Tour said he didn't have the right to use it unless he could show Desgrange's judges that the original was beyond use. No judge saw the incident and so Scieur carried the broken wheel on his back for 300 km to the finish. He said it left a mark on his back for 15 years."