The first Tour de France both started and finished just outside of Paris. Its conclusion was at the Restaurant Pere Auto in Ville d’Avray, south-west of the capital. The peloton then rode to Parc des Princes for a lap of honour. The race finished in the Parc every year thereafter until 1967 when it was demolished. From 1968 until 1974, it ended at the Bois de Vincennes velodrome while every subsequent edition has finished on the famous cobbled Champs Élysées in Paris. Making Paris – in Tour terms – the hostess with the mostest!
Valery Giscard d’Estaing, the French president back in 1975, granted permission for the Champs Élysées to host the final stage of that year’s Tour which concluded with 25 laps of a circuit. Since 1978, the final stage has started outside the city with riders completing six or eight laps in the city. In 2003, the Tour’s centenary, it was ten laps.
Tour de France 1934
So let’s dip into the archives again and look at some of the more memorable Tours, starting with 1934 which was dominated by 1931 winner Antonin Magne – wearer of the yellow jersey for the entire race. Indeed, the French had the sort of Tour they can now only dream about – winning most of the stages. Indeed, every member of the French team won at least one stage.
The Tour was also memorable because of the sacrifice of 20-year old Rene Vietto from Cannes, winner of the mountains classification and fifth overall, who gave up his own chances of Tour victory by giving first his front wheel and later his bicycle to his team captain Magne. Vietto had been persuaded to take up racing by none other than Alfredo Binda but, despite a successful career, he never won a Tour. There’s a memorial to him at the top of the Col de Braus in Nice.
The Tour’s final stage, 221km from Caen to Paris was won by the Belgian Sylvere Maes, who went on to win the 1936 edition of the Tour after the 1935 edition had been won by Belgian Romain Maes – no relative. It’s the one and only time the Tour has been won in consecutive years by different riders with the same surname.
1934 saw the introduction of the split stage and the individual time trial. Stage 21 was split into two parts, and the second part was an individual time trial, the first in the Tour’s history. Previous ones had been team time trials. In addition, changes were made to the bonification (points added or seconds deducted) system. A stage winner received 90 seconds bonification, and the runner-up 45 seconds. Plus the stage winner received a bonification equal to the difference between him and the second-placed cyclist, up to a maximum of two minutes. A similar system was applied on mountain summits counting towards the king of the mountains classification. Also, the number of touriste-routiers, cyclists competing in a French regional rather than a national team, was reduced to 20.
Tour de France 1960
The 1960 Tour de France was notable for the absence of one Jacques Anquetil who was exhausted from riding in and winning the Giro d’Italia, so Roger Riviere was that year’s favourite for the win. Teammate Henry Anglade, runner-up from 1959, took the lead on stage four and expected to become the new team leader. But Riviere was having none of it and attacked on the sixth stage despite pleas from team management to desist. As a result, Jan Adriaensens took over the leader’s jersey with Anglade saying that was where the French lost the Tour.
Gastone Nencini took the overall lead in the mountains, meaning Riviere, now in second place, would only need to keep pace with the Italian as, with his superior time-trialling skills, he could take back time on the crucial stage 19. Trying to stay in touch, plummeting down the Col de Perjuret on stage 14, Riviere missed a corner and fell 20 metres down a ravine – Tour and career over. Nencini went on to win the 1960 Tour de France. The final stage, 200km from Troyes to Paris was won by Frenchman Jean Graczyk who also took home the points jersey and overall combativity prize. Graczyck’s nickname was Popof, believed by some to derive from his habit of attacking alone, or ‘popping off’. However, it’s much more likely that this was a reference to his origins as Popov is French slang for someone of Polish background.
1960’s Tour wasn’t immune from changes either, as it saw the introduction of stage transfers, with a train trip from Bordeaux to Mont de Marsan after stage nine. Previously, the organisers had tried to keep the stage finish and the next day’s stage start as close together as possible. The German team, in exile since 1938, were once again allowed to join the Tour, run on the national team format with major nations – France, Spain, Belgium and Italy – having teams of 14 cyclists plus smaller nations and regional teams with eight riders.
Tour de France 1974
We can’t talk Tours without mention of Eddy Merckx who, in the 1974 Tour, was attempting to win his fifth Tour in as many races. He’d been absent in 1973 after winning four Tours in a row and had returned this year with wins in the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de Suisse under his belt.
Despite the absence of a couple of leading lights, Merckx didn’t initially have it all his own way and the race leadership changed on an almost daily basis in the first week until Merckx, battering the others into submission, took control of the jersey after winning stage seven and hung onto it, equaling Anquetil’s record of five Tour wins. He won the final stage from Orleans to Paris, setting the record for most stage wins – 32. He subsequently increased this to 34. He was also awarded the combativity prize. Having won the Giro and Tour, Merckx completed cycling’s holy trinity by winning the 1974 world championships, a feat equalled in 1987 by Ireland’s Stephen Roche.
1974 Tour runner-up was the evergreen 38-year old Raymond Poulidor who’d held his own in the mountains and even won two stages. Winner of the intermediate sprints prize was Britain’s Barry Hoban – a taster of things to come.
There were a couple of notable incidents in the Tour. One rider forgot to go to doping control, was given a ten-minute penalty and lost his second place overall. The other cyclists threatened to strike and the penalty was removed: that’s peloton power for you. In the Pyrenees, Basque separatists placed bombs on press and team cars. Nobody was injured but the cyclists were scared, particularly Spanish national champion, Vicente Lopez – third overall – who wouldn’t wear his national jersey for fear of becoming a target.
The Tour also made its first, largely anonymous and unpopular – with the riders – incursion onto English soil with a circuit stage on the Plympton bypass, near Plymouth. The Daily Mirror proclaimed ‘Can 40 million Frenchmen be wrong?’ The answer back then was a resounding affirmative. Not now though!
Tour de France 1987
To cap off our trip down Paris’s memory lanes [shouldn’t that be boulevards? – Ed], let’s revisit Stephen Roche’s 1987 Tour victory in the year of its silver anniversary. The defending champion American Greg LeMond was absent, recovering from an earlier accidental shooting incident. The Tour started with a prologue in West Berlin – this side of that wall – and Poland’s Lech Piasecki became the first eastern-bloc rider to wear the yellow jersey after stage one. He was one of eight different riders to wear yellow in that year’s Tour, another new record.
Many reckon that key to Roche’s victory was stage 21 but the building blocks were put in place when he won stage ten’s 87km individual time trial from Saumur to Futurscope. The winner of the next time trial, stage 18 – up the fabled Mont Ventoux – blew up on the following day’s which was won by Pedro Delgado while Roche took the maillot jaune. Stage 20 finished atop the legendary L’Alpe d’Huez. It was won by Delgado who also retook the yellow jersey. No matter, Roche was a much better time-trialler than Delgado, so he only needed to maintain and not overhaul the latter.
Stage 21 to La Plagne was won by Laurent Fignon. Delgado had attacked early on but his team lost track of Roche’s progress in the fog surrounding the summit and, to everyone’s surprise, he almost caught Delgado on the line. Roche wrapped up victory on the penultimate time trial, while Delgado was runner-up. The final stage into Paris was won by American Jeff Pierce a victory, which was to be the only real jewel in his long cycling career.
More tinkering in 1987: the number of cyclists in each team was reduced from ten to nine to allow more teams to compete. One of those was the woefully underprepared and underfunded British team ANC Halfords which imploded during the race. In addition, race organisers changed the recently introduced (1983) young rider classification from being only open to Tour rookies under 26 years of age at the beginning of the year, to take account of all riders in that age group.
So you see, the Tour is never won on Paris’ hallowed streets but is does provide a fitting finale for its worthy winners. While only one man can wear the yellow jersey in Paris, everyone who succeeds in reaching the French capital is a winner in our books. Chapeau to you all!