Back in the early days of the Tour de France, there weren’t many cars that could go a great deal faster than a bicycle with a fit rider astride it, but even in the second year that the Tour was staged, suspicions were being raised that riders were not only getting dragged along by cars, but were even clambering into them and getting a ride. Small wonder really, when most of them were amateurs and with the prize money being two thousand francs for the winner, it must have acted as a powerful lure against every rider’s sense of honour and fair play. Even the winner of the first year of the Tour, Maurice Garin, was sucked in.
Although the spectators were up against him, unhappy with the first-class conditions he was being granted compared to the other riders (he was the only one whose food was taken care of by the organiser!), Garin managed to win the second year of the Tour as well, but he did not savour his victory for very long. The French cycling authorities started looking into what had happened over the course of the race and this led to the disqualification of nine riders, including the top four. Garin subsequently was banned from taking part in cycling races for two years and although the reason has never been divulged, it is assumed that they made unauthorised use of cars and trains during the race.
Either respect tradition or create a new tier to the Tour seems to be the only way on how a clean and even race can be achieved.
Holding onto the vehicle with one hand and cramming your mouth with food with the other always used to be accepted. Discreetly of course, so never allowing your legs to rest against the handlebars, hardier souls would even pretend that they were still pedalling. No one bothers sticking to that now though and if necessary they just hitch on and get dragged right through the peloton. Yes, it isn’t very sporting, but it gives the rider a breather and you cannot blame them for feeling a bit leg-weary sometimes.
The other choice is to bring in a new jersey for the rider who holds on the longest to a car that a) changes speed b) zigzags wildly or c) tries to shake off the rider like a bucking bronco. It would be like a tandem race and to spice it up the rider could be dragged along by a tow rope with one end a) clamped between his teeth b) hooked onto his nipples or c) down below. A new extreme sport with a golden future and the riders know that. I guess that’s why they keep training regularly.
Text: Jan Hanzlík