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Fiendish Fans

By We Love Cycling

Pushy spectators running on to the road screaming and yelling insults while grabbing at the riders as they pass by is all too a familiar scene nowadays.

(Photo: Profimedia.cz)

You may have asked yourself, “what is the Tour coming to”, but today’s unruly crowds are nothing compared to those in the past. All it takes is a quick glance into the history books to discover that the riders’ very lives were sometimes at risk.

Many people so freely shake their heads at the television, wondering what things are coming to in this day and age and how can people be so ignorant, but let’s not forget the past.  In 1904, the 2nd year of the Tour, Maurice Garin (winner of the 1st Tour) and Lucien Pothier, another favourite, were heading for a podium finish in the first stage when suddenly a car with four masked men inside aggressively veered towards them. Thanks only to the skill of both riders they were not knocked off their bikes as the car then fled away. Both men continued on and when Garin crossed the line first, to win the stage, he announced, “If I’m not murdered before we reach Paris, I’ll win the Tour de France again!” He nearly spoke too soon.

The second stage started off when it was still dark and while heading for Marseille, near St. Etienne, local rider Antoine Fabre made a break. Fabre knew that he had good reason to put in a spurt and get ahead of the rest because as soon as he went through his hometown, two hundred of his fans barred the road. When the peloton arrived, stones were chucked and “fans” bashed the riders with sticks. Italian Paul Gerbi escaped with broken fingers and Garin with a bruised shoulder, rode on only using one arm. Finally the support car arrived, shots were fired from a pistol and the crowd gave way. The same situation occurred in Nîmes, where the locals tried to avenge the disqualification of local hero, Ferdinand Payan, thus making a revolver a virtually indispensible part of every rider’s kit.