July brings us to possibly the greatest event in the sporting calender.
So they take drugs?
Surely, they would be mad not to.
In it’s 107 year history the Tour de France has given us a great many stories of endeavour and fortitude; romantic triumphs and tragic failures litter its history like discarded water bottles. Something that the uninitiated often overlook is that cycling is a team sport. Whereas to win the Yellow Jersey appears to be a supreme individual achievement, the great riders also rely on hard work and sacrifice from their companions, most of whom will never become household names. Let’s look at two stories concerning the French rider, Rene Vietto (1914-1988).
In the 1934 Tour Vietto was doing very well in the mountain stages, and went on to win that years King of the Mountains. However, on stage 16 , his team captain, Antonin Magne (1904- 1983) damaged a wheel and , alerted by a motorcycle marshal, Vietto rode back to give Magne his cycle, effectively sacrificing his opportunity to take the Yellow Jersey.
When racing resumed after the war, Vietto had graduated to a position of greater seniority. His relationship with his juniors, however, was strange to say the least. During the 1947 Tour Vietto suffered from a septic toe. His only hope of continuing the race was to have the afflicted digit amputated on a rest day. Vietto insisted that his teammate Apo Lazarides (1925-1998) underwent the same procedure. Lazarides, who had aided the French Resistance movement during the Nazi Occupation, was so much under Vietto’s spell that he went along with this.*
Later on in the race Vietto narrowly avoided a bizarre accident when an aeroplane crashed on the course, and was also said to have performed badly in the time trial because he had drunk a bottle of cider during the stage.
Vietto (who holds the record for having won most Yellow Jerseys without having been the overall winner of the Tour) finished 5th, Lazarides 10th, both limping slightly. Vietto’s toe is said to be preserved in a jar of formaldehyde in a bar in Marseilles. The whereabouts of Lazarides toe is unknown.
*I’m tempted to call this a footnote:
Checking the details of the 1947 Tour, it appears that Vietto and Lazarides were not team mates, but it’s a great story …