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In an effort to boost ratings I am writing about sports! Specifically I am looking at the most grueling sporting event in the world, the Tour de France.
Everyone is familiar with the contemporary Tour de France: teams of mighty Spaniards and Germans on futuristic carbon bikes exchange thinly-veiled insults about steroids with each other and with Lance Armstrong. The most exciting Tour de France, however, was the second, which took place in 1904.
The entire 1904 race was bedeviled by over-the-top scandals and cheating. During the first stage, Maurice Garin and Lucien Pothier were attacked by four masked desperados driving a motor coach. The second phase took the riders through the birthplace of Antoine Fauré, where a mob of 200 Fauré supporters attempted to stop the remainder of the cyclists with brute force. The riot was only dispersed by race officials firing pistols into the air! Unfortunately, several riders were wounded in the melee. In Nimes, the local supporters of Ferdinand Payan dropped stones down onto the riders. And on the final stage, the riders themselves (as well as various partisan miscreants) threw nails and glass on the road. Henri Cornet was obliged to ride the last 40 kilometers with two flat tires and came in fifth.
Violence, riots, and booby traps were not the only way of cheating, several of the riders were found to have utilized motor cars to advance, none more flamboyantly than Hippolyte Aucouturier. Hyppolyte had lost the first Tour de France in 1903 because someone spiked his water bottle (perhaps that race’s winner, a chain-smoking chimney sweep). So determined was Hyppolyte not to lose the second race, that he enlisted an accomplice in a car to tow him up the steepest parts of the race. To accomplish this Hyppolite used a long wire tied to a cork which he then gripped with his teeth. Other riders, such as Ferdinand Payan, simply waited till dark and held onto car bumpers or climbed inside and rode. During the evenings riders would deaden the pain from riding and fighting by drinking copious quantities of wine and huffing ether.
At the conclusion of the race, 29 riders were disqualified, including Hyppolyte and all four of the other top-placed racers. The fifth placed rider, Henri Comet won the 1904 Tour de France either through moral steadfastness or because he cheated more subtly than everyone else.
Wow, bicycle racing used to be amazing!