Bicycle Races are Coming Your Way: following the Tour de France in Artemis Primary Sources

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Elinor Hawkes

I joined Gale in December 2014 as Digital Product Editor, working particularly on our Early Arabic Printed Books from the British Library and Stuart & Cumberland Papers from the Royal Archives projects. I’m a qualified archivist and before joining Gale I worked in the Universities sector for nearly 10 years, so I’m delighted to continue working with Archives and Academics in a role that has broadened my horizons and introduced me to new challenges.

This year’s Tour de France is about to end, and like every tour it has seen its fair share of drama. The tour is still ongoing at the time of writing with Britain’s Chris Froome once again wearing the yellow jersey. It hasn’t been an easy ride for Froome, as a collision with a race motorcycle forced him to abandon his bike and run to the finish line atop the colossal Mont Ventoux. Collisions between riders and other road users are unfortunately common occurrence in the Tour, as I found in Gale Artemis: Primary Sources

21st July 2003: Spectator’s lunch unseats Lance Armstrong

“Armstrong climbs off floor to upstage Ullrich." Independent 22 July 2003

“Armstrong climbs off floor to upstage Ullrich.” Independent 22 July 2003

In 2003, Lance Armstrong was approaching the height of his Tour de France dominance, having won 3 consecutive Tours de France and about to win a further 4 (he was, of course, later stripped of his titles due to his admission of doping). During Stage 15 of the 2003 Tour, Armstrong was midway through an arduous climb up the Pyrenean mountain Luz Ardiden when a spectator’s lunch bag got caught in Armstrong’s handlebars, causing Armstrong to flip over the bike and taking out fellow competitor Iban Mayo. Armstrong’s main rival, Jan Ullrich, avoided the crash, but in an act of race etiquette he slowed down in order to allow Armstrong to catch up with him once he remounted and fixed his bike. This he did, and then some – once Armstrong caught up with the main group he attacked, and with none of his rivals able to keep up with him he finished the Stage 40 seconds ahead of his rivals. He went on to win the Tour by 61 seconds.

 

14th July 1999: Guerini’s (almost) photo-finish

"Guerini careers into sharp focus." Times 15 July 1999

“Guerini careers into sharp focus.” Times 15 July 1999

Collisions with spectators such as Armstrong’s in 2003 are relatively common in the Tour de France, perhaps due to the hundreds of thousands of spectators that line the roads, and the sheer passion the spectators have for the sport and the riders. Mostly collisions are due to spectators being too close to the sidelines, but on a memorable occasion in 1999 a rider and spectator collided because the spectator was standing in the middle of the road. The Italian rider Giuseppe Guerini was leading the race up the steep ascent of Alpe d’Huez when a spectator stepped into the middle of the road in order to take a good picture. Guerini was knocked off his bike, but fortunately was not injured and was able to finish the stage 21 seconds ahead of the nearest competitor. It is unknown whether the spectator got their picture.

 

10th July 1975: Merckx receives a blow

"Merckx attacked by spectator on climb." Daily Telegraph 12 July 1975

“Merckx attacked by spectator on climb.” Daily Telegraph 12 July 1975

Eddy Merckx is a legend in cycling, being one of the few to win 5 Tours de France. Known as the ‘cannibal’ due to his refusal to let anybody else win, he seemed almost invincible during races. Almost. In the 1975 Tour, when he was on course for a record-beating sixth win, he was punched in the side by a spectator 150m from the finish line. The punch caused a serious amount of bruising and a swollen liver, and although Merckx was able to keep pace with his rivals he was unable to take the lead in the Tour, and the 1975 Tour became the first one that Merckx started and he did not win.