Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What is the Heroic Era?

A lady is about to cross the street  in the 1928 Tour de France when the peloton comes
streaming through. Photo credit: The Guardian Photograph: Collection Laget

The more I read about the Heroic Era the more I like what what the Tour de France used to stand for: strength and perseverance. Resourcefulness was everything. You powered your own single speed machine, fixed it as best as you could, fed and clothed yourself, and struggled onward pedaling over mountain passes caked in mud or snow. Grit, determination, and self sufficiency were characteristics that earned respect.

That was when the race consisted of epic journeys, like in 1920 when Honore Barthelemy lost his eyesight after a crash where his eye was struck by a flint. He still finished the race. And went onto compete in more Tour de France events with a glass eye he removed when dust became a problem. Eugene Christophe broke his fork in 1913. Since outside assistance was forbidden, he rebuilt the forks, starting with raw tubing. At one point Christophe asked a local boy to operate the bellows, because his own hands were occupied with a hammer. Later he completed the race, but was docked two minutes because he had accepted help.

1920 Tour de France, 5000 km. I like that early routes circumnavigated France. 
Photo credit: Wikipedia
The early tour days remind me of how I view bike touring. You are pretty much on your own—granted not as much as early 1900s—but ingenuity and struggling up mountain passes relies on attention, wit, and pedaling for the long haul. There is immense satisfaction in unassisted accomplishment—much like what I imagine the heroic riders felt.  After the late 1920s, rules relaxed and derailleurs aided climbing and, sadly, performance drugs entered the scene. And by then, also tragically, several riders were lost to WWI. By the 1950s riders were sponsored and supported, completely changing the face of the Tour de France.

1913 Photo credit: Cyclopunk

Maybe that's why I appreciate the old stories and photographs so much. It was a different era, certainly heroic. And long before the theatrics of glamour girls kissing winners, before mandatory helmets or clipless pedals. Fortunately, one thing still remains the same, then and now: bicycling fans support the greatest race on earth.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree about the old races, old photos. If ever I can find the time, riding around France would be a hoot! I mentioned that to a board member at work a few years ago, (married to a French woman) and he turned pale. Humm, not the time yet to get more vacation.


Due to increased Spam, I am moderating comments. Thank you for your patience.