"The Tour is finished..."


Garin recieved a blow to his face; Pothier to the arm. Aucouturier turned boxer, felling an assailant with a neat upper-cut. By now Lefèvre's car was in the middle of the melée. It ground to a halt; its tyres were slashed. This time it was co-organiser Jean Miral who had to fire his revolver...

With the 1903 Tour having been such a resounding success, Henri Desgrange can perhaps be forgiven for keeping the same formula for the 1904 event. But this time the race was anything but a success. What really happened on those dark roads nearly a century ago can now never been known: what is known is that on November 30th 1904, four months after the end of the race, the Union Vélocepedique de France issued a communiqué with the following effect:

So what had gone wrong? The race had been an easy win for Maurice Garin, once again from his teammate Lucien Pothier, after joint favourite Hippolyte Aucouturier had suffered numerous crashes and punctures on the opening stage. yet even from the opening stage there had been complaints. Aucouturier felt it was not coincidence that he seemed always to be at the bottom of any crash. Garin himself, along with Pothier, took an illegal feed from race organiser Georges Lefèvre, after some subtle blackmail. (With Aucouturier already seemingly out of the race after less than half of the opening stage, the organisers could ill afford the race's only other bona-fide star, Garin, quitting due to hunger or an argument with the organisation). Then Pierre Chevallier was dropped from the bunch numerous times, yet always seemed to get back on - a ride in a car was simplicity itself in the dark. Pothier himself probably did not go that far; even so, his "crime" of being paced by his directeur sportif back to the bunch after a bad patch was certainly against the rules, which forbade any following vehicles. There were even dark mutterings about riders being towed from a car with a wire fitted to a piece of cork which they held between their teeth

That was stage one; things rapidly got worse. News of the organisers' relative kindness to Garin leaked out. Already on stage one, the supporters of local rider Antoine Fauré had threatened Garin with "being in on a racket". Now on the Col du Grand Bois, near St Etienne, an ugly mob blocked the path of the race. Fauré (who it must be said was innocent of any incitement) slipped through. Garin and the Italian Giovanni Gerbi were less lucky. The mob set upon both. Garin escaped relatively unscathed; Gerbi was less lucky, ending up with broken fingers which eventually caused his retirement. The riot was only broken up when Géo. Lefèvre arrived in the organiser's car and started firing his pistol over the heads of the crowd! Once off the mountain the trouble didn't stop: the rider from Alès, Ferdinand Payan, repeatedly took pace from a "spectator" to try to stay in contact. He was disqualified on arrival in Marseilles, where Aucouturier took a large group sprint - the easy ride down the Rhône had tended to keep a big group together, especially with many of the top riders not wanting to attack after the night's events

Payan was disqualified for taking pace: the next stage went through the Gard, his home region. The lead group rode through Nîmes: a stone was thrown. Another riot! Garin recieved a blow to his face; Pothier to the arm. Aucouturier turned boxer, felling an assailant with a neat upper-cut. By now Lefèvre's car was in the middle of the melée. It ground to a halt; its tyres were slashed. This time it was co-organiser Jean Miral who had to fire his revolver...

The next stage was quieter, helped no doubt by the shorter distance, which meant the whole race could be run off in daylight. Pothier won, then Aucouturier reasserted himself in Nantes. In the overall, Garin led Pothier by just a few seconds he had gained on stage one, but on the final stage, he slipped away at the end to win, and open his lead out to about six minutes, his second successive Tour safe - or so it seemed.

And thus it stayed - on the surface. In the background, however, investigations went on, witnesses were interviewed, dossiers prepared. Eventually, the first four were disqualified - certainly a harsh penalty. Garin had taken little more than an illegal feed - and from the race organiser at that! Pothier had taken pace from a team car, but had already been fined 500FF for that offence. Still, a result is a result, just or not. The following Tour was radically revised: the race expanded to eleven stages, but they were shorter, with night riding eliminated. This served to solve many of the problems. Garin, however, never really believed the result. At the fiftieth anniversary Tour, in 1953, Garin (along with Aucouturier and Géo. Lefèvre) was present to see his great successor Louison Bobet claim the first of his three victories. A photographer recorded the moment when the two champions shook hands, the proud Breton and the aged northerner. The photo eventually reached Garin. For a while he looked at it, then turned it over and wrote on the back:

cinquantenaire du Tour de France
1903=1904 - 1953
(signed)M. Garin.

The message could not be clearer...

Stage winners

 StageWinnerOverall Leader
Stage 1Paris - Lyon, 467kmMichel FrédérickMichel Frédérick
Stage 2Lyon - Marseille, 374kmAntoine FauréEmile Lombard
Stage 3Marseille - Toulouse, 424kmHenri CornetHenri Cornet
Stage 4Toulouse - Bordeaux, 268kmFrançois BeaugendreFrançois Beaugendre
Stage 5Bordeaux - Nantes, 425kmJean-Baptisite DortignacqHenri Cornet
Stage 6Nantes - Paris, 462kmJean-Baptisite DortignacqHenri Cornet

These are the results after the disqualifications. The initially quoted stage winners were Maurice Garin (stage 1), Hippolyte Aucouturier (stages 2, 3 5 and 6) and Lucien Pothier (stage 4). Maurice Garin led from the first stage to the finish.

In a nutshell

Results

Overall

1st: Henri Cornet, (France), 2419km in 96h 05' 55" (25.265km/h)
2nd: Jean-Baptisite Dortignacq, (France), @ 2h 16' 14"
3rd: Aloïs Catteau, (Belgium), @ 9h 01' 25"
4th: Jean Dargassies, (France), @ 13h 04' 30"
5th: Julien Maitron, (France), @ 19h 06' 15"
6th: A. Daumain, (France), @ 22h 44' 36"
7th: Louis Colsaet, (Belgium), @ 23h 44' 20"
8th: Achille Colas, (France), @ 25h 09' 50"
9th: René Saget, (France), @ 25h 45' 16"
10th: Gustave Drioul, (Belgium), @ 30h 54' 49"

(15th: Antoine Deflotrière, (France), @ 101h 28' 52")

This is the result after the disqualifications. Before the disqualifications, the order was as follows (disqualified riders shown thus):

1st: Maurice Garin, (France), 2419km in 93h 6' 24"
2nd: Lucien Pothier, (France), @ 6' 28"
3rd: César Garin, (France), @ 1h 51' 03"
4th: Hippolyte Aucouturier, (France), @ 2h 52' 26"
5th: Henri Cornet, (France), @ 2h 59' 27"
6th: Jean-Baptisite Dortignacq, (France), @ 5h 15' 36"
7th: Philippe Jousselin, (France), @ 8h 33' 42"
8th: Aloïs Catteau, (Belgium), @ 12h 00' 56"
9th: Camille Fily, (France), @ 15h 36' 42"
10th: Jean Dargassies, (France), @ 16h 04' 01"

(27th: Antoine Deflotrière, (France), @ 104h 28' 23")