Le Tour de Souffrance


Bottecchia rides the Col d'Izoard
"It would be dangerous to follow Bottecchia (here pictured on the Izoard) up a mountain pass, it would be suicidal", said future winner of the Tour Nicolas Frantz. "His progression is so powerful and regular that we would be asphyxiated".

Henri Pélissier's prediction came true perhaps sooner than he might have imagined: one year on from stating that Ottavio Bottecchia would succeed him as winner of the Tour de France, Bottecchia did just that with a superlative display of all round riding, becoming in the process the first rider to wear the Yellow Jersey from beginning to end of the race.

But the Tour that was dubbed by the journalist Albert Londres the "Tour of suffering" was marked by controversy almost from the start. The rules stated that a rider could not discard any clothing or equipment on the route. A benign-enough sounding rule, perhaps, but inhuman when stages sometimes started in the midnight cold and didn't finish until mid-afternoon under the burning French sun. In Cherbourg at the start of the third stage, an over-zealous official checked with Pélissier how many jersies he was wearing. The implication was clear - the officials suspected that Pélissier was starting the race dressed warmly, then stripping down as the day warmed up. But for Pélissier this was an intrusion too far: at Coutances, he retired, along with his brother Francis and their team mate Maurice Ville. Over a bowl of hot chocolate, the three poured out their tale to the reporter Albert Londres: The Tour was a Calvary, yet Christ had only fourteen stations of the cross, where the riders had fifteen. The riders were treated worse than dogs, unable to sleep at night through exhaustion, with their toenails falling out due to the pressure of the toe straps. Henri thought that soon Desgrange would force the riders to carry lead weights, since God made man too light. This was a complaint from Pélissier. Desgrange himself once claimed "Le Tour idéal serait un Tour où un seul coureur réussirait à terminer l'epreuve" - "The ideal Tour would be a Tour in which only one rider survived the ordeal". Desgrange meant this as an ideal to aspire to.

The race ground on without the Pélissier. At Bayonne, only a three-minute time bonus separated Bottecchia from a gaggle of riders, including Léon Scieur, Giovanni Brunero and Hector Tiberghien. Two days later and Bottecchia's nearest rival was Nicolas Frantz, at the remote distance of fifty minutes. Brunero won the Nice - Briançon stage from Frantz, and was lying in third position when he dropped out on the penultimate stage. The last stage just confirmed Bottecchia's domination, as he won the final stage to go with his win in the initial stage. A new star was born: his was to be a tragically-short life.

Stage winners

 StageWinnerOverall Leader
Stage 1Paris - Le Havre, 381kmOttavio BottecchiaOttavio Bottecchia
Stage 2Le Havre - Cherbourg, 371kmRomain BellengerOttavio Bottecchia
Stage 3Cherbourg - Brest, 405kmThéophile Beeckman and Philippe Thys, equalOttavio Bottecchia and Théophile Beeckman, equal
Stage 4Brest - Les Sables d'Olonne, 412kmFélix GoethalsOttavio Bottecchia and Théophile Beeckman, equal
Stage 5Les Sables d'Olonne - Bayonne, 482kmOmer HuyseOttavio Bottecchia
Stage 6Bayonne - Luchon, 326kmOttavio BottecchiaOttavio Bottecchia
Stage 7Luchon - Perpignan, 323kmOttavio BottecchiaOttavio Bottecchia
Stage 8Perpignan - Toulon, 427kmLouis MottiatOttavio Bottecchia
Stage 9Toulon - Nice, 280kmPhilippe ThysOttavio Bottecchia
Stage 10Nice - Briançon, 275kmGiovanni BruneroOttavio Bottecchia
Stage 11Briançon - Gex, 307kmNicolas FrantzOttavio Bottecchia
Stage 12Gex - Strasbourg, 360kmNicolas FrantzOttavio Bottecchia
Stage 13Strasbourg - Metz, 300kmArsène AlancourtOttavio Bottecchia
Stage 14Metz - Dunquerque, 433kmRomain BellengerOttavio Bottecchia
Stage 15Dunquerque - Paris, 343kmOttavio BottecchiaOttavio Bottecchia

In a nutshell

Results

Overall

1st: Ottavio Bottecchia, Italy, 5425km in 226h 18' 21" (24.250km/h)
2nd: Nicolas Frantz, Luxembourg, @ 35' 36"
3rd: Lucien Buysse, Belgium, @ 1h 32' 13"
4th: Bartolomeo Aymo, Italy, @ 1h 32' 47"
5th: Théophile Beeckman, Belgium, @ 2h 11' 12"
6th: Joseph Muller, Belgium, @ 2h 35' 53"
7th: Arsène Alancourt, France, @ 2h 41' 31"
8th: Romain Bellenger, France, @ 2h 51' 08"
9th: Omer Huyse, Belgium, @ 2h 58' 13"
10th: Hector Tiberghien, Belgium, @ 3h 05' 04"

(60th: Victor Lafosse, France, @ 45h 12' 05")