A "moribund" winner


Victor Fontan forges ahead in the mountains
One of the unluckiest riders of the Tour was Victor Fontan. He was leading in the Pyrenees, but after hitting a pothole in the darkness, he was forced to retire with a broken bicycle, prompting the journalist Louis Delblat to write, "How can a man lose the Tour de France because of an accident to his bike? [...] The rules should provide for a back-up vehicle with spare bikes on board. You lose the Tour to a better rider; you should not lose it because of a stupid accident to your bike". Such a manifestly sensible rule had to wait the departure of Henri Desgrange several years hence.

The team time trial stages had clearly not worked the way Desgrange wanted, so they were dropped in 1929 on all but three stages. But once again the Alcyon team was able to ensure that its leader reached Paris in Yellow, even though Desgrange had split the riders into "As" and "Touristes-Routiers" rather than in trade teams. Such ties went deeper than simply a change of jersey.

The early stages saw nothing to split the leaders; indeed in Bordeaux, three potential winners all pulled on the yellow jersey: Nicolas Frantz, André Leducq and Victor Fontan. But after the first Pyreneen stage, Fontan, an excellent climber, had moved into a lead of all but ten minutes. The next day, tragedy struck for Fontan. His forks broke and, it was said, he knocked on every door in a village before he found a replacement bicycle. No sooner had he set off than he punctured; realising that now he would never catch the leaders, he climbed off, crying, into the bushes, the Yellow Jersey still on his shoulders. "How can a man lose the Tour de France because of an accident to his bike?" wrote the journalist Louis Delblat. "The rules should provide for a back-up vehicle with spare bikes on board. You lose the Tour to a better rider; you should not lose it because of a stupid accident to your bike".

Meanwhile Maurice Dewaele had pulled on the Yellow Jersey, but the drama was not over. Physically exhausted, he collapsed just an hour before the start of the stage from Grenoble. His team literally dragged him onto his bike at the start, then road shoulder-to-shoulder across the road to prevent any rivals from attacking. Eventually Dewaele pulled through to win the race, but Desgrange was not impressed. "How can such a soft touch retain the Yellow Jersey?", he wrote. "Why didn't his rivals attack him more resolutely? What can one make of their tactics and the real worth of the winner? I declare the winner moribund".

Desgrange wasn't the only one to be worried: the race was dying on its feet through a combination of tedium and arcane rules. Desgrange himself wanted to break the power of the big teams - really meaning Alcyon - once and for all. Others just wanted exciting action. "What can be done to haul cycle racing out of its rut of tedium?" wrote one journalist. "New ideas! Bold initiatives!"

The initiatives were just around the corner...

Stage winners

 StageWinnerOverall Leader
Stage 1Paris - Caen, 206kmAimé DosscheAimé Dossche
Stage 2Caen - Cherbourg, 140kmAndré LeducqAimé Dossche, Aime Déolet, Marcel Bidot and Maurice Dewaele equal
Stage 3Cherbourg - Dinan, 199kmOmer TaverneAimé Dossche, Aime Déolet, Marcel Bidot and Maurice Dewaele equal
Stage 4Dinan - Brest, 206kmLouis DelannoyMaurice Dewaele
Stage 5Brest - Vannes, 208kmGustaff Van SlembrouckMaurice Dewaele
Stage 6Vannes - Les Sables d'Olonne, 204kmPaul Le DrogoMaurice Dewaele
Stage 7Les Sables d'Olonne - Bordeaux, 285kmNicholas FrantzNicholas Frantz, André Leducq and Victor Fontan, equal
Stage 8Bordeaux - Bayonne, 182kmJulien MoineauGaston Rebry
Stage 9Bayonne - Luchon, 363kmSalvador CardonaVictor Fontan
Stage 10Luchon - Perpignan, 323kmJoseph DemusèreMaurice Dewaele
Stage 11Perpignan - Marseille, 366kmAndré LeducqMarice Dewaele
Stage 12Marseille - Cannes, 191kmMarcel BidotMaurice Dewaele
Stage 13Cannes - Nice, 133kmBenoît FauréMaurice Dewaele
Stage 14Nice - Grenoble, 333kmGaston RebryMaurice Dewaele
Stage 15Grenoble - Evian, 329kmJulien VervaeckeMaurice Dewaele
Stage 16Evian - Belfort, 283kmCharles PélissierMaurice Dewaele
Stage 17Belfort - Strasbourg, 145kmAndré LeducqMaurice Dewaele
Stage 18Strasbourg - Metz, 165kmAndré LeducqMaurice Dewaele
Stage 19Metz - Charleville, 159kmBernard Van RysselbergheMaurice Dewaele
Stage 20Charleville - Malo-les-Bains, 270kmMaurice DewaeleMaurice Dewaele
Stage 21Malo-les-Bains - Dieppe, 234kmAndré LeducqMaurice Dewaele
Stage 24Dieppe - Paris, 330kmNicholas FrantzMaurice Dewaele

In a nutshell

Results

Overall

1st: Maurice Dewaele, (Belgium), 5254km in 186h 39' 16" (28.319km/h)
2nd: Giuseppe Pancera, (Italy), @ 44' 22"
3rd: Joseph Demusère, (Belgium), @ 57' 09"
4th: Salvador Cardona, (Spain), @ 57' 45"
5th: Nicolas Frantz, (Luxembourg), @ 57' 59"
6th: Louis Delannoy, (Belgium), @ 1h 06' 08"
7th: Antonin Magne, (France), @ 1h 07' 59"
8th: Julien Vervaecke, (Belgium), @ 2h 01' 36"
9th: Pierre Magne, (France), @ 2h 02' 59"
10th: Gaston Rebry, (Belgium), @ 2h 17' 48"

(60th: André Léger, (France), Touriste Routier, @ 31h 37' 55")