Today’s historic photo of the day – the legendary Ottavio Bottecchia climbing Col du Tourmalet, stage 6 of the Tour de France 1924.

The previous Tour de France was won by Henri Pélissier. But the Frenchman was clear as to who the rising star was: He had said that the runner-up Ottavio Bottecchia would go on to win the race – “Bottecchia will succeed me.”

Ottavio Bottecchia climbing Col du Tourmalet
Ottavio Bottecchia climbing Col du Tourmalet, stage 6 of the Tour de France 1924. July 2, Bayonne – Luchon, 326 km. Major ascents: Aubisque, Tourmalet, Aspin, Peyresourde.
Ottavio Bottecchia climbing Col du Tourmalet, Tour de France 1924 (colorized)
Ottavio Bottecchia climbing Col du Tourmalet, Tour de France 1924. The colorized version of the photo above. Colorization:

Tour de France 1924 edition was dubbed “the Tour of Suffering” with its long stages, early starts, and more draconian rules from Henri Desgrange.

There was a rule which had been introduced in 1920, that the cyclists had to finish with everything they started with, and the officials suspected that Pélissier would start in the cold morning with many jerseys, and remove them once the day warmed up. The rule had been introduced in 1920, when all the cyclists were sponsored by the combined sponsor La Sportive, to prevent waste of material. Pélissier objected to the rule, on the ground that the jerseys that he wore were his own, and had not been provided by the sponsor.

At the start of the third stage, a tour official checked how many jerseys Henri Pélissier was wearing. Pélissier was angry, and declared that he would not start the race. He did so anyway, but retired at Coutances, together with his brother Francis Pélissier and team mate Maurice Ville. The three cyclists met journalist Albert Londres of Petit Parisien, to whom they complained about the circumstances in which the cyclists had to race. In that third stage, that ended on a circuit, Theophile Beeckman crossed the finish line first. However, the bell indicating the last lap was not rung, and Philippe Thys was placed ex aequo on the first place by the officials.

In the first five stages, the cyclists finished in groups, and the time bonus of three minutes for the winner was the only thing that separated the cyclists. After the third and fourth stage, Bottecchia had the same time as Beeckman, although Bottecchia was still given the yellow jersey as classification leader. In the sixth and seventh stage, Bottecchia extended his lead in the Pyrénées. After these stages, he had a margin of 50 minutes over second-placed Nicolas Frantz.

In the Alps, Bottecchia was not so dominant anymore. In stages 10 to 13, Frantz won back a few minutes per stage, but it was not enough. In the thirteenth stage, Bottecchia ran into a dog and fell. Nicolas Frantz tried to win back time, but failed.

In the penultimate stage, Italian Giovanni Brunero was in third place in the overall classification, when he had to give up. Prior to the last stage, the margin between Bottecchia and Frantz was still 32 minutes. Bottecchia won the final stage to Paris, and the time bonus of 3 minutes made the margin 35 minutes.

Bottecchia became the first Italian cyclist who won the Tour de France, and the first cyclist to wear the yellow jersey from the start to the end of the Tour de France.

In 1928, Nicolas Frantz followed in Bottecchia’s footsteps and wore the yellow jersey from start to finish. It was also his second Tour de France win consecutively. This achievement was repeated in the race’s history only one more time, by Belgian rider Romain Maes in 1935.

A few days after Henri Pélissier quit the race, he sent a letter to the communist magazine l’Humanité, writing that he accepted “excessive fatigue, suffering, pain” as part of the cycling profession, but that he wanted to be treated as a human being. Tour organizer Desgrange still kept to his formula of trying to get the cyclists to ride individually until 1930, when he accepted that cyclists would run in teams and introduced nationalized teams.

The number of stages increased in the next years. For example, in 1925 the cyclists went from Brest to Bayonne in two stages, racing 900 km (560 mi) in total; in 1926 this was done in four stages, racing 894 km (556 mi). With these shorter stages, the cyclists did not have to start in the middle of the night.

Bottecchia would win the Tour de France again in 1925.

On 14 June 1927, Bottecchia was found dead by the roadside; the reason remains a mystery.

Col du Tourmalet

Col du Tourmalet - The statue of Octave Lapize

Col du Tourmalet – The statue of Octave Lapize gasping for air as he struggles to make the climb.

Octave Lapize (24 October 1887 – 14 July 1917) was a French professional road racing cyclist and track cyclist.

Most famous for winning the 1910 Tour de France and a bronze medal at the 1908 Summer Olympics in the men’s 100 kilometers, he was a three-time winner of one-day classics, Paris-Roubaix, and Paris-Brussels. He is noted for looking at some Tour officials on the climb of the Col du Tourmalet in the 1910 Tour de France and yelling, “Vous êtes des assassins! Oui, des assassins!’ (French for ‘You are murderers! Yes, murderers!‘)”

Col du Tourmalet (2,115 m / 6,939 ft) is one of the highest roads in the central Pyrenees in the department of Hautes-Pyrénées in France. Sainte-Marie-de-Campan is at the foot on the eastern side and the ski station La Mongie is two-thirds of the way up. The village of Barèges lies on the western side, above the town of Luz-Saint-Sauveur.

The Col du Tourmalet is often mistaken to be the highest road in the Pyrenees. However, public roads next to the mountain lakes Lac de Cap-de-Long and Lac d’Aumar are higher, as these lakes are at altitudes of 2161 m and 2192 m, respectively.

The Col du Tourmalet is one of the most famous climbs on the Tour de France. It has been included more than any other pass, starting in 1910, when the Pyrenees were introduced. The first rider over was Octave Lapize, who went on to claim the yellow jersey in Paris. In 1913, Eugène Christophe broke his fork on the Tourmalet and repaired it himself at a forge in Sainte-Marie-de-Campan.

Up to 2012, the tour has visited the Col du Tourmalet a total of 82 times, including the uncategorized passage en route to Peyragudes on Stage 17 of the 2012 tour. The total includes two stage finishes at the summit and three at La Mongie. Since 1980 it has been ranked hors catégorie, or exceptional. The Vuelta a España has also crossed the pass several times.

The 2010 edition of the Tour included the pass on two consecutive stages, crossing westward on the 16th stage to Pau and eastward on the 17th stage with a finish at the summit.

At the col is a memorial to Jacques Goddet, director of the Tour de France from 1936 to 1987, and a large statue of Octave Lapize gasping for air as he struggles to make the climb.

The Souvenir Jacques Goddet prize is awarded for the first rider to cross the Col du Tourmalet summit.


M. Özgür Nevres

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