NOTE: Me and kiddo love watching the Tour. It’s also a great opportunity for explaining to him that sometimes people are willing to go extremes to finish “first.” These 7 examples gave it their all, and make today’s “cheaters” seem harmless. Hammer on.
For years the best in the sport have cheated their way through the Tour, and I’m not just talking about the last thirty years, going back to the Team Banesto and Marco Pantani scandals. I’m talking about the year 1904 and every year since. Cyclists have always looked for every advantage available, and most have done everything in their power to finish, and even more to win.
7 cheaters of the Tour de France helping build its storied history
Fausto Coppi—Il Campionissimo
Two-time winner of the Tour de France in 1949 and 1952 and generally considered one of the greatest champions of all time, Coppi openly used a mixture of doping substances he called la bomba to win races. La bomba, according to Coppi, included amphetamines, caffeine, opiates, ether, cocaine, chloroform and alcohol, most of which was included in Coppi’s water bottles. When asked when he took his special la bomba mix, Coppi replied, “Only when I have to.” And when did he have to? “Almost all the time.”
Maurice Garin and the Tour of 1904
Garin won the Tour in 1903 and seemed to have edged a slight victory over Lucien Pothier in 1904 for his second straight victory. But the budding popularity and attention the race was beginning to receive turned into its own downfall, as Garin and the other top five riders from that year’s race were disqualified, all for taking trains during the race to make the daunting course up the Alps not so intimidating.
Pelissier is a French cycling legend and still beloved to this day for his role in improving the conditions of cyclists in the 1920’s and 30’s. Pelissier has 29 victories and a lone Tour de France title in 1923. When asked to describe the Tour, Pelissier said, “You have no idea what the Tour is. It’s calvary. We suffer on the road. But do you want to see how we keep going?”
From Pelissier’s bag, he explained. “That, that’s cocaine for our eyes and chloroform for our gums. And pills? You want to see pills? In short, we run on dynamite.”
A five-time tour winner, Anquetil was also known for the perfection of his own cocktail, which consisted of morphine (injected into the muscle) and amphetamines to counteract any sleepy side affects. When asked if he took stimulants, Anquetil didn’t mind providing a quote. “You would have to be an imbecile or a crook to imagine a professional cyclist who races for 235 days a year can hold the pace without stimulants.”
When he was asked later to clarify, he said this. “For 50 years bike racers have been taking stimulants. Obviously we can do without them in a race, but then we will pedal 15 miles an hour instead of 25. Since were are constantly asked to go faster and to make even greater efforts, we are obliged to take stimulants.”
In 1962, Tom Simpson became the first Brit to ever wear the yellow jersey. In the 1967 Tour during the historic 22 km climb up the Mont Ventoux, Simpson collapsed 3 km from the top. In his jersey pockets were three different empty vials and an array of pills.
To get the meds down, Simpson used a bottle of brandy. His autopsy showed extreme dehydration, lack of oxygen and over-exhaustion. He’d tricked his body into not knowing when to quit, and paid the ultimate price for a shot at victory.
A champion of Belgium, after taking the yellow jersey in 1978 up Alpe d’Huez, Pollentier fooled doping controls with the use of tubes and a condom. The condom was filled with someone else’s urine, which Pollentier held in his armpit and ran through a tube down into his shorts.
Pollentier was caught because of suspicion. Another rider earlier in the day had been caught by the same method.
Winner of the 1947 Tour de France, Robic was nicknamed the hobgoblin of Brittany moor for his slight stature. While a proficient climber, Robic’s weakness was on the descent. To help get down mountains faster, Robic became famous for taking bottles from his team car just as he reached the peak of a climb.
The bottles were all filled with lead or mercury, giving him the weight needed to descend with the best. Unfortunately, Robic didn’t know his own limits and eventually crashed, fracturing his skull.