Lapize tames the Pyrenees – .

Lapize tames the Pyrenees – .

“It is not without real emotion that I write these lines today, thinking that at this very moment, the most dreadful task of the Tour de France 1910 has begun, and that our riders, already tested by 2 500 km of roads strewn with innumerable difficulties, left for Luchon, thus opening the first of two terrible Pyrenean stages. No one knows yet if we have not crossed the line, if we are not asking too much of the human mind.
These were the words of The car‘s Charles Revaud on the day the Tour peloton entered the Pyrenees for the first time. It wasn’t a small step.

Alphonse Steinès, assistant to Henri Desgrange at The car, had to undertake a reconnaissance trip to convince his boss that the idea was a good idea – send a telegram to Desgrange who has gone down in legend for claiming that the Tourmalet route was “perfectly passable”, despite the fact that he was forced to walk due to huge snowdrifts and was found stumbling towards the lights of Bareges on the verge of hypothermia.

On the orders of Steinès, Desgrange decides to roll the dice and confirms the registration of two Pyrenean stages for the 1910 race: Perpignan to Luchon via the Portet, Port, Portet d’Aspet and Ares, followed from Luchon to Bayonne by the Peyresourde , Aspin, Tourmalet and Aubisque.

Steinès knew of course that it would be a challenge like this one had never been taken up by the riders of the Tour. In fact, in a column published just two days before the start of the Paris race, he wrote somewhat on the defensive: “The Tour de France is not a race for pleasure, damn it! There must be difficulties, those in the Pyrenees will be more accentuated, that’s all… It will be the greatest performance a rider has ever achieved. ‘

Lapize au premier plan

Octave Lapize, already double winner of Paris-Roubaix, was 22 years old when he took his place among the 62 riders who left Perpignan at 3.30 am on July 19 for Luchon. It was only the second Tour he was racing after failing to finish in 1909. He was now second overall, 15 points behind race leader François Faber.

Lapize embarked on the penultimate ascent of the day, the Portet d’Aspet. He was at the head of the race since the start of the stage and at the control 3km from the top of Portet d’Aspet, with his leading group reduced to three riders, he left his two companions – Émile Georget and Charles Crupelandt – and won 100m. They would never see him again.

His margin of victory in Luchon was 18 minutes, but with the Tour decided on a points system based on final positions, this extraordinary performance only earned him two points over Faber, who finished third.

Yet Desgrange was moved enough to write: “Lapize will be the real revelation of this eighth Tour de France. I do not believe, and I say this very sincerely, that he will succeed in grabbing first place in the general classification, but he is undoubtedly more brilliant than Faber.

Stage 10 of the 1910 Tour de France has long been engraved in the books as one of the most important days in racing history. Lapize leads over Peyresourde, Aspin and Tourmalet before the race reaches Aubisque.

The history of cycling has it that at the summit Steinès and his colleague Victor Breyer waited to record the progress of the riders, and as time passed their concern for the riders grew.

What had happened? Had there been a terrible accident? Had they broken the pack, pushed beyond the limits of human endurance as Revaud had feared?

Tell this story years later in Sport and Life, François Brigneau wrote that a rider finally emerged dazed, “eyes out of the head, mouth open”. But it wasn’t Lapize. ‘Who are you? Where are the others?’ Breyer shouted, running to his side. “But the horseman heard nothing,” writes Brigneau. ‘He does not say anything. He just moaned and shook his legs, his number half hanging off.

“It’s Lafourcade,” said Steinès, “a isolated [semi-pro] from Bayonne. ‘Lapize appeared 15 minutes later and, according to legend, turned to Desgrange’s henchmen and spoke the now immortal words’You are assassins. Yes, assassins.

Everything in the story

Was that exactly what happened? Accounts published in The car at the time reported that Lapize got off his bike on the first slopes of the Aubisque and said to Breyer: “You are criminals! You hear? Tell Desgrange for me that you are not asking men to make such an effort. I’ve had enough ”, before being encouraged to continue by Breyer.

Add to the mix that when Steinès then interviewed Lapize in Bayonne, Lapize is quoted as simply saying, “Desgrange is an assassin,” and perhaps you have separate sources for what has long been combined into one of the greats. tales of the Tour.

Incredibly, after more than 14 hours of racing, the stage ended in a sprint, with Lapize beating Pierino Albini to victory. Faber had his puncture four times but still finished third, meaning that Lapize only gained two points.

But he was on a roll and after consistently ranking better than Faber in the next three stages, he finally took the lead and held it in Paris. It was the first and only time Lapize had completed the Tour and his margin of victory over Faber was four points – exactly the number he had won over the two days in the Pyrenees.

Nicknamed Frieze because of his curly hair, and once described by Desgrange as having “the hands of a horseman who could destroy any front sight in the world when he shoots hard at them on the hills,” Lapize joined the military. air force at the start of the war and died in 1917 when his plane was shot down.

The plane was retrieved and his fellow pilots wrote a moving lettering on the cabin: “This Old No 4 was flown by our dear and poor fellow, O Lapize,” it read. “Whoever you are, don’t get on board without thinking of this brilliant pilot, who fell gloriously.


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