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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 August, 2004, 08:29 GMT 09:29 UK
1919-1929: 'Convicts of the road'
An early Tour scene
Tours were longer than ever during the 1920s
The first race after the war saw the introduction of the yellow jersey.

The first leader to which it was offered rejected the golden fleece since it made him an easier target for rivals.

But it soon became the most coveted garment in cycling, and remains so to this day.

The first four races after the war were won by Belgians, as the last three before the conflict had been.

Phillippe Thys became the first rider to win three Tours during this period and, not for the last time, France was alarmed at its lack of Tour success.

Henri Pelissier's 1923 win was in fact the home country's sole success between 1910 and 1930.

1919: Firmin Lambot (Bel)
1920: Philippe Thys (Bel)
1921: Leon Scieur (Bel)
1922: Firmin Lambot (Bel)
1923: Henri Pelissier (Fra)
1924: Ottavio Bottecchia (Ita)
1925: Ottavio Bottecchia (Ita)
1926: Lucien Buysse (Bel)
1927: Nicolas Frantz (Lux)
1928: Nicolas Frantz (Lux)
1929: Maurice De Waele (Bel)

It came as the host nation began a love-hate relationship with the race that continues to this day.

The 1990s doping scandal was a modern example of this, with many French people having sympathy rather than disgust for riders embroiled in drug-taking.

The attitude can be traced back to the 1920s when the Tour fascinated, but also appalled, many in France.

Race founder Henri Desgrange's creation had become the toughest event in world sport, and was essentially run for the benefit of rival bicycle manufacturers and to sell newspapers.

When a non-cycling journalist, Albert Londres, followed the 1924 Tour he found a group of men whose morale resembled those during his last assignment.

The problem was that his last job had been writing about those imprisoned in the French penal colonies.

He will never win the Tour - he doesn't know how to suffer
Desgrange on Pelissier, 1920, after a previous walkout

Londres' verdict was that the riders were "Les Forcats de la Route - convicts of the road".

The race was now 5,500km in length, with long overnight stages and perhaps the most Draconian rules a sporting event has ever created.

Riders were restricted from any outside assistance and could still not change bikes - or anything else.

In 1924, defending champion Pelissier and his brothers were so unimpressed with petty bureaucracy they quit the 1924 race in the full view of Londres.

Early Tour shot
The Tour's prisoners line up

The argument was over clothing, and the rule that said riders must finish a stage with everything they started it with.

The long days often began in the early hours, and continued in the heat of a July day, so it was no surprise that layers were shed.

When Pelissier was fined for having thrown away a jersey, he quit in disgust.

His two brothers left with him and continued their family feud with Desgrange in the newspapers.

The race founder was unimpressed by the accusations - and Desgrange regarded "convicts of the road" as a compliment.

Pelissier was a man whom the Tour's great founder had attacked before his win and then praised heartily during it.

But one year on, he was now "stupid" and "without the stomach for a fight" in the eyes of the Tour's boss.

In 1919 and again in 1922, the luckless Eugene Christophe suffered the same broken forks problem he had endured back in 1913
The 1922 the Tourmalet stage was cancelled because of snow in July
Team directors were allowed to give riders technical assistance for the first time in 1923, but not riding team-mates
Late 1920s experiments included one that saw all flat stages run as team time trials

One other story from the 1920s Tour says much about the Europe of the age.

In 1924, Ottavia Bottechia became the first Italian winner and, when he repeated the victory a year later, he was one of his country's major sporting figures.

Not everyone respected this popularity, and some feared it and were envious.

In 1927, he was murdered while out on a training ride.

Years later, a deathbed confession confirmed what many suspected.

The Italian was the victim of Fascists, who he had spoken out against.

Links to more History stories



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