Assassins!

As we all know, the 2010 Tour de France will pay homage to the mountains, following their introduction into the Tour route – and Tour lore – one-hundred years ago in 1910. Indeed, the Tourmalet will feature on two stages: 16 and 17 (split by a rest day), July 20 and 22 respectively. Stage 16 most resembles the original stage that introduced these mountains to the race, featuring the Peyresourde (1,569 metres), d’Aspin (1,489 metres), the Tourmalet (2,115 metres), the Aubisque (1,709 metres) over 199.5 kilometres, although it is a little shorter than the 326 kilometres faced in 1910 – but that’s when the Tour itself was 4,737 kilometres over 15 stages (this year’s has 20 stages to take in the 3,642 kilometres).

Stage 17 finishes at the top of the Tourmalet, with the winner fittingly to take the Souvenir Henri Desgrange prize. The story of the inclusion of the Tourmalet and its neighbours has since 1910 taken on mythic proportions and a previous post – which you can read here – looked at the myth and the background to the Tour in that year.

Needless to say, the Pyrenees will provide an awesome challenge to this edition of la grande boucle and stage 17 will (hopefully) produce a thrilling mountain-top finish. Stage 16, though, might provide the ideal opportunity for a strong man to emulate Eddy Merckx in 1969, who broke away on the Tourmalet , widened his lead over the Soulor, crested the Aubisque (whether he shouted at race officials is not recorded), before winning in Mourenx-Ville-Nouvelle by 8 minutes. This feat prompted reports to proclaim: “It was a gratuitous act, one without premeditation or preparation; an act which annihilated everything and everyone in its path, from the responses of the other riders to the very idea of the race itself.”

On that day, it was not the Tour that was the assassin, it was Merckx himself.

Tourm 1
Merckx the assassin on the Tourmalet in 1969.

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