The doping revelations surrounding Lance Armstrong are largely considered to be the biggest scandal in the history of the Tour de France – and rightly so, the guy got up to all sorts of seedy behaviour on his road through the history books before landing himself on the naughty list.
But although his pick and mix of drugs was one of the most effective ways to cheat on the Tour though, it certainly wasn’t the most imaginative.
Since the race kicked off in 1903 there have been enough strange scandals to make Lance look a saint. From hired hitmen to angry fans forcing riders to wear fake moustaches, it’s a strange old race at times…
1904: Pains, Trains and Automobiles
The second edition of the Tour de France had more unnecessary violence than your average Jason Statham film.
During the first stage, riders Maurice Garin and Lucien Pothier were attacked by four guys in a car who took offence at their early break away from the pack.
While there were no disqualifications because of the attack, two riders were sent packing for getting lifts in a car during the stage, and a 500 franc fine was slapped on a rider who spent the bulk of the stage in the slipstream of a car. Perhaps the same one that was transporting one of his competitors.
Fans chucked rocks, several riders were disqualified for jumping on trains, and piles of nails were dumped on the road. All pretty standard stuff.
During stage two, fans of hometown rider Antoine Faure spread nails and glass along the side of the road, providing an array of flat tyres, and race favourite Maurice Garin was again attacked near the end of the course. Quite the ego-hit for old Maurice.
The last three stages passed by with little impression – just a bunch of fans chucking rocks at the cyclists, several riders being disqualified for jumping on trains, and another classic pile of nails being dumped on the road in stage five. All pretty standard stuff.
Safe to say the security team behind the Tour that year didn’t get much repeat business though.
1911: Game of Groans
After four more riders were chucked for catching a train in 1906, any further attempts to bend the rules were going to have to be a bit stealthier.
Francois Lafourcade agreed and went Game of Thrones style on his rival, spiking the drink of Paul Duboc in stage ten, after the newcomer had won the previous two stages.
Lafourcade’s plan worked perfectly. Duboc was struck down halfway through a stage with food poisoning and left vomiting in the middle of the road.
Henri Pelissier once told a journalist that riders took “cocaine for our eyes and chloroform for our gums.” Nothing too heavy then.
With Tour rules bizarrely blocking the competitor from receiving treatment, Duboc’s competitors closed down the eight minute gap he had opened up, riding – presumably with much confusion – around the young rider as he lay emptying out his lunch in the middle of the road.
Not only did Lafourcade pull off this plan with impressive villainy, he also managed to avoid the blame. Instead, the finger was pointed at eventual winner Gustave Garrigou, who was given a bodyguard and a disguise reportedly consisting of a glued on moustache in order to keep him safe when the Tour reached Rouen, the hometown of Duboc.
It would seem the people of Rouen are very easy to confuse, as he got away with it. Perhaps when someone did recognise him he told them he simply must-dash….?
1924: Share a coke with… Henri
After 29 career victories, Henri Pelissier retired from riding in the Tour de France after 1925.
The rider had had a long standing feud with Henri Desgrange, the founder of the Tour. In one bizarre incident, Desgrange wouldn’t let Pelissier take off his jersey when the sun came up in 1924.
So when asked by the press about the race, the cyclist didn’t hold back.
Pelissier asked a journalist if he knew how the riders kept going during the race before producing a phial from his bag and stating: “That is cocaine for our eyes and chloroform for our gums.”
Nothing too heavy then.
1963: The legend’s switcheroo
Jacques Anquetil is the man when it comes to Tour history. He was the first guy to ever claim five Tour victories and still holds the joint record for the most Tour wins… not counting any EPO enthusiasts of course.
The legendary rider was not averse to a bit of rule bending himself though.
Back then, riders weren’t allowed to change their bike unless there was a mechanical issue. Anquetil had his team director cut his gear cable in the seventeenth stage. He claimed it had snapped and was able to change to a lighter bike, which saw his steam ahead to victory.
On top of this, Anquetil was also partial to the odd bit of morphine injected into the muscle. His reasoning? “You would have to be an imbecile to imagine a professional cyclist who races for 235 days a year can hold the pace without stimulants.” Elegantly said.
1978: The condom crusader
This example has to be categorised as both cheating and failing horribly. In order to pass a drug test, Belgian rider Michel Pollentier stuck a condom filled with another guy’s urine under his arm, connected a tube from his armpit to his shorts and pretended to provide the required urine sample by letting the tubing flow.
The only issue is that his stealthy device clearly wasn’t that stealthy, because the doctor asked him to lift the shirt and his contraption was revealed. That’s got to be awkward.
1998: These bikes are made for walking
Despite the seemingly bulletproof introduction of drug testing in the Tour as far back as 1966, the problem did not disappear. Shockingly.
The discovery that the Festina team were on a doping programme involving an Armstrong-esk range of goodies lead to the French police ambushing any other teams that they thought to be cheating in 1998.
Eight of the eventual top 10 finishers later went on to be either accused or convicted of using PEDs
The result? Not a lot of drug busts, but a whole bunch of angry cyclists. The riders protested first with a peloton sit-down on stage 17, next by agreeing to ride the stage but not race it – resulting in a session that moved at roughly the same pace as this writer on a hangover – and finally with the riders insisting on walking rather than cycling across the finish line at the end the day.
The stage was ruled void by officials, and by the end of the Tour, 93 riders had refused to finish from an original 189 starters.
Ironically, eight of the eventual top 10 finishers later went on to be either accused or convicted of using PEDs too, with US Postal’s Jean-Cyril Robin proving the highest finisher not in any way accused of doping. Those US Postal riders sure are straight-shooters.
2012: The record-breaker’s breakdown
It took a Federal investigation, and investigation from USADA, a whole lot of tears and denials and eventually Oprah Winfrey to get a confession out of him, but it turns out Lance Armstrong took a shitload of drugs.
The record cyclist won seven consecutive Tour de France titles under what the USADA dubbed “the most professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen” – it is hard to deny that he wasn’t pretty good at cheating – and turned the sport he had done so much to promote into utter turmoil in the process.
He also brought the film Dodgeball into disrepute too. And for that we are yet to forgive him.
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