Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tribute Tuesday: Henri Desgrange

Henri Desgrange. Like any sensation as large as Le Tour De France, misconceptions & lore grow larger then its true origins - this is no different for human beings. Henri Desgrange is credited as the father of The Tour; although the idea was far from his. However, his publications in France, at the time, were the first stage race's largest promoter. For all of the bolster he had for the masculinity of its riders, he held little confidence in pushing the envelope of their physicality:

"There are four of them. Their legs, like giant levers, will power onwards for sixty hours, their muscles will grind up the kilometres, their broad chests will heave with the effort of the struggle, their hands will cling on to their handlebars; with their eyes they will observe each other ferociously; their backs will bend forward in unison for barbaric breakaways; their stomachs will fight against hunger, their brains against sleep. And at night a peasant waiting for them by a deserted road will see four demons passing by, and the noise of their desperate panting will freeze his heart and fill it with terror."

He did not attend the first stage of the first Tour; nor did he attend the first stages in the Pyrenees. But, he did draft the rules of the Tour & strictly enforce them.  Example:  From 1903 to 1938, he restricted the event to Single Fixed-Gear bicycles. This was no small feat considering that the Tour was first Stage Course in cycling history. Desgrange ran the Tour for over 30 years, and although the idea wasn't his in the strictest, his commitment truly made it his tour. 

Outside of Le' Tour, he was an accomplished cyclist - winning 12 world track records & setting The Hour Record in 1893.

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