One of the books that I found at the Planete Ecole stall yesterday was just what I was looking for: an illustrated history of the Tour de France. It was true serendipity since a) the tour was in the Pyrenees that very day and b). I was just rewriting a section of my book about the Pyrenees that involved me doing some fact checking about the very first tours to pass through the Pyrenees. They were fascinating times: the guy charged with reconnoitring the route spent a night lost on the Col de Tournalet (the highest paved pass on the French side of the mountains) in freezing conditions having walked across the pass as the car he hired couldn't cross because of the depth of the snow. He sent a telegram back to L'Auto in Paris saying 'the route is fine.' Three years later a certain Eugene Christophe who was running just behind the leader, had his bike almost totalled when it was run over by a car. At that time there were no spare bikes and riders were not allowed to call on outside mechanical help so he carried his bike 14km down the mountain to the nearest village and welded the frame back together himself in the local forge, while officials watched on to make sure the smithy didn't help him. He wasn't able to gain back the time he lost, but he earnt himself a place in the 'people's history book' .
But this photo made me smile: Maurice Garin, winner of the first tour de France in 1902. Check that ciggie hanging out of the corner of his mouth!