Part 1: Mind over Matter
On the eve of the Tour de France, Herbie Sykes takes us back in time to four remarkable moments in the history of la Grande Boucle.
Divonne-les-Bains, 10 July 1967
Salvarani were talking about doubling his money, and now it seemed that Molteni were interested as well. The Italians liked him, and they liked all that English toff stuff. Most of all they liked the way he rode, the way he’d won Sanremo and Lombardy. He’d always made it his business to get on well with them, and it looked like it was going to pay off. Gimondi could be a bit of a misery at times, but Motta was a good lad and a good laugh. There were rumours that Eddy was looking for a team there, because he wanted out of Peugeot as well.
The Italians had the best bikes and the best weather, the best of everything. It would be a two-year contract so a decent Tour – at the very least a podium, a few days in yellow and a stage win – and he reckoned it would be a Dutch auction. Four of five good years and he’d clean up, then build Helen and the girls that place on Corsica. Italy. La Dolce Vita…
They’d let Pingeon go on the stage to Jambes. That had been a big mistake, but they were all in the same boat and it was no use crying over spilt milk. He’d done OK in the Vosges, and he’d been able to go pretty deep on the Ballon d’Alsace. It had been savage, but he’d ridden up it with Janssen. Headed into the Alps he was sixth. That was OK, and he was ahead of Aimar, Gimondi and Balmamion.
Only thing was he knew he was taking more than he ought, and his guts weren’t the best again. The others didn’t know that though, and they needn’t know it. He reckoned he’d be alright, and better to feel doggo now rather than when they got to the pointy end of it. Besides, he hadn’t ridden himself to a blackout at the Vuelta for nothing, and he wasn’t going to let a dicky stomach stop him. He needed a result, and he wasn’t here to piss about. It would have to be a touch of mind over matter. Mind over matter Thomas, mind over matter…
Anyway there was no one here he couldn’t beat, and one big ride on the Galibier would put him right in amongst it. Pingeon had the jersey and the form, but his bike handling wasn’t all that and he was a loose cannon. He could lose it in an instant, just like that time at Paris-Nice. Anyway, Vin had it right when he said Pingeon was a crap descender. He said, “It only takes a second Tom”, and he was right.
The Galibier. That bastard owed him a decent day.
He felt it as soon as he climbed out of his pit. He didn’t say anything to Colin, and nor to any of the others. He played the clown as usual, but it was serious this time and he knew it. It was as hot as hell. How was he supposed to ride over that fucker feeling like that?
He clung on as long as he could, and he made it to the Télégraphe. By then he was close to shitting himself though, so he’d no choice but to stop. He climbed off, and off they went. Poulidor, Aimar, Jiménez, Pingeon, Balmamion, Gimondi. Even Letort, the fucker.
He was shitting himself all the way up the Galibier. Shitting himself, and turning himself inside out to stay with the Janssen group. Jiménez took six minutes.
Alec and Vin had to help him up the stairs at the hotel. He cleaned himself up in the shower, and told Colin he’d be alright. Vin came up and told him he had to try to eat something, and he knew he was right. He had a bowl of soup, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to keep it down.
He couldn’t keep it down.
Two days later, an apparently revitalized Simpson finished seventh in Marseille. The following morning he clowned around on the harbor for the press, as was his wont. That afternoon he collapsed 1200 metres from the summit of Mont Ventoux. They airlifted to him to hospital, but he was DOA.
The tragedy has assumed mythical status principally because Simpson was a champion, because it happened on the Tour, and overwhelmingly because he’d ingested amphetamine. It’s seared into cycling’s collective memory, but it didn’t happen in a vacuum. Race doctor Pierre Dumas had warned that it was only a matter of time and, amidst all the near-misses, it had happened to at least two riders previously…
In the furnace which was Rome in the high summer, the Dane Knud Enemark Jensen had ridden himself to death at the Olympic team time trial. He, too, had ingested stimulants, as had Bruno Busso. A low-ranking Italian professional, he died in hospital following the 1961 Tour of Piedmont. Busso, however, was a cycling nobody, and it happened a few days in advance of the Tour. Nobody paid him any heed, the use of amphetamine wasn’t technically proscribed, and the UCI had neither the will nor the tools to combat its proliferation.
Image: courtsey of RTL.fr