Tour de France starts and ends at the table

Wed Jun 26, 2013 9:23am EDT
 
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By Julien Pretot

PARIS (Reuters) - Like most things French, the Tour de France starts and ends around a lunch or dinner table.

In 1903, when Geo Lefevre told Henri Desgrange, his boss at sports newspaper L'Auto about his idea of a cycling Tour de France, Desgrange summoned him to explain the details of his plan at Zimmer's, one of Paris most famous Alsacian brasseries.

The deal was struck between cheese and desert and the crazy idea, probably fuelled by a little bit of wine, was so good that it celebrates its 100th edition this year.

The start of the first Tour was in front of a bar, Le Reveil Matin in Montgeron, near Paris, and several of the races most famous episodes took place around a good meal or a few glasses.

The greatest cycling show on earth lost its innocence in 1924 in a restaurant in Coutances, in Normandy, when the Pelissier brothers, and among them defending Tour champion Henri, decided to call it quits in protest at what they believed was the harsh treatment imposed on them by Desgrange.

At the table was also renowned French reporter Albert Londres - he gave his name to the most prestigious journalism award in the country - who listened to what the Pelissiers had to say.

While the menu and wine list have been long forgotten, the contents of the Pelissiers' bags have not: strychnine, cocaine and various doping substances to help the riders face their ordeal.

"We ride on dynamite," Henri Pelissier told Londres as the world discovered doping, 80 years before the Lance Armstrong scandal.   Continued...

 
A man in a cafe looks out of the window at a pack of riders making their way through the 230-km (143-mile) sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race between Nevers and Lyon in this July 11, 2003 file photo. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler/Files