While the Tour de France has been making its way through the Alps, with Lance Armstrong winning all three stages in very great style, and just before my attention shifts for the rest of the Summer to the England – West Indies cricket series, I’ve been enjoying Matt Rendell’s new book, A Significant Other, which follows Victor Hugo Peï¿½a through the 2003 centennial Tour and tells me a lot about the history of the race which I’d never really picked up from Sean Kelly’s commentary on Eurosport.
Anyway, here’s race founder Henri Desgrange on the threat to his creation posed by the invention of the freewheel in 1912:
Over the 379 kilometres of [stage eleven], the riders applied pressure on the pedals for scarcely half the distance. The rest was covered freewheeling. Behind the man who devotes himself to sustaining the pace, all our strapping fellows installed themselves as if on a sofa; they were sucked along, and covered enormous distances without any fatigue. The presence, I repeat, of men like Everaerts and Deloffre, Huret and Engel, for example, clearly indicates the ease with which they rode the stage. Is there any remedy? Are our races seriously threatened with decadance by the freewheel? Will the Tour de France be undermined by this infernal invention? Where will it lead? I well know that as far as L’Auto is concerned, the 1913 regulations will authorise the race director to suppress the freewheel in certain stages.
A Significant Other, pp.69-70.