Tour de France: 2020 and other editions in which the Tour has been at risk of cancellation

The coronavirus has put the celebration of the Tour de France 2020 at risk, a situation that has already occurred more times throughout history.


This Saturday, August 29, begins in Nice what will be the most atypical Tour of the last 70 years in terms of performance due to the health crisis generated by the coronavirus.

The next edition will be the first in its history that it does not take place in July and that is because, since 1908, the Tour has not ended so late. Now, 112 years later, that record will be broken if the pandemic allows it, establishing September 20 as a new deadline in the history of the Tour. Which will mean that they have managed to circumvent the cancellation, a situation that was very common in the first editions of the gala round.

1904 and 1905, years marked by sabotage

In 1904, during the second edition of the 'Grande Boucle', the founder of the race, Henri Desgrange introduced a series of changes to be able to secure the race, such as that cyclists could sign up to participate only to a selection of stages and thus combat the low participation that it had and not put its celebration at risk, but the truth is that that intention to revitalize the race was the opposite.

Cyclists who got into cars, others who towed themselves with a rope tied to one end of the vehicle and the other between the teeth, hooded men who threatened cyclists on the move and even a pitched battle in the city of Nimes.

It happened in the third stage, with a group of supporters of Ferdinand Payan, a natural runner of that city and who had been expelled from the race for being in league with motorists in the area. In retaliation, the fans decided to take revenge by spitting, insulting and puncturing the wheels of the organization's vehicles and cyclists. The pitched battle was dispersed after the intervention of the police and not without firing several shots, but shortly afterwards, at the exit of the city, a rain of stones flew over the squad causing a multitude of damage. All this would lead Henri Desgrange to announce that 1904 would be the last, its celebration was canceled for years to come. "Success has killed him", he even said in one of the chronicles of the moment, as the journalist Álvaro Calleja collects in his book Histories of the Tour.

Finally after reconsidering and not without a lot of persuasion work on the part of his circle of trust, Henri decided to carry out the third edition of the race in 1905. An edition that was again a headache and that would once again raise doubts about the continuity of the competition. And it is that in the first stage, 125 kilos of nails distributed during the route of the stage reawakened the ghosts of the past. Up to 28 nails came to get from a tire a journalist who was covering the race and that caused that only 15 cyclists managed to complete the stage avoiding the out of control. The Tour was once again on the verge of cancellation.

Interwar Europe

But it was not until 1915, 10 years later, that the first suspension arrived. The outbreak of the First World War caused a forced break of five years and that later would bring with it the birth of the most valuable garment, the yellow leader's jersey to distinguish the best of the platoon.

In that Europe between the wars and under a climate of constant instability and booming totalitarianisms, economic cuts in the French round became common in order to get these editions forward and avoid cancellation, especially in the first years after the restart. With non-existent roads, victims of the war and no money for fuel, they made that first Tour after the restart an odyssey that only 11 riders managed to finish.

Then came years of bonanza, two decades in which the prestige of the Tour soared before coming to a halt again in 1940 due to World War II, which together with the disappearance of the hitherto organizing newspaper L'Auto and the three attempts to imitate The race had France for 7 years without a Tour and they questioned whether it would be resumed. But finally, in 1947 the Tour was reborn again, this time under the edition of L'Equipe and since then it has become an unstoppable machine and standard of the French summer for decades until in 1998 it was on the brink of collapse.

1998, Festina case

The Tour, which had managed to overcome the boycotts of its beginnings, had overcome the two World Wars and with almost 100 years of travel, it was in 1998 with the worst situation and the blackest future in its history because of of doping so widespread in the platoon at that time. The organization of the Tour had to endure strong pressure that demanded the suspension of the event at the same time as it was witnessing daunting images. In the retina there are still records in the trucks and rooms of the teams, runners in the dungeons, the gendarmerie intervening in the middle of the race 50 meters from the fourth stage of the Tour to stop the team director Festina Bruno Roussel or the already famous sit-in of cyclists in the middle of the race.

Doping at that time was as widespread as if it were an epidemic metaphorically speaking. And it is coincidentally an epidemic that has once again put the Tour on the ropes, something already common in the more than 100 years of the race's history and that, for now, it seems to have managed to get around with a date postponement through and strict security protocols.

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