Built in the 14th century to keep the marauding Spanish of out France, the Pyrenees has become typecast as a second class mountain range to its more glamorous mountain counterpart – The Alps. In the world of cycling however, this imposing geographic barrier in south-west France holds far more mystique being home to Bears and Basques and the peculiar Principality of Andorra which, at 83.52 years, has the highest life expectancy in the world due to the abundant supply of tax-free booze and fags.
The principle climb in the Pyrenees, the Cold Du Tourmalet, separates the ski resorts of La Mongie and Bareges and it was here in 1913 that one of the Tour’s most iconic incidents was played out. Cycle Tourists today stop off en-masse at the summit and pose for photographs alongside the giant sculpture of a cyclist entwined with a pair of cycle forks, the story of which is now etched into Tour De France history.
Eugene Christophe was one of the race’s early elite. In 1913 the Tour was due to pass over the feared Col Du Tourmalet. Christophe was renowned as being a particularly focused athlete so it was no surprise that he missed reading about the world-wide product recall on the brand of forks he sported on his bike. Metal had only been introduced to France a couple of years earlier so there was only rudimentary knowledge of working with it. As if on cue, Christophes’s forks snapped as he landed a giant wheelie that he’d pulled coasting across the Tourmalet’s barren, wind-swept summit. With the light fading and sleety rain turning rapidly to snow, Christophe set off on a long and lonely walk down to a village called Ste. Marie de Campan. Here, amongst the casinos, hypermarkets and lap dancing clubs, Eugene Christophe managed to find a bicycle store. Being a weekend, the proprietor was having day off so Christophe was served by the enthusiastic Saturday boy. Having selected the appropriate forks, the shop assistant offered to fit them for only a few francs more. Weak from fatigue & hunger, Christophe agreed and was immediately given a 10-day time penalty by the Tour organizers for using outside assistance. He finished the race 7 weeks later.
Christophe never recovered from this incident, the trauma of which was compounded when his forks snapped again in the 1919 edition. He searched in vain for the 1913 receipt. Retiring from the sport in 1925, Christophe dedicated his remaining years to championing improved fork technology and ironically was the face of a major cutlery company for many years. Bicycle engineers would unanimously agree that composite fork design today can have its roots traced directly back to that fateful day on the top of the Tourmalet. The legend of Eugene Christophe fails to diminish. As recently as May 2007, builders demolishing the old bicycle shop in Ste. Marie de Campan to make way for a new fetish club happened across an old pair of bicycle forks buried at the rear of the premises. However, on closer inspection, they were found to off a ’87 Peugeot and subsequently thrown in a skip.