Lost in the Mail: When Tour Invitations Don't Arrive

<strong>2007 Tour de France champion Alberto Contador (center) and third-place finisher Levi Leipheimer (right) didn't ride the 2008 Tour, but are back for 2009.</strong><br><br>AP Photo/Bas Czerwinski

The well-publicized snub of Team Astana and their key riders Alberto Contador and Levi Leipheimer for the 2008 Tour de France is not the first—and probably not the last—time Tour organizers have acted in such manner.

The history of the Tour has numerous examples of riders being excluded for various reasons. Some of those reasons, like with Team Astana, being questionable at best.

In 1930, Henri Desgranges, the founder of the Tour de France who basically picked all the riders who would start each Tour, did not invite 1929 winner Belgian Maurice De Waele. Back then, even though a rider had teammates it was considered bad form, almost illegal, to get help from them if a rider was in trouble. In 1929, De Waele came out of the mountains with a huge lead, but fell sick. He was so weak that his teammates came to his aid and helped him to finish and win the Tour. While his teammates did nothing that would be considered illegal today, the cooperation raised the ire of Desgranges, who declared that a corpse had won the race.

For Desgranges, this was the last straw. De Waele was riding for the French bicycle maker Alcyon, which had dominated the Tour in the late 1920's and had won a number of other big races as well. It is not clear if it was the domination of the Alcyon team or the inability of Desgranges to work with the bike company to help generate revenue for his race, but there was no love lost between the two sides.

Besides not inviting De Waele back for the 1930 edition of the race, Desgranges changed the format completely. Gone were the trade teams, to be replaced by national teams representing mainly European countries like France, Belgium, Germany, and Italy.

Also, in what could only be interpreted as a direct snub at Alcyon, every team rode on identical bicycles painted yellow with no identifying stickers or decals to indicate their manufacturer. Stenciled on the down tube was the name of the newspaper that created the race in 1903, L'Auto, with Desgranges as its editor. It is now called L'Equipe.

Mercifully, Desgranges allowed the riders in the Tour to choose their own saddle and handlebars. Even back then, ergonomics was clearly understood and even the irascible Desgranges could not bring himself to see the riders pedal over 2,500 miles around France in total discomfort. Partial discomfort, of course, was allowed.

The format of national teams continued at the Tour for 20 years until the 1950's. And yes, De Waele was invited back to compete the following year in 1931. He never won again.

Bruce Hildenbrand is a freelance journalist covering cycling and a host of other outdoor-related sports. He splits his time between Mountain View, California, Boulder, Colorado and Europe.

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