Stage 10 of the 1910 edition of the Tour de France took on the Col du Tourmalet. The first high mountain pass to be included in the Tour. It’s been going up it ever since, sometimes twice, it is the most visited of all the mountain passes the Tour visits. This has much to do with its location in the middle of the Pyrenees. In fact, it’s pretty difficult not to go up the Tourmalet, as there isn’t any way around it.
The team that had formed around Henri Desgrange at the newspaper L’Auto in the formative years of the Tour de France included the journalist Alphonse Steinés. Steinés knew that the continued success of the Tour required ever more tales of bravery, super-human efforts and death-defying deeds in the face of overwhelming odds.
Steinés had persistently tried to persuade his editor to go deeper into the mountains in search of a landscape and terrain difficult enough to require a super-human effort just to finish the day’s stage.
He found what he was looking for on the Tourmalet.
These early signs of sadomasochistic tendencies in cycling route planning continue to this day.
Steinés understood how tales of human endurance served up to a public hungry for heroes at their comfortable breakfast tables could be used to build the reputations of champions and the Tour. Tabloid journalism was alive and well in 1910.
That’s not to say cyclists were somehow victims in all of this. Show me a mountain, and I’ll show you any number of riders willing to race up it just for the hell of it.
It’s what we do. It’s who we are.
Steinés wasn’t one to shy away from sharing a few heroic’s of his own.
His description of a dice with death on the recce of the Tourmalet, with its tales of abandoned cars, snowstorms, and shepherds guiding him out of the wilderness, fed into the narrative perfectly.