CyclingRevealed's First Impressions '07
When Will They Ever Learn?
Today, Friday 13th July, is the 40th anniversary of Tom Simpson's tragic death on Mt. Ventoux during Stage 13 of the 1967 Tour. At the time the event was a cataclysmic shock to the racers and fans alike. In addition to the furnace like conditions on the mountain that day, exhaustion, dehydration and drugs were identified as the contributing factors to Tom's death.
Frantic efforts to resuscitate Simpson as he lay where he fell on Mt. Ventoux tragically failed.
During that era drugs were used with impunity and it seemed nobody understood the effects that uncontrolled use would produce. Five time Tour de France winner Jacques Anquetil once famously said “you don't think that we are able to do all this on mineral water alone!" I myself was trying to make a living from the bike in Ghent in 1967. They were great times characterized by hippies, flower power, free love and everything associated with the emancipation of our generation from those who had lived through the WW2 years.
In 1968 a greatly chastised sport still reeling from Simpson's death, symbolized its awakening on the drug issue with the Tour that was dubbed “le Tour de la santé” (the Tour for good health). Everyone was riding ‘clean'! I had returned to Belgium for that season and rejoined the small band of cycling expatriates from Britain ‘living the dream'. Unlike the previous year I cannot recall seeing any signs of drug use that season.
After two seasons rattling my teeth out over the cobbles of Flanders I returned to a ‘normal' life back in England in 1969. But one of our little communities returned for a third season. He was found alone and dead that spring in his small apartment in Ghent . Cause of death, drugs.
Unlike Simpson, my little known late friend's death did not cause so much as a ripple in the media. Since those years countless young athletes have died as a direct result of drugs used to stimulate enhanced performance. The statistics related to this dark side of (not only) cycling are generally suppressed. If presented simply and truthfully they would be a powerful deterrent to anyone thinking of going down this sinister path.
The 1968 Tour's stand was of course not much more than PR whitewash. The drug culture not only thrived that year but as the years went on various scandals broke to reveal the brutal truth of its continuation. In 1998 the Festina affair nearly stopped the Tour and the current Operacion Puerto affair is slowly exposing the breadth of the problem. Extreme situations like the death of Marco Pantani are nothing if not tragic.
Simpson was (and still is) my hero. I have always harbored the hope that his demise was not in vain and that it would eventually lead to a clean and honest sport. The UCI, WADA and many others, including honest riders, appear to making serious and concerted efforts to rid our sport of this evil. But 40 years on from Tom's death I still wonder “when will they ever learn?”
Tom Simpson was a prolific winner of classics. He wore the Yellow Jersey during the 1962 Tour and also captured the world championship road race.
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