By Graham Jones
and Barry Boyce

CyclingRevealed Historians




Octave Lapize 1910 [ Photo: Archive ]




CyclingRevealed's First Impressions '08

Stage 10, Supplimental Report

Entry into the 'Circle of Death'

By definition the “Circle of Death” is the hardest Tour de France stage in the Pyrenees Mountains. It is a place where TdF hopes die.

Since 1910 the Tour de France has included an incursion into the high passes of the Pyrenees Mountains. The press wrote of the new stage routes in the wilderness of the Pyrenees as “dangerous” and “bizarre.” This was much to the delight of race director Henri Desgranges and his newspaper Le Auto. Stage ten in 1910 included four brutal climbs, featuring the first ascent of the Col du Peyresoure, the Col d'Aspin, the Col du Tourmalet, and the Col d'Aubisque.

July 27, 1910 was a very hot day in the south of France and race officials anxiously waiting at the top of the Aubisque watched to see if any rider could make it over both the Tourmalet and the Aubisque. Lapize a climbing specialist walked, ran, and pedaled his way up the climbs, when local rider Lafourcade passed him and won the last climb. Fifteen minutes after Lafourcade, the second rider, Octave Lapize, appeared in great distress and pushing his bike. Upon reaching the top Lapize angrily shouted “ASSASSINS...” at the race officials as he passed. Across the top of the Aubisque Lapize was able to recover, catch Lafourcade on the way into Bayonne, and win the stage.

Octave Lapize went on to earn a grand victory in the 1910 Tour de France. Henri Desgranges saw the new ‘mountain formula' become a great success. With the inclusion of the dangerous Pyrenees Mountains and the riders shouting “Assassins...” and “Murderers...” Tour legend was made in 1910. The press contributed tremendously to the legend by naming the hardest day in the Pyrenees “The Circle of Death”, where hopes of a Tour de France victory go to die.

Over the years countless TdF contenders have seen their hope disappear in the Pyrenees Mountains. In 1913, virtual race leader Eugene Christophe (the original Eternal Second) crashed heavily on the descent of the Col du Tourmalet broke his front fork and ran 6 miles to the nearest town for repairs. He lost 3 hours and any chance for the overall victory. In 1936 Belgian Sylvere Maes destroyed the second and third placed riders by more than 20 minutes to secure the overall title. Stage 13 in 2004 saw Lance Armstrong deliver a huge blow the hopes of his closest rivals.

The “Circle of Death” has claimed more than one contender over the years.


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