Crossed Tourmalet STOP Very good course STOP Perfectly passable STOP
So read the Telegram sent by Alphonse Steinès on 28 January 1910 to his boss Henri Desgrange about the possibilty of including the Col de Tourmalet on that year's 8th Tour de France. That isn't the whole story however.
On the 27th Steinès had asked an innkeeper near the Tourmalet for directions to pass over it. The innkeeper barked back 'you can barely cross it in July'. However, Steinès was underterred and hired a car and driver Dupont and drove up the cart path that was the route over the 2115m pass. Near the top after 16km of climbing he was stopped by snow, and even though it was 6pm he got out in his city clothes and continuted on foot. After 600m Dupont turned back, shouting 'The bears come over from Spain when it snows', but Steinès continued. He was found at 3am having fallen several times and been lost by a police search party. After food and a hot bath he dispatched his telegram to Paris.
When it was announced in the itinery of the Tour several of the big names protested and 26 said they would not ride. Lucien Petit-Breton, the winner from 1907 and 1908 said 'It's murder....those bastards want our skin!' he did not finish the 1910 Tour. Gustave Garrigou ended up 3rd that year and won the following year said 'People were telling us about avalanches, road collapses, of the killer moutains and the Thunder of God!'. Riders told reporters 'Desgrange is sending us into a circle of death!'
In the end of course the race did climb up the Tourmalet on a stage from Bagnères-de-Luchon to Pau. The first attack came from Charles Crupelandt, who had won the opening stage to Roubaix, then came one from François Faber the previous year's winner, then Emile Georget. But eventually it came to Octave Lapize to take on Faber, the rest of the field and the Col. The previous days to Luchon over the first Pyrenees he had won the stage and it was he who was the first man to summit on the Tourmalet, marked by the momument shown. Riding on to Bayonne on the coast to complete the stage as winner. The on to Paris to win the Tour itself in what was the only time he finished the race.
So today the peleton pass over it on their way to Pau, but they'll be back on Thursday to finish on its summit and the last climb of the 2010 Tour de France.