The quote above was how Henri Desgrange, the founder of the Tour de France, apparently described Henri Pélissier the 1923 winner of the Tour. Forget Lance, Alberto, Cadel, and co this was one larger than life than life character who makes Pantani look like a choirboy.
Henri was a handful from an early age and was kicked out of the family farm at the age of 16. The farm itself was the last farm in
. He chose to become a semi-professional cyclist and through challenging race organisers and sponsors become a campaigner for better rights for cyclists describing their conditions as being like “convicts of the road.” Paris
He also described how the harshness of races like the Tour made riders use doping products. This is the first recorded instance of doping I can find. The journalist Albert Londres in an article about a conversation he had with Henri, his brother Francis and another rider Ville said:
“You have no idea what the Tour de France is like,” said Henri. “It’s a
Calvary. But Christ only had 14 stations of the cross. We have 15. We suffer from start to finish. Do you want to see what we run on?” From his bag he took out a phial: “That’s cocaine for the eyes, that’s chloroform for the gums.”…In short said Francis, “we run on dynamite”.
A few years after he retired his wife Léonie shot herself. Henri took up with another woman, Camille, 20 years younger than him. The two of them had a fiery relationship which ended with Camille shooting him five times after he attacked her with a knife. She used the gun that his wife had taken her life with. When it came to the trial Camille got a one year suspended jail sentence.
And, the strange thing is nobody has written a book about him in English. How many more good stories are needed to make a great book?