There are few similarities between the 2016 stage and the one held in 1914, both were flat and both were in the Cherbourg area of France (which has hosted over 18 tour stages). From here the tale of 1914’s stage three weaves it’s sadness. This would be the last Tour de France before the First World War. Many riders would go on to fight in the bloody battles and the Tour would not see light until 1919 on the battle scarred landscape of France. One such rider was Émile Engel.
Émile was a French professional road bicycle racer born in Colombes, 5 April 1889. He became a Corporal in the French 72nd Infantry Regiment. Stage three, Tour de France, 1914 was to be his last win. He was disqualified after stage 8 when he was involved in a fight with a race official. Although, in Christopher S. Thompson’s, The Tour de France, A Cultural History; “On expelling Émile Engel for attacking an official in 1914, …Desgrange made a point of rehabilitating the racer in the days that followed his expulsion. There must have been something worthy in his character, maybe it was the frustration of what lay ahead?
It’s hard to imagine what faced Émile and millions of other men that were heading to war, mostly young and uncertain of their futures. This year we remember 100 years since the Somme but, that was two years later and like so many they never even saw the tragedies that lay before their fellow men and fell fighting a battle of untold horrors. Émile was killed in World War I, three months after the Tour de France. He died at Maurupt-le-Montois, north-eastern France. A monument stands there today to remember the Battle of Marne. Today a quiet town and long may it stay that way. Alongside Émile Engel, Tour de France champions Lucien Petit-Breton, François Faber and Octave Lapize died in the first world war. The winner of the 1914 Tour de France, Philippe Thys, would survive the war, and go on for his third victory in 1920. Henri Pélissier, the runner-up, would win the Tour de France in 1923.
The Belgium Philippe Thys won the 1914 Tour de France. Something that you don’t see today, Camille Botte, ranked 15 in the general classification, became the winner of the “isolés” category. The “isolés” classification was calculated in the same way as the general classification, but only the isolated cyclists (not part of a team) were eligible. It was also the start of what is now famous, organising newspaper l’Auto named Firmin Lambot the meilleur grimpeur. This unofficial title is the precursor to the mountains classification.