Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Le Tour de Fitz

Coach Fitz is set to be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame this weekend, capping off his remarkable run as the heart and soul of the defense for the 15-1 1995 and 1996 Rose and Citrus Bowl teams that took Northwestern from the dregs of the college football landscape and put them on the map in much the same way that Peter the Great's Russia rose from a comical European losing streak and defeated Sweden in the Great Northern War.

Sweden's Charles XII conducted the Great
Northern War in an intensely vengeful, personal
way, sacrificing advantages in an attempt to raise
the volume on the lamentations of his enemies'
women after being enraged by Northern Alliance
diplomacy focusing on resolving the question
"why the long face?"

The enshrinement takes place in South Bend Indiana, where fans can take advantage of an entire weekend of activities including a celebrity golf tournament and ladies' fashion show and brunch, all listed on a web page designed to make readers wish they never see the word "enshrinement" or any other variation of "enshrine" again. The schedule of events also includes an Enshrinement Corn Hole Tournament hosted by Indy Custom Cornhole and the Young Professionals Network.

A young Fitz extends his fist over a vanquished

Fitz was the first two-time winner of the Bednarik and Nagurski trophies in 1995 and 1996. He'll be joined by charismatic television personalities Troy Aikman and Lou Holtz.

Lou Holz emphasizes a point in the ESPN studios, a lazy, meanspirited, and
obvious joke from your friends right here at Bring Your Champions, They're
Our Meat


We're right in the middle of the Tour de France, one of the world's greatest feats of endurance by a group of men who are three mysterious vials away from turning into comic book superhenchmen.

Bane from Batman and Robin prepares to climb the
Ballon d'Alsace, right after setting up a bunch of bombs
in the Gotham Observatory. My favorite thing about
that part of the movie is that every time he places a bomb,
he says the word "bomb." Somebody wrote that,
hopefully not the person who I imagine was thrown into
a locked, stuffy trailer and ordered not to leave until he
or she came up with at least four dozen terrible ice puns
as part of the settlement of a mob-related blood debt. Of
course nothing in that movie can ever top this
classic batman moment.

The hand-wringing over cheating and drug use at the Tour has always been overblown, mainly because the Tour seemed to have been designed with cheating, doping, and any other sort of Wacky Races-style skulduggery clearly in mind. In 1904, the second Tour de France saw the disqualification of its top four riders including inaugural Tour winner Maurice Garin. Two of these men were banned for life: Lucien Pothier for drafting behind a car, and Chevalier of Moulins for hitching a ride in one. Garin received a two-year ban for blackmailing a sponsor for food.

These anecdotes come from the excellent Blazing Saddles: The Cruel and Unusual History of the Tour de France by Matt Rendell, which provides a short history of each of the Tour's races through 2007 with a properly reverent tone:

Whatever else the Tour was-- and it would become many things--it was also an undeclared congress of Europe's hardest scrota. Maurice Garin, at five foot three, a pocket-sized Charles Bronson look alike with a handlebar moustache, might have had the hardest-wearing crotch of all.

Maurice Garin, winner of the inaugural 1903 Tour de
France and possessor of a Matt Rendell-approved crotch

In French Revolutions: Cycling the Tour de France, Tim Moore, a British writer and fan of brief cycling jaunts in the park, sets off to do the Tour de France himself by following the race route and allowing himself approximately twice as much time as the pros. Quickly, he succumbs to the suffering: downing hay fever pills for a pick-me-up, cutting corners, and ruthlessly drafting behind an erstwhile friend, exploiting his lack of knowledge of bicycling physics. Yet, despite his manifold sufferings, Moore had it easy compared to the early tour riders.

Early Tour riders used heavy, cumbersome bicycles on dirt paths without gears or even freewheels, which had been banned by the evidently sadistic tour founder Henri Desgrange (this webpage helpfully lists technological innovations in tour bikes along with innovations in drugs-- for example 1910 saw the development of derailleur gears and the use of chloroform by cyclists and dastardly counts). Rendell notes that cyclists at the time faced other hazards, such as tacks thrown by the opposition and, in the famous 1904 race, angry mobs that would show up and beat the cyclists with sticks until being dispersed by Desgrange firing a gun into the air. The hazards did not end with the race; 1905 Tour winner Louis Trousselier was immediately seized by military police (he was due to start his duty sometime around stage three), which soured his successful fending off of the astoundingly-named Hyppolite Aucouturier.

Hyppolite Aucouturier lost the race, but got
his revenge by absconding with the tour's
hamburger supply

Rapscallionship, scoundrality, and underhandery are built into the very fabric of the tour, and not just its early years. In 1935, for example, Julien Moineau lured the peloton into a free beer oasis, sneaking ahead while they guzzled away at their depridations.

Of course, the early Tour is fantastic for another reason: it may be, with the potential exception of triangular weight lifting, the most mustachioed sport in modern history. For ten years, every winner of the tour sported an epic mustache, from the tiny Garin, to the gigantic François Faber and the Lucien Petit-Bretons and René Pottiers in between. The streak became broken when a Belgian, Philippe Thys, won the race clean shaven, and the sport would never recover.


1. Henri Cornet (top, second from left) was awarded the Tour in 1904 after the
disqualification of the top four finishers: Garin (top, first from left), Pothier
(not pictured), and Aucouturier all had mustaches; the other finisher, Chevalier
left behind no known first name nor picture, but we can assume that his mustache
was so grand that he used it to float on air currents above his opponents or braided
it into a crude whipping device like a Ben Hur charioteer.

2. Trousellier (third from left) eerily resembles a cross between a young Stalin
and Punch-Out villain Von Kaiser

3. Pottier, (fourth from left) pioneered the racing bonnet

4. Lucien Petit-Breton(top right), officially the first back-to-back tour winner
due to Garin's disqualification, appears to be sponsored by chicken consortium.
I prefer to think that it's from an individual famer, who stenciled the exact
silhouette of a particular chicken onto Petit-Breton's jersey.

5. 1912 winner Odile Defraye's light-colored mustache combined with low-res
photographs found on the internet and in the Rendell book have cast some
doubts on his mustache credentials, but it seems present enough to warrant

6. Thys's 1913 and 1914 wins herald the end of the golden age of cycling.
The 1914 tour began on the day of Franz Ferdiand's assassination and
marked the end of the tour until 1919.

So for those of you planning on cycling to South Bend to catch an enshrinement and a cornholing, I recommend you do it the proper way: hopped up on strychnine and baguettes on a fixed gear bike with a completely unironic mustache and a canvas sack full of tacks for any Notre Dame fans behind you. And in doing so, you may find out once and for all who is more grizzled.

1 comment:


I salute you for having introduced to me the terms "rapscallionship, scoundrality, and underhandery".

I will now be vigilant for opportunities to use my new power words in casual conversation.