July 13th, 2007 by ikiro
History is made up of truths that end up becoming lies. Myths are made up of lies that end up becoming truths – Jean Cocteau.
In Tour des Légendes (2003), director Erik van Empel takes us back to La Grande Boucle of 1948, the last tour without the presence of television cameras, when he tries to find out about the story behind an old newspaper photo of cyclists covered in mud riding through a snowy alpine backdrop.
It is likely that a future generation, say, 50 years from now, will read an account of the race Briançon – Aix-les-Bains ridden today, 16 July 1948. How will that generation see the historically correct account of today’s race? They will call it exciting, dramatic and epic, but also a good story. A good story in the sense of something inconsistent with reality, but still a good story. Si non revero, bene trovato, as the Italians say.
Back then, you had to use all of your imagination to visualize the heroic battles that i campioni fought on the flanks of the then unpaved mountain passes of monstruous giants such as the Galibier, Croix-de-Fer and Izoard. Fortunately, reporters such as Henri Desgrange and Karel van Wijnendaele (
de Homerus der Koersen) made that a bit easier with their vivid and colorful reports on the race.
Riders in the 35th Tour de France have seen it all. Glorious weather, sunshine, paradise, even the apocalypse, but the 13th stage was hell.
As if the weather and parcours did not made it difficult enough, Gino Bartali was on special mission. Because of civil unrest in Italy, Il Campionissimo was asked, practically ordered, to win a stage in Le Tour to motivate the Italian people towards happier feelings. Despite that Il Pious was twenty minutes behind leader Louison Bobet (
le Boulanger de Saint-Méen), he managed to recover himself and crushed the competition by winning three consecutive etappes and carrying the maillot jaune back home to a quieted Italy.
Various interviews with the others that played a role in that inspirational victoire, in which Briek Schotte and Marcel Dupont steal my heart, sketch the hard conditions in which the riders were forced to risk their lives (something about
donsveren). Finally, Van Empel treats us with a visually and musically astounding apotheosis of etappe Briançon – Aix-les-Bains, etappe 14…
Vino… Vino… Did the guardian angel that stood by you and carried you to fame ignore your pleas for help? Have you become like the others? Suddenly, in mid-race, you’ll feel strangely alone. Like a king at war who turns to give orders and discovers his army gone. That terrible moment will come, but when? You don’t know.