There’s nothing new about gravel roads in the Tour de France

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Nor Peter Sagan’s podium goggles for that matter. Stage 10 of the 2018 Tour includes a couple of kilometres of dirt track on the Plateau de Glières, but haven’t we’ve seen it all before?

Photographs: Offside-L'Equipe
14th July 1932 Tour de France 1932 - Stage 6 (LUCHON to PERPIGNAN) Alfons Shepers climbs up the muddy track over the Col du Portet d'Aspet Photo: Offside / L'Equipe.

I beg your pardon? The Tour de France has some gravel in it? What’s that? A newly discovered road surface that manufacturers have just started making bikes for? Wow.


But enough of the sarcasm, you know how the argument goes: cyclo-cross bikes, rough stuff touring, the bicycling industry’s emperor’s new clothes and all that.


The Tour de France has ridden over plenty of gravel and dirt roads before. Up mountains and across the plains, carriageways didn’t used to be the smooth rolling surfaces they are today. Which gives us a perfect excuse to delve into the photo archives.

Mountain passes in particular were roughly surfaced. Above: Francesco Camusso climbs towards stage victory during Stage 7 of the 1935 Tour between Aix les Bains and Grenoble.

And you know this pass: the Col du Galibier in its pre-tarmac days. Gabriel Ruozzi is just approaching the summit, again on Stage 7 of the 1935 Tour.

As if the altitude and gradient in the Alps isn’t enough of a test on the lungs, riders also had to contest with the dust chucked up by rivals and support vehicles. Here, on the road between Grenoble and Gex, Belgium’s Philippe Thys leads a group in his bid for overall victory in the 1920 Tour.

Go on then, we’ll also chuck some cows into the mix. This is 1910, on the Pyrenean ascent of the Portet d’Aspet. Nothing Warren Barguill hasn’t encountered in these mountains though.


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Sometimes you’ve just got to get off and walk – the loose surface and exposed slopes of the Col de l’Aubisque conspiring against Jules Masselis and Alfons Spiessens on Stage 6 of the 1913 Tour.

It’s a hot and dusty track across the flats of the south as Louis Heusghem struggles in the heat before abandoning on Stage 8 of the 1920 Tour between Perpignan and Aix en Provence. Maybe that’s the broom wagon with him.

And from the same edition but up in the northwest: the peloton passes a building site near St Brieuc as it traverses the 405km between the tip of Normandy and the far end of Brittany on Stage 3.

Back in the Alps again. It’s 1938 and Felicien Vervaecke cuts a lonely figure on the high slopes of the Col de l’Iseran.


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This could be one of those wonderful sections of Voie Verte – it’s barely wide enough to get a support car along. Location uncertain but possibly the Alpes-Maritimes, the year is 1920 and the rider is Firmin Lambot.

Chunky tyres, supplies on his handlebars, funky hat. This is either a 2018 adventure bike photo shoot or Vincente Trueba on the road to Grenoble during the 1933 Tour.


PS. Note the goggles hanging around his neck.




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