Sunday, August 3, 2014

Tour de France 2014 honors 1914 Tour riders

On my post of July 9, 2014, I showed pictures of the start of the Tour de France in England (click here.)  On Sunday 27 July, 2014, the Tour ended on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.  The Tour lasted three weeks and was made up of 21 stages which covered a total distance of 3,664 kilometers or 2,276.7 miles (about the distance between Atlanta, Georgia and Los Angeles, California.)  There were 9 flat stages, 5 hill stages, 6 mountain stages, 1 individual time-trial stage and 2 rest days.  The last stage ending in Paris was won by Marcel Kittel of Germany.

The winner of the 2014 Tour de France is Vincenzo Nibali of Italy.  He had the most overall points and wore the yellow jersey 18 days out of 21.  Nibali is a strong rider and has also won the Vuelta a Espana in 2010 and the Giro d'Italia in 2013.  He rides for the team Astana of Kazakhstan.  The general manager of this team is a former racer, and one of my favorite riders, Alexander Vinokourov (he also won a gold medal at the Olympic Games of 2012) and is shown below in the middle right of the collage.  The green jersey went to Peter Sagan of Slovakia, the polka dot jersey to Rafal Majka of Poland and the white jersey to Thibaut Pinot of France.

Since I retired in early 2008 I have been able to watch the Tour de France live on TV.  For me, in Georgia, it usually starts around 8:00 am, sometimes earlier, and ends around 11:30 pm to noon.  I never plan any activity or trip in July so I can watch it every year.  I enjoy the race but I also love to look at all the various roads in and out of the little villages in France.  The helicopter coverage gives an excellent view of the landscape along the race.

It is always a thrill at the end of the race to see the riders arriving in Paris and watching their eight laps around the Champs-Elysees.

The first three stages of the Tour started in England.  The Tour organizers decided to have the next seven stages take place along 1914 Belgian and French battlefields to pay tribute to the fallen soldiers of the Great War.  As a sad coincidence, the 1914 Tour de France started on June 28, 1914, which was the day of the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo and his wife (that led to the outbreak of the war a few weeks later.)  The 1914 edition of the Tour had 15 stages totaling more than 5,400 kilometers or 3,355.4 miles (farther than the distance across the USA since Miami, Florida to Seattle, Washington is 3,298 miles.)  The 1914 Tour de France was won by the Belgian Philippe Thys - his second win.  He would win a third time in 1920.  The Tour was suspended during the war and started again in 1919.  Below is the 1914 route, the 2014 route, a vintage photo of the 1914 start of the Tour and Philippe Thys.  (Click on collage to enlarge.)

It may seem strange to some here now, that a major international sporting event would go out of its way to include a tribute to soldiers from a long ago war, mostly unremembered in the US.  On November 11, 1919 US President W. Wilson established Armistice Day to mark the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany and to honor its dead.  Later on it was changed into Veteran's Day.  In France, Belgium and New Zealand it is still Armistice Day, in England it is Remembrance Day.  With roughly 20 million deaths (1,400,000 in France) or a total of 37,466,904 casualties - this was a dreadful war not to be consigned to oblivion.  The memory of this war is still vivid in France.  I think every family there knows of a family member, or friend who died in this war.  My grand-father was in WWI and several of my grand-mother's cousins died there.  There are roughly 36,000 war monuments in France - each large city, town or village has one with the list of their fallen, even in the small suburban town near Paris where I spent my teenage years, St. Leu la Foret. (Click on the collage to read the name of the towns.)

 In France these monuments were built, not to glorify victory, but to honor those who died during the war.  The monuments were mostly financed by citizens in each town but also by war veterans who made up 90% of men aged 20-50 years in France in those days.  Eight million men were called up to the war, 1.4 million died and 3 million were injured in a population of 40 million at the time.  These monuments were erected in the hope that their sacrifice had not been in vain and that this war would be the last war, the war to end all wars.  All the monuments say "Mort pour la France" (died for France.)  The city of Washington, DC, has a WWI monument but in the nation's capital there is no "national" monument as a US memorial to its veterans of WWI.

As Peter Kuznick, professor at the American University in Washington says "This is a forgotten war."  I asked one of my friends, an educator, why young people here are uninterested in history.  She replied that history has been squeezed out of the school curriculum for the benefit of math, business, science and other subjects more relevant to helping students find a job and making money.  In France at least education still includes history as a major subject, as well as geography and foreign languages.  Below is a book for children.  I translated the title - The 2 world wars explained to the youngest.

A professor in a Texas university tested entering students for historical knowledge and reported that "the degree of historical ignorance was considerable."  It is too bad, because when wars are forgotten it is easier to start new wars, such as Iraq.  In France many people were affected by WWI, even from well known families.  Doctor Robert Proust, the brother of writer Marcel Proust (author of "In search of Lost Time" formerly known as "Remembrance of Things Past") was called up on August 2, 1914, and was posted near Verdun.  He survived the war and was decorated for courage.  Below is an excerpt from a letter Marcel sent to a friend on August 2, 1914 - "I have just seen off my brother who was leaving for Verdun at midnight.  Alas he insisted on being posted to the actual border."

Some 424 French sport greats including 78 cyclist gave their lives in the storm of 14-18 including three Tour de France winners: Lucien Mazan, nicknamed Petit Breton (1882-1917) winner in 1907 and 08, Francois Faber (1887-1915) winner in 1909 and Octave Lapizee (1887-1917) winner in 1910.

During the seven stages commemorating the fallen cyclists of WWI the Tour went from Flanders to the Vosges.  The riders followed the paths of the Great War and rode by historic sites and battles.  Stage 5 started in Ypres, in West Flanders, Belgium.  This is where the first gas attack occurred against Canadians, British and French soldiers.  Now Ypres has the title of "City of Peace" and has close ties to another town, "Hiroshima."  Below are postcards of Ypres before, during and after the war.

For Stage 6 the Tour rode on the Chemin des Dames ("Ladies Path" named thus as it was the route used by two daughters of French King Louis XV) while going from Arras to Reims.  Three battles were fought along the Chemin des Dames in 1914, 1917 and 1918.  The final count was 271,000 French casualties and 163,000 German casualties.  That day the Tour riders wore a "bleuet de France" (cornflower) the symbol of WWI veterans.  You can see a bleuet/cornflower on the jersey of the riders, below, during the podium presentation.  (In Canada the word "bleuet" is used for blueberries instead of the French word "myrtille" for that fruit.  I wonder what word is used in French Canada for cornflower then?)

For Stage 7 the Tour went from Epernay to Nancy and rode by l'Ossuaire de Douaumont (The Douaumont Ossuary.)   It contains the remains of soldiers who died during the Battle of Verdun.  The Battle of Verdun lasted 300 days (Feb. 21, 1916 to Dec. 16, 1916) and resulted in 230,000 deaths out of a total 714,231 casualties (or an average of 70,000 casualties for each month of the battle.)  Recent estimates increased the casualty number to 976,000.  The officials of the Tour de France placed a wreath at the Verdun monument.  Below is the ossuary, the battlefield then and now, still showing scars.

This week-end French President Francois Hollande is meeting with the President of Germany, Joachim Gauck (Angela Merkel is the Chancellor of Germany.)  They are commemorating WWI which started in France a hundred years ago today, August 3, 1914.  They are meeting at the Hartmannswillerkopf Memorial, a French National Monument in the Vosges mountain of Alsace.  A bitter battle was fought there with 30,000 French casualties.

The French President emphasized that "this Franco-German commemoration is a testament to the strength of the friendship between the two countries that allows them to look at their shared history, including its most dramatic period."  Tomorrow, Monday August 4th, 2014, the two presidents will go to Liege, Belgium to commemorate with a dozen other leaders the centennial of the invasion of Belgium by the troops of the Reich.  The French President said that "These commemorations are a way to celebrate Franco-Belgian friendship and French debt to Belgium for its fierce resistance to the invasion."  Also on August 4th there will be a joint British-German memorial ceremony at the St. Symphorien Military Cemetery near Mons, Belgium.

This is a somber subject, so I'll explain why the "bleuet de France" (cornflower) is the symbol of memory and solidarity for veterans, victims of war, widows and orphans.  On the battlefields even though all plant life was almost gone because of bomb shelling, the cornflower and poppy survived and were the only bright colors on the desolate battlefields.  France chose the cornflower as a symbol and Britain the poppy.  The term "bleuet" also referred to the young French recruits of 1915 who wore horizon-blue uniforms while the older soldiers' uniforms had turned grey with mud.

At the end of WWI France had millions of wounded veterans, some seriously handicapped and unable to work.  In 1925 two French women established workshops where the men could make little lapel pins from blue tissue paper or fabric to sell to the public and thus give them an occupation and income.  The organization became "Le Bleuet de France" and with the backing of the French Government it continues today to support veterans and their families.

The Latin name of the bleuet (cornflower) is Centaurea cyanus.  It has several symbolic meanings and one meaning I like is "Wealth, prosperity, fortune and friendship." 


ELFI said...

les bleuets et les autres cartes postales anciennes..magnifique!

DJan said...

What a wonderful post, as usual. I learned so much! It's true that we Americans are woefully ignorant of so much history, which is never taught in school. We have many wounded warriors here because of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but the help for them is almost nonexistent because of the political battles between the two parties. It's very discouraging.

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

I always learn so much from your posts. Thank you for all of the research, some of which I was not aware.

Pondside said...

Another wonderfully researched post.
This year we watched the Tour live and recorded - wouldn't miss it! Ten years ago we followed it for a while in France and were delighted to stay in the hotel with the Yellow Jersey one night.

David said...

Vagabonde, Nice blog but I don't understand the interest in watching a bunch of cyclists on TV or standing along a roadway to watch bycicles pass by... Of course, I don't get soccer either. (My grandsons do 'get' soccer) My wife even likes watching the 'Tour' on TV, even more of a mystery to me...except for stunning scenery.

As for the forgotten war...WWI...I agree that it is sad that most American schools don't teach history...especially 20th century history...and geography. (I personally like both!) If I was in charge I'd also require a language in high school and college. It would broaden the horizons of our students and help them deal with this changing world.

You always publish an interesting blog! Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Reader Wil said...

Vous savez beaucoup de choses de Tour de France. C ' est très intéressant. Merci de cet information.
Merci aussi de votre visite et commentaire.
Wil, ABCW team

Magic Love Crow said...

This is so interesting! Thank you so much for all the history and the great pictures ;o) Hugs ;o)

Inger said...

What a fantastic post. So much history and I can see how much you love this race.

Christine said...

It's a great race. Nicely researched. Love that blue cornflower.

sablonneuse said...

So informative as always. Thank you very much for all the work which goes into your posts. My husband always watches the Tour but mainly for the scenery and places of interest but this year he tended to fall asleep in front of the TV and so missed a lot of it.
As for the cornflowers, I didn't realise that they were sold in France like poppies are sold in Britain. I've only ever seen ex-service men wearing cornflower badges and I didn't ask where they got them.

Mae Travels said...

Sadly, for me the Tour de France has pretty much been spoiled by the Lance Armstrong scandals, so I didn't watch this year. Your post about the route through the battlefields convinced me that I might be wrong, perhaps I'll watch again in some future year.

I think some schools still teach history a bit. My granddaughters seem aware of some past events. I hated every history course I ever took, but now read history and documents from history all the time. I think it's actually a subject for older people, not for children.

Does knowledge of history help us to experience and positively influence the present and future? Good topic for discussion but I fear it's an unanswerable question.

best... mae at

Jenn Jilks said...

The Tour is so iconic! I must say, though, that Whazzizname really turned me off of it.

The history of WW I has been very interesting for me. I didn't quite 'get' history in my youth. We study it well in Gr. 10 here in Ontario.
I'm happy to look at your amazing collection of photos, though. Beautiful job.

PS. I'm not sure about your bugs. There are so many out there. Many specific to an area. Some only reproduce here in the north, whilst overwintering or going south.
(ツ) from Cottage Country Ontario , ON, Canada!

✿France✿ said...

BONJOUR que de belles photos et j'adore te lire
tu adores l'écriture j'en suis certaine
dire que je ne suis pas partie voir l'arrivée ici il y avait un orage à gogo
quel dommage je trouve bisous

Denise Covey said...

Bonjour! Thanks for this most interesting long post. I was thrilled to read a blow by blow account as I missed some stages.
I was delighted to be staying at Mont st Michel in 2011 when the Tour passed through. It was especially thrilling as this was the year Australia won with Cadel Evans. I see the snarky comments about Lance Armstrong, but Cadel is a great guy. Personally, I don't know how anyone could zip up those mountains without taking drugs!!

Thought it was a good thing to highlight war on this 100~year anniversary. I visited Ypres in 2011 too. It'd always been an ambition to see where so many died, many Australians too. Took a personal guide around the Commonwealth graves and heard the stories from a Belgian history teacher.

So thanks for this thoughtful post. I'm loving that I have found your blog again ~ or you found mine.


Shammickite said...

Another informative post.... I have learnt so much about the Tour de France from your blog. I think it would be very exciting to see the race in person. I didn't know about the French cornflower.... I thought that the poppy was an international symbol of Remembrance.

bayou said...

Vagabonde, thanks for this nice page of history and tour event. I loved to watch the start of the tour in Yorkshire but it is summer and I am almost always outside. However, we had Sunday the remembrance ceremony at the cavalier Fonck statue which is 2 km apart from here, our king came and some 1000 people attended. Yesterday was the big ceremony in Liège and I followed a bit of that during lunchtime. But the highlight was last night's program on BBC2 in Westminster Abbey and we watched that until the end. It was so brilliant with all these read memories of people who have suffered so much, we were both very sad when we went to bed. In fact, I feel very embedded in this huge part of history, being born German, living in Belgium for 36 years, married to a British and now my son marrying a French girl... I feel more than very lucky that I was not born and experiencing these dark times then.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Vagabonde - what an amazing post - listing lots of details about the Tour de France - this year following World War One battlefields and then the route in 1914, along with all the accompanying photos - brilliant collection.

I enjoy watching some of the Tour races and as you say seeing the countryside as the cyclists pass through various stages.

World War I - we had a lot of commemorative services yesterday - the day Britain declared war on Germany, when it had not withdrawn its threat.

There was one in Glasgow after the end of the Commonwealth Games for the Commonwealth ...

Lots of ceremonies or commemorative events around the country ...

A new memorial in Folkestone - one of the embarkation points for the troops ...

A very symbolic ceremony at St Symphorien Cemetery outside Mons, where nations came together in a small symbolic service -

Finally a service in Westminster Abbey ... when the candles were one by one slowly extinguished until the last one was put out by the Grave of the Unknown Soldier at 11.00 pm exactly ... the country's lights had been out for an hour (civic buildings, churches et al and private house, who wished to remember) ...

I've learnt a lot in this year from the talks, Services and Commemorative events that have been taking place ...

You've really added to that knowledge - great post ..thanks so much for bringing it to us .. Hilary

Tamara said...

If i was still giving out prizes for Paris in July - I'd nominate you... this post covers two important topics the War in France and the Tour de France. Your history researching and reporting skills are just splendid. I would love to see this post published somewhere. I too have been converted to the joy of watching the great race, so much so that I went to follow the tour in 2011 and actually ride some of the routes. I posted earlier this month on the fantastic televised coverage we get here in Australia on SBS. Of course, the tour started because of the economic impacts of war in France, and the hsitory you've covered here show just how embeded both the war and the race are in the hearts of the French. Fantastic Post! Thanks

Ruth said...

An incredible post. You have managed to get a great amount of info here and keep it fascinating. It is good that the race honored this history.

Such terrible sadness, that war. My grandfather fought there, though I was never able to ask anything about it. That time in history is so powerful to me. When I did the Rilke blog for a year, much of what I read was his response to WWI, and the sad years of Europe's fields overcome with it. More tragedy and impact on human culture than any of us realize, but you've done a good job showing here.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

I always learn so much from your posts, my dear. This one was particularly poignant because it dealt with such loss and the deep remembrance of these terrible terrible losses, and the scars that exist still, 100 years later....
(I've missed a few posts---I just have not been feeling well, at all----sorry about that.)
I thank you for always teaching me something I didn't know, and presenting such wonderful illustrations of ALL these important things of History.

Catherine said...

Cornflower blue is such a stunning colour!

I wonder if we are only just beginning to see the Great War in context, 100 years on? Certainly here in the UK, consciousness is rising and it is all over the media. My sons were all taken to Belgium and Northern France to see the war graves by their school and it was certainly a formative experience for them.

I saw the Tour de France a few years ago when it passed through Kent - we spent hours waiting and enjoying all the side shows in the village, but the Peleton was gone in a thrilling flash!

Miss_Yves said...

Superbe documentation, de la petite à la grande Histoire.

claude said...

Magnifique exposé et comme le dit Miss Yves superbe documentation. On pensait qu'après la boucherie de 14-18, il n'y aurait plus de guerre, mais c'était sans compter sur la folie d'Hitler.
Ado, j'ai visité le fort de Douaumont ainsi que le cimetière militaire et plus récemment le Chemin des Dames.
Comme tu peux t'en douter je n'ai pas suivi le Tour de France mais suis quand même bien contente qu'il y ait 2 français sur le podium.

Ghislain Nicolas said...

Le bleuet de France, voilà une plante qui m était complètement sortie de l esprit. Figures toi que étant gamin, l instituteur nous envoyait en vendre dans les maisons du village au profit des victimes de guerre. Celui qui en avait vendu le plus était mis à l honneur.
Amicalement Latil

Nadezda said...

You're completely right Vagabonde, history as a school subject must be learned by young people due to not be forgotten.
I've read with interest your post, I see you're fan of races!
But I enjoy to look at all the towns and villages in France as well. Thank you for sharing, dear!

Carole M. said...

you sure have some history there for this very creative post. I especially liked the collage that featured Champs/Arc and the jets flying over with the coloured plumes; how spectacular that would've been to watch. Those cyclists sure deserve big accolades, they work so hard for it.

Al said...

That's quite a thought-provoking post. I remember learning about the war in school in Holland.

Anonymous said...

✿ ✿ Hello chère Vagabonde ! :o)

J'aime beaucoup suivre le Tour de France (à la télévision) et je suis HEUREUSE de lire et de regarder ta jolie publication aujourd'hui !
C'est très intéressant !

MERCI pour ce partage.

Je t'embrasse fort chère Vagabonde !!! 。♡♡彡

Passe un bon jeudi en Géorgie ツ !!!!


Elizabeth at Eiffel Tells said...

A wonderful post. History ( without being doctored) is important for all of us to learn. As the saying goes, " those who don't learn from history are domed to repeat it".
Warm regards

EG CameraGirl said...

We in Canada call November 11th Remembrance Day. And for a couple of weeks Veterans are out selling poppies for people to wear. Most people here still remember or are at least reminded of the First World War and of those that have happened afterwards.

Vicki Lane said...

Such an interesting combination of sport and history. I wasn't aware of the symbolism of the bluet.

Jono said...

I faithfully watch and enjoy le Tour every summer as much for the beautiful country as the race itself. I really enjoyed the historical perspective of this year's race. Having European parents helps my perspective as an American and forces me to agree with your assessment of the importance of an education in areas that are not perceived as immediately financially beneficial. In the long run it is all important. I am sorry for the loss of humanity.

rhymeswithplague said...

What an amazing post, Vagabonde! I am always impressed by your blogging skills.

I linked to this post in my own little tribute to France today.

Pat said...

I didn't realise that the Tour de France had so much history.
It is a shame if the WW1 history is neglected in the USA. We can learn so much from history and it helps us not to go on making the same awful mistakes.
I also would enjoy seeing over views of the beautiful French countryside. I'll pay more attention next time:)

Diane said...

It was a great TDF but sadly many accidents. It is amazing to watch as we get to see so many parts of France that we have still not been to.

I have just written a post about down memory lane, I hope that it will be a great history reminder for all. Have a good day. Diane

Thérèse said...

J'avoue m'etre plus concentree sur le bleuet que sur la petite reine.
Que chaque veteran soit reconnu, mort ou vivant, c'est l'important.

joared said...

Especially most interesting to me to read about WWI, differing significances of cornflower and poppy. My father and his older brother fought in WWI. They returned home to Ohio from Europe physically intact, but I think war takes a toll on those living through the experience as it did both of them sooner or later -- some have more difficulty coping than others.

Unfortunately, there does seem to be a lack of appreciation for history by too many in our country. History has often not been taught in a very interesting manner as I recall my '50s high school American history class teacher. She was obsessed with our remembering dates unlike my later college professor whose stories brought the past to life with dates inclusive as part of a more significant context.

Jeanie said...

Wow. You know I love your Tour posts no matter what you write but since I'm very interested in the World Wars, I find this particularly interesting. I don't know how I missed knowing that this was happening this year -- I must have missed the beginning when they said what they were doing on those stages. I am so intrigued by your vintage photos and all the background you include. The cornflower/poppy thing was something I didn't know, either.

I don't know my family history back to this event and I wish I did. It was a tragic war (as all are, really) but the loss of life and total destruction so massive. I will refer back to this one again. Thanks!

Perpetua said...

A wonderful post, Vagabonde, and I learned a lot from it. Having been in France without TV for two months I didn't know that the Tour had included these battlefield stages. What an appropriate way to mark the centenary. Thank you also for the background about the French choice of the bleuet to commemorate the fallen. The poppy, the cornflower - both are simple farmland flowers, but what a harvest that was.

As always your old postcards illustrate your post perfectly.

Amanda said...

Because of your post, I now know who won the Tour de France.
I think because so many people have been touch by the 2 World Wars, we will never forget in Europe. Not so much here. It is not easy to find bluets growing in the wild in France. It must be susceptible to chemicals I guess. Have you ever seen the movie "A very long engagement"? It is an amazing movie with Audrey Tautou. If you haven't seen it yet, you should.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...