The Tour de France is now a highly-formulated, precision-engineered sport, with months of training, nutritional tweaking and sometimes even taking performance-enhancing drugs. At an event of its scale, we see thousands of spectators, team cars kitted out with spare wheels, officials in full sponsor gear and film crews crowding the start line. It’s hard to believe that just 20 years ago riders weren’t required to wear helmets, and before that, there wasn’t much you had to do at all.
In the photograph below, you can see cyclists smoking cigarettes in the Tour de France, can you imagine Chris Froome lighting up after a tough climb on the Alpe d’Huez?
Doping in the Tour de France – the first time round.
When we think of doping in cycling, we usually think of chemicals and drugs with long, scientific names that we would never come across otherwise. These drugs, which the average man on the street probably won’t have heard of, are designed and used to increase the uptake of oxygen into red blood cells, prevent cramps, increase power output through muscle contraction or aid lung capacity growth. While these may be general uses for sports drugs, and not one hundred percent accurate, they are all used to increase performance – you get the idea.
Back in the early days of the Tour de France however, the ‘performance enhancing drugs’ of the day were chosen not because of their advantages to the human mechanics in competition, but because they simply made cycling every day for 3 weeks bearable. One of the ‘aids’ in question was alcohol, something we now don’t associate with cycling, or any sport at all in fact. Alcohol was drunk, usually in the form of wine, to dull muscular pain and other bodily aches and whatnot. The photograph below shows a rider swigging from a pouch in the 1927 Tour de France, just the ticket!
Cocaine, amphetamines and ether were also saddle-bag choices of the day. So what your average 90’s clubber might have taken for recreation in the Ibiza scene days, was being taken as a sports-drug in the 1920s. This would’ve undoubtedly made cycling a very dangerous thing to do under the influence, and it’s a genuine shock how most of thee drug-abusing cyclists made it through alive – definitely not something we recommend next time you’re out on your Sunday morning ride.