Mythologies: Main Taylor, Henri Desgrange and a Wheelbarrow Stuffed with Centimes

Was Henri Desgrange a racist? And what are we saying about Main Taylor if we imagine he was?

“Historic reality, for Menard, shouldn’t be what has occurred; it’s what we deem to have occurred.”
~ Borges, ‘Pierre Menard’

A Matter of a Race

Marshall ‘Main’ Taylor was the best observe sprinter of his time. In 1899 he was topped World Champion. That very same 12 months he gained the American nationwide championships, a title he efficiently defended the next 12 months. Having gained his first race as an novice in 1890 and turned skilled in 1896 Taylor had taken on and bought the higher of all that America may throw at him, on and off the observe. As a brand new century opened his profession had reached a peak. New peaks nonetheless lay forward of him, throughout the Atlantic, and in 1901 the 22-year-old Taylor set sail for Europe, the place a brand new crop of challengers awaited.

Chief amongst these new challengers was 25-year-old Edmond Jacquelin, the hero of French biking, who in addition to being topped World Champion in 1900 had additionally gained the French nationwide championships. He had been absent when Taylor was topped World Champion in Montréal and Taylor had been absent when he was topped World Champion in Paris. The inevitable query hung like a cloud over each riders: would the one have gained if the opposite had been current?

Major Taylor on the cover of La Vie au Grand Air in November 1898 and March 1901

‘La Vie au Grand Air’, November 1898 and March 1901. The French had been making an attempt to get Taylor to race in Europe for a number of years earlier than he lastly accepted.
La Vie au Grand Air / BnF

On the afternoon of Might 16, 1901 – Ascension Thursday, which means many had been off work that day – Taylor and Jacquelin went head-to-head throughout one of the best of three heats within the Parc des Princes. The velodrome was crammed to overflowing, 20,000 spectators braving the gray skies and the chilly air. Some had queued from seven within the morning. Not all as a result of they needed to see the race: some had been there to revenue by promoting their place within the queue to those that did.

Forward of the race L’Auto-Vélo ran a round-up of who the editors of a number of the nation’s main papers had been staking their fame on. Topping the record favouring Jacquelin was Henri Desgrange who, in addition to being the editor of L’Auto-Vélo, was additionally in command of the Parc des Princes. Amongst these agreeing with him was L’Écho de Paris’s Pierre Laffitte, the person who eight years earlier helped kick-start the ladies’s Hour report. Main these cheering for Taylor was Desgrange’s nice rival, Le Vélo’s Pierre Giffard. When all of the votes had been tallied the jury was break up, six votes favouring Jacquelin, six votes for Taylor.

In addition to being a race between two champions – an unofficial World Championships – this was a race between two kinds of sprinting: in America, they most popular to dash from the gun, whereas European riders favoured cat-and-mousing it earlier than unleashing their dash a couple of hundred metres from dwelling. In addition to all that, the race was additionally offered as being between the New World and Previous Europe. Previous bested New, Jacquelin beating Taylor two heats to nil, a wheel size sealing the win within the first, two lengths the hole within the second.

A re-match was an excessive amount of for everybody concerned to go up, from Taylor’s European agent Robert Coquelle, by way of the race promoter Henri Desgrange, the 2 riders themselves and – not least – the hundreds of followers who had been keen to pay to see the 2 champions race once more. Inside days (Might 19) L’Auto-Vélo introduced that Jacquelin and Taylor would face off once more on Might 27.

It was one other public vacation – Whit Monday – and the Parc was once more full of followers. This time Taylor rose to the event as Jacquelin wilted, 4 lengths the American’s margin of victory within the first warmth, three the hole within the second.

Major Taylor shakes Edmond Jacquelin’s hand, May 1901

Taylor reached throughout to shake the hand of Jacquelin as they ready for the beginning of the second warmth of their re-match. “I labored in a little bit of psychology after each of us had mounted and had been strapped in”, Taylor wrote in his autobiography. “I reached over and prolonged my hand to Jacquelin and he took it with an important present of shock. Beneath the circumstances he couldn’t have refused to shake palms with me. I knew from the expression on his face that he was effectively conscious of the truth that my hand-shake was an illustration of sarcasm pure and easy. My motive was to impress on Jacquelin that I used to be so constructive that I may defeat him once more that this was going to be the final warmth.”
Jules Beau / BnF

Throughout the 2 days of racing it could have been honours even for the 2 champions however for the French crowd it was a shock, their hero delivered to earth. Regardless of the French followers being crestfallen the biking press had a lot to rejoice, with post-race evaluation serving to to drive gross sales. Taylor had been overwhelmed by the chilly of their first assembly, it was claimed, it being well-known that he raced higher on heat days than chilly. Jacquelin had been defeated by his personal vanity within the second, it was steered, an extra of religion in his personal talents main him to forsake preparation for different pleasures. After which there have been those that believed the entire thing was a sham, the outcomes mounted with a purpose to arrange a 3rd assembly between the 2 to resolve the matter.

The cynics and the sceptics, they bought beneath Desgrange’s pores and skin. 4 days after the race he spoke to them, through an editorial in L’Auto-Vélo that took up greater than a 3rd of the entrance web page. “Because the Main Taylor–Jacquelin rematch,” Desgrange wrote, “the phrase ‘chiqué’ has been the order of the day. Everyone seems to be saying it.” He went by way of all the explanations the consequence couldn’t have been a put-on: the riders’ sponsors wouldn’t have stood for it; the biking federation was there to cease it; and the riders wouldn’t have risked it realizing they could possibly be banned. A number of fairly acquainted causes, actually. Desgrange closed by telling his readers that Taylor’s victory over Jacquelin “was unpleasant to me, as to everybody else, painful even exactly as a result of it overturned every thing I believed. I nonetheless imagine the consequence”.

Taylor was solely contracted to trip in Europe till the top of June, having arrived in March. He’d already raced in seven cities earlier than his first race towards Jacquelin. Turin hosted him between his two appearances within the Parc des Princes. The remainder of his tour noticed him racing on one other 11 dates. There was no third assembly with Jacquelin to settle the rating. There was, although, a gala dinner, organised by Desgrange and Le Vélo’s Pierre Giffard, celebrating Taylor’s triumphant tour.

Taylor’s 1901 European tour

Taylor’s 1901 European tour noticed him race on 22 dates in 16 cities: Berlin (April 8 and 11), Verviers (April 18), Roubaix (April 22), Antwerp (April 29), Bordeaux (Might 3), Nantes (Might 6), Orléans (Might 8), Paris (Might 16), Turin (Might 18), Paris (Might 27), Antwerp (June 1), Berlin (June 3), Copenhagen (June 5), Hanover (June 6), Leipzig (June 8), Antwerp (June 10), Toulouse (June 15), Agen (June 17), Bordeaux (June 20), Lyon (June 22), and Geneva (June 24). Robert Coquelle calculated that, total, Taylor completed first 42 occasions, victories in particular person heats included in that tally. ‘Bicycling World’ credited Taylor with 18 wins from 24 races. Each tallies agree on this: Taylor took three victories towards every defeat.
fmk (map) | ‘Bicycling World’ / SIL (report)

A Matter of Race

All of that makes for a very good story. However for some it’s not adequate. And so a further ingredient was added to the story. A further ingredient that tells us Desgrange was so upset by Taylor beating Jacquelin that he paid the American star in 10-centime cash, transported away by Taylor in a wheelbarrow. It’s a narrative that has been informed and retold in a number of biking books.

Daniel de Visé is the newest purveyor of this story, telling it in his The Comeback – Greg LeMond, the True King of American Biking, and a Legendary Tour de France, the Washington Submit veteran drawing a parallel between the racism endured by Taylor and the travails that beset LeMond’s profession:

“On American tracks, Taylor suffered grave injustices. After one victory, a white competitor lunged at Taylor and started to choke him. Reasonably than disqualify Taylor’s attacker, race judges decided that the 2 males ought to race once more: owing to his accidents, Taylor couldn’t. Officers routinely awarded Taylor second place in races he had clearly gained.

“The hostility prolonged to Europe. In 1901, Taylor paired off towards the reigning males’s world champion, Edmund Jacquelin, for a best-of-three dash contest in Paris. Taylor simply gained the primary race after which the second. The race director punished him by paying out your complete purse of $7,500 in ten-centime items. Taylor needed to rent a wheelbarrow to gather it.”

~ Daniel de Visé, The Comeback (2018)

Like one of the best biking legends, this can be a story that may change within the telling. Peter Cossins gives a mutated model of it in his Butcher, Blacksmith, Acrobat, Sweep – The Story of the First Tour de France (US title: The First Tour de France – Sixty Cyclists and Nineteen Days of Daring on the Highway to Paris). In Cossins’s vibrant and creative tackle the story Taylor was “found” by Robert Coquelle on the 1896 Madison Sq. Backyard Worldwide Six Day Race in the beginning of his skilled profession and instantly turned his eyes to European competitors:

“Taylor leapt on the probability to tackle Europe’s greatest in match dash contests that stretched to seconds reasonably than days.

“Taylor was initially pitted towards Edmond Jacquelin, the French dash champion who was reputed to have the quickest acceleration amongst all observe riders. Within the weeks constructing as much as their contest, the press lined the preparation of each riders in intricate element and marvelled at Taylor’s muscular physique. Every week earlier than the match at Desgrange’s Parc des Princes, tickets had been promoting on the black marketplace for 3 times their marketed value. Sadly, on the day, the American’s relative lack of expertise shone by way of. Shocked by Jacquelin’s phenomenal acceleration popping out of the ultimate bend, Taylor misplaced by a distance. ‘If we do that another time, the consequence gained’t be the identical,’ he promised. Ten days later, the American lived as much as his phrase, countering Jacquelin’s burst after which outpacing the Frenchman simply on the line.

“Over the following two years Taylor had continued to compete recurrently at Desgrange’s Parc des Princes, changing into the largest attract cycle sport. In the course of the 1899 season, nevertheless, the pair fell out after Taylor approached Desgrange and informed him his subsequent look on the Parc can be his final as a result of he had been supplied extra to race on the Buffalo. When Taylor returned to gather his charge, Desgrange paid for it with a sackful of 10-centime items, for which a carriage needed to be employed to move it to Taylor’s financial institution.”

~ Peter Cossins, Butcher, Blacksmith, Acrobat, Sweep (2017)

The story was popularised by Geoffrey Wheatcroft in his vibrant account of the grand boucle’s historical past, Le Tour – A Historical past of the Tour de France. For Wheatcroft – a veteran of The Spectator, The Sunday Telegraph, and The Every day Specific – the story enabled him to solid the Father of the Tour as an unenlightened bigot:

“[Desgrange] was neither a politically enlightened nor a really loveable man, as one episode confirmed. When he was operating the Parc des Princes, a observe occasion was organized pitting the French champion Edmond Jacquelin towards Main Taylor, the primary notable black bike owner (not that there have been many since). Taylor duly gained, and Desgrange was so angered by this affront to the white race that he insulted the winner in flip by paying the massive prize in 10-centime cash, in order that Taylor needed to take the cash away in a wheelbarrow. Desgrange was bigoted, he was gifted, imperious and irascible, he was at occasions an obnoxious and even insupportable personage; all the identical, he was one of many nice Frenchmen of the 20th century.”

~ Geoffrey Wheatcroft, Le Tour (2003)

Earlier than Wheatcroft, the story may be present in Les Woodland’s The Unknown Tour de France – The Many Faces of the World’s Biggest Bicycle Race. It additionally appeared in not less than one earlier providing from the prolific biking writer, A Spoke within the Wheel – A Survival Information to Biking. We’ll take the sooner telling of the story first:

“Desgrange educated first not as a journalist however as a solicitor’s clerk. Quaintly, his behavior of using to work with naked calves upset his employers, who insisted he both put on socks or depart. Desgrange, who clearly had a factor about socks, selected to go.

“I don’t know what he would have been like as a solicitor, however he made a fairly good racing bike owner, setting the primary world report for the unpaced hour: 35.325 km. After that, he grew to become a cantankerous previous man. When he assured Main Taylor $7,500 in a match towards the French favorite, Edmund Jacquelin, Desgrange naturally hoped the Frenchman would win. When, as a substitute, he misplaced, he contemptuously paid Taylor his $7,500 – an enormous sum in the beginning of the century – in ten-centime items.”

~ Les Woodland, A Spoke within the Wheel (1991)

Within the later telling Woodland declares his supply for the story:

“It’s harmful to make use of the current to guage the previous, however one other glimpse of Desgrange’s attitudes is revealed in his therapy of the primary black world champion, Main Taylor. Desgrange attracted 30,000 to his Parc des Princes observe on the sting of Paris to see the American dash towards Edmond Jacquelin, the champion of the day. The prize was $7,500, price some twenty occasions as a lot as we speak. The bicycle historian Peter Nye says that when Taylor beat the favorite in two straight rides, ‘his triumph was so upsetting to race director Henri Desgrange (…) that Desgrange paid Taylor in 10-centime items, and Taylor wanted a wheelbarrow to hold his winnings away.’”

~ Les Woodland, The Unknown Tour de France (2000, up to date and expanded 2009)

Peter Nye informed the story in his seminal Hearts of Lions – The Story of American Bicycle Racing, which paints a broad portrait of American biking historical past from the times of Mile-a-Minute Murphy by way of to the period of Greg LeMond:

“The climax of [Taylor’s 1901 European] tour got here in Paris on the Parc des Princes Velodrome the place Taylor was paired in a match race towards the reigning world champion, Edmund Jacquelin, a swarthy Frenchman well-known for his lightning acceleration. Some 30,000 folks paid to see the 2 champions compete for $7,500, a determine price 13 occasions that in as we speak’s buying energy. Taylor had studied the Frenchman’s type, and of their first race within the best-of-three sequence launched his dash off the ultimate flip similtaneously Jacquelin. As the 2 males tore down the lengthy last straight, the gang was in a frenzy. Taylor gained by 4 lengths.

“The second race began twenty minutes later: ‘I labored in a little bit of psychology after each of us had mounted and had been strapped in,’ Taylor stated. ‘I reached over and prolonged my hand to Jacquelin and he took it with a present of shock. Beneath the circumstances, he couldn’t have refused to shake palms with me.’ Taylor needed to indicate ‘Jacquelin that I used to be so constructive that I may defeat him once more that this was going to be the final warmth.’

“It was. Simply previous the end, Taylor pulled a small silk American flag from his waistband and waived it because the riders circled the observe to the viewers’s applause. His triumph was so upsetting to race director Henri Desgrange, creator of the Tour de France, that Desgrange paid Taylor in ten-centime items – cash like dimes – and Taylor wanted a wheelbarrow to hold his winnings away.”

~ Peter Nye, Hearts of Lions (1988)

Earlier than Nye, the story may be present in one other ebook about America’s biking historical past, American Bicycle Racing, written by James McCullagh and Dick Swann:

“[Taylor] is remembered overseas specifically for his sequence of sensational matches with the French champion, Edmond Jacquelin. By the way, win or lose, Mr. Taylor was assured at least $7,500, a determine arduous to estimate in as we speak’s inflated financial system, however one which we may be assured is comfortably past regardless of the present world dash champion is ready to command. Ultimately, he beat Jacquelin, two matches out of three, and so upset was Desgrange (sure, the daddy of the Tour de France), director of the observe, that he paid Taylor in 10 centime items. That is indicative of the petty (and never so petty) annoyances that the person needed to endure all by way of his life.”

~ Dick Swann and James McCullagh, American Bicycle Racing (1976)

Major Taylor holds the silver trophy he won for beating Edmond Jacquelin.

Main Taylor holds the silver trophy he gained for beating Edmond Jacquelin. The trophy was offered by an American painter, William de Lancey-Ward, seen standing to the proper of Taylor. Additional proper, on the fringe of the body, is Robert Coquelle, the supervisor of Taylor’s European tour. To the left of the picture, with the beard and strolling stick, is Maurice Martin, creator of the Bordeaux-Paris race, which Taylor had been a visitor at a couple of weeks earlier. Between Martin and Taylor is Cuthbert Waddy, supervisor of Taylor’s French namesake Edouard Taylor.
Jules Beau / BnF

These usually are not the entire locations the story has appeared, they’re simply the locations that I’m at present conversant in (minus minor books, akin to Mary Wilds’s A Forgotten Champion – The Story of Main Taylor, Quickest Bicycle Racer within the World (2002) or Marlene Targ Brill’s Marshall “Main” Taylor – World Champion Bicyclist, 1899-1901 (2007), books that are of that number of cut-and-paste biography it’s greatest to not assume an excessive amount of about.)

By way of unfold, then, this isn’t a narrative that has travelled far, not in contrast with different tall tales informed about our sport. However it’s on the market.


Making an attempt to hint the lineage of every model of this story I contacted the varied authors, the place I may. Peter Cossins, he doesn’t recall the place he bought his model. Daniel de Visé bought his model from Peter Nye’s Hearts of Lions. It’s not clear the place Geoffrey Wheatcroft bought his model however his bibliography contains Les Woodland’s Unknown Tour, which – as we’ve already seen – bought its story from Nye. Dick Swann and James McCullagh’s supply shouldn’t be identified.

A single supply, then, is accountable for almost all of the tellings of this story. And Nye’s supply? He informed me that he bought it from an article on Desgrange written by the veteran Miroir des Sports activities journalist Roger Bastide, a translated model of which was included in a now-forgotten ebook printed within the UK.

To date I’ve drawn a clean on discovering the Bastide article. Or any telling of this story earlier than him.

Belief However Confirm

When Peter Nye helped popularise this story in 1988 he trusted his supply. Quite a bit has modified because the Eighties. When Hearts of Lions was re-issued in an expanded and up to date type in 2020 the wheelbarrow story was absent.

Hearts of Lions arrived in the identical 12 months as the primary main biography of Taylor, Andrew Ritchie’s Main Taylor – The Extraordinary Profession of a Champion Bicycle Racer (later up to date and reissued as Main Taylor – The Quickest Bicycle Rider In The World). Chatting with L’Équipe in 2018 Ritchie recalled the trouble concerned in writing that ebook:

“I first came across his identify in 1975, however there was no web in these days. I researched Main Taylor for about 10 years in libraries and recorded interviews along with his daughter, Sydney Taylor Brown, who lived to 100 years previous. However it was in Paris that I found the spectacular quantity of press protection and will reconstruct the chronology and perceive his profession.”

The papers and magazines that Ritchie needed to go to Paris with a purpose to entry – Le Vélo, L’Auto, La Vie au Grand Air – they’re a click on away as we speak. Checking the element of a narrative towards modern sources, it’s not the onerous job it was thirty years in the past. We even have a bigger canon of biking books to consult with. They usually’re price referring to not only for what they inform us, but additionally for the issues they don’t inform.

Ritchie’s biography of Taylor doesn’t include the wheelbarrow story. Not one of the main biographies of the person which have arrived since include the wheelbarrow story. Not Todd Balf’s Main – A Black Athlete, a White Period, and the Struggle to Be the World’s Quickest Human Being (2009). Not Conrad and Terry Kerber’s Main Taylor – The Inspiring Story of a Black Bicycle owner and the Males who Helped Him Obtain Worldwide Fame (2014). Not Michael Kranish’s The World’s Quickest Man – The Extraordinary Lifetime of Bicycle owner Main Taylor, America’s First Black Sports activities Hero (2019). Nor does the story seem in Taylor’s autobiography, The Quickest Bicycle Rider within the World – The Story of a Coloured Boy’s Indomitable Braveness and Success In opposition to Nice Odds (1928).

Difficult the wheelbarrow story, it’s not about saying that Peter Nye bought it fallacious. Personally, I feel it was okay for him to depend on Roger Bastide then. However as we speak, with so many extra assets accessible to us, we should be keen to problem previous variations of biking’s historical past. In the present day, with a larger understanding of how a lot of biking historical past is hand-me-down nonsense, there’s a larger obligation upon us to problem previous variations of it, even when these previous variations may be traced again to males like Roger Bastide. Perhaps particularly as a result of previous variations may be traced again to males like Roger Bastide.

Tom Isitt is an writer who has spent plenty of time in newspaper archives researching biking historical past from Desgrange’s period, for his ebook Driving within the Zone Rouge: The Tour of the Battlefields 1919 – Biking’s Hardest-Ever Stage Race (2019). That have led him to write down an article for Rouleur journal in 2017, ‘Fact and Lies’, by which he challenged a number of the hand-me-down nonsense repeated in too many biking books in recent times, most notably the falsehoods surrounding the primary look of the Col du Tourmalet within the Tour, falsehoods which have turn out to be established reality. I requested him for his ideas on trusting biking journalism and the necessity to confirm the information:

“Within the early days of motorcycle racing journalists hardly ever noticed a lot of the race, and sometimes had little thought of what was taking place, a lot of their reporting was obscure, speculative, and written to entertain. Which was nice for the reader, good for circulation figures, however horrible for future historians on the lookout for information and perception. When TV arrived print journalists had been unable merely to make stuff up, so the type of journalism modified to replicate that. However something written within the pre-TV age (and rather a lot since) must be handled with an excessive amount of warning from an historic perspective.

“Do trendy authors of biking historical past actually should confirm each element in each story? Properly they need to, in the event that they declare to be historians, however they don’t as a result of it’s simply too time-consuming and due to this fact not cost-effective. Keep in mind that biking historical past is written by biking journalists, not historians, so that they don’t essentially have the identical give attention to absolute reality. Nor can they afford to spend two years researching and writing a ebook which will solely make them £20,000. To allow them to’t spend months verifying the identical story a dozen different authors didn’t confirm, they simply repeat it. And the extra it will get repeated, the extra folks imagine it.”


For some, the important thing ingredient on this story isn’t the wheelbarrow filled with centimes. It’s the numbers. Right here’s Mark Johnson in Spitting within the Soup – Contained in the Soiled Recreation of Doping in Sports activities:

“In 1901 Taylor raced in 16 European cities for $5,000, a sum 3,000 % larger than most African People earned in a 12 months. The 23-year-old killed it in Europe, profitable 42 races throughout his tour. The spotlight got here when Taylor raced French world champion Edmond Jacquelin on the Parc des Princes Velodrome in Paris. Future Tour de France impresario Henri Desgrange promoted the occasion, and 30,000 spectators watched their French hero slug it out towards the American sensation for a whopping $7,500 pot.”

~ Mark Johnson, Spitting within the Soup (2016)

Let’s take a look at a few of these numbers.

Writing concerning the drawn out technique of getting Main Taylor to comply with go to Europe, Robert Coquelle wrote of how he lastly supplied the American a contract price 35,000 francs, with winnings, share of gate receipts and look charges at particular person velodromes all on high of that. Taylor accepted the provide however required that the contract charge be paid prematurely. Coquelle tells us he wired $7,000 to Taylor’s financial institution.

That’s an alternate price of 5 francs to the greenback, which is rounded down, the precise price on the time being a hard and fast 5.18 francs. If we stick, for comfort, with spherical numbers, then the $7,500 that a number of variations of the story say Desgrange paid to Taylor in 10-centime cash, that might have amounted to 37,500 francs. Fill a contemporary wheelbarrow, able to carrying a 3 cubic-feet load, with neatly stacked rolls of 10-centime cash and also you’d match about 5,000 francs. You would possibly get a bit extra for those who chucked the cash in free, and also you’d get extra nonetheless if the cash had been in baggage. However, whichever approach you fill the wheelbarrow, it’s clear that one wouldn’t be sufficient.

At this level it’s a must to applaud whoever Peter Cossins bought his model of the story from (Pierre Chany’s aptly titled Fabuleuse Histoire du Cyclisme (1975) seems to report a equally bastardised model of the story) as a result of whoever it was they realised that you just’d want an entire fleet of wheelbarrows and claimed as a substitute that Taylor carried the cash away in a carriage. Doing the mathematics to work that out, nevertheless, should have given Cossins’ supply an actual headache, that’s the kindest strategy to clarify how they bought just about every thing else within the story so fallacious.

The $7,500, I ought to let you know, doesn’t seem in modern reporting. Nor does it seem in Taylor’s autobiography. Or any of the most important biographies of the person. One ought to most likely notice the similarity within the contract charge Coquelle stated he paid to Taylor and the prize cash the legend has it that Desgrange paid the American champion. It could be not more than a coincidence. Or it could be a case of two tales crashing collectively. Actually for those who take a look at Taylor’s autobiography this appears a probable situation, it reporting typical purses of $500 and the most important purse Taylor discloses being $1,000, fairly a methods off the legend’s $7,500.

A associated quantity is the 30,000 spectators who’re in attendance in a number of variations of this story. Taylor’s autobiography claims that “Upwards of thirty thousand keen, impatient bicycle race fans greeted Jacquelin and I with a storm of applause as we got here out to face the starter.” However whereas L’Auto-Vélo didn’t give a determine for attendance on the Whit Monday race, it did say that the gang was about as massive as for the sooner Ascension Thursday assembly, which it and different papers had put at 20,000, a number of papers claiming that was a report for the Parc des Princes.

Parc des Princes, Paris

A postcard exhibiting the doorway to the Parc des Princes, and an commercial exhibiting the price of admission to the totally different components of the velodrome: 5 and 7 francs for the principle areas of the Parc, one franc, two francs, and three francs for the remainder of the velodrome. Pierre Giffard’s ‘Le Vélo’ estimated the proceeds from the primary race to have been 45,000 francs.

Overlook the extent of forethought we’re being requested to imagine Desgrange needed to put into this – he clearly didn’t simply occur to have the thick finish of 400,000 10-centime cash sitting across the place – however contemplate as a substitute this: Taylor was cautious sufficient to demand that Coquelle paid his contract prematurely, would he actually be so careless as to simply accept anybody telling him {that a} wheelbarrow filled with 10-centime cash added as much as the equal of $7,500? Wouldn’t it have been simpler for him to have demanded in his contract with Desgrange that, like Coquelle earlier than him, the cash must be wired to Taylor’s financial institution?

These questions, the purpose of them is that the numbers on this story merely don’t add up. When you begin taking a look at them utilizing a number of the data available to us as we speak, they clang like alarm bells.

Bigotry and Racism

Desgrange was imperious and Desgrange was irascible, few who know something concerning the Father of the Tour would disagree with these claims made by Geoffrey Wheatcroft. Most, the truth is, would add that Desgrange was boastful and that Desgrange was capricious too. However was Desgrange a bigot, was Desgrange actually so partial towards his compatriots that he was illiberal of others?

The accusations towards him don’t cease at bigotry, Wheatcroft went on to roughly name the person a racist. And whereas he stopped in need of evaluating him to the Nazis, Wheatcroft did examine a Nazi to Desgrange:

“After Germany was overwhelmed at ice hockey by a staff from the satellite tv for pc Czech rump state, Himmler complained that inferior races shouldn’t be given such alternatives to humiliate their betters, reasonably as Desgrange had felt about Main Taylor, the black bike owner.”

Such claims, after they seem in books put out by venerable publishers like Simon & Schuster, they’ve penalties. They get repeated on-line by others even much less thinking about checking their veracity, akin to Seth Davidson, a San Francisco-based lawyer who constructed up one thing of a following in biking circles writing about using within the South Bay space. He informed me he thought he bought the story from Taylor’s autobiography, the place it doesn’t seem. Wherever he bought it, when he informed it he managed to up the ante by having Taylor paid in pennies, in addition to declaring that Desgrange was “a famous racist”:

“The best American bike racer of all time, and one of many biggest athletes ever, Main Taylor, was a black man. Just about each race he ever began started and ended with racial epithets, threats of violence, and race hatred of the worst form.

“Biking’s hatred of black folks was international. When Taylor went to Europe and destroyed one of the best observe racers on the earth on their dwelling turf, founding father of the Tour de France Henri Desgrange, a famous racist, was so incensed that he refused to pay Taylor’s prize cash in banknotes and insisted that he be paid in one-centime items.”

~ Seth Davidson, ‘USA Biking’s Black Eye’ (2013)

What reality is there in these claims of bigotry and racism? Gareth Cartman is somebody who has spent plenty of time researching Desgrange’s period, for his novel We Rode All Day, which supplied a fictionalised historical past of the 1919 Tour. I requested him if he thought Desgrange was a bigot:

“Take Henri Desgrange out of context and sure, by trendy requirements, he can be a bigot. Of his time although, he was each a progressive and a nationalist. His obsession with athleticism was born out of the 1871 siege of Paris and the perceived fecklessness of his compatriots who ‘rolled over for the Boche’.

“For examples of athletic prowess, he would cite People Zimmerman and Taylor, and in later years, whereas the Belgian riders had been mopping up successive Excursions, he welcomed their victories.

“Whereas he despised Philippe Thys (Thys negotiated arduous on bonus and look cash), he applauded his bodily attributes. Of Léon Scieur, winner in ‘21, he noticed a ‘wonderful Belgian ace’ and nicknamed him the Locomotive. Of Firmin Lambot, winner in each ‘19 and ‘22, he noticed a tenacious rider who ‘judged the Tour to perfection’ – in contrast to for example French rider Jean Alavoine who got here into the race chubby and spent 20 minutes sleeping in a ditch on the primary stage. Feckless.

“These overseas riders represented bodily perfection, and this was Desgrange’s obsession, and this transcended borders – and as we’ve seen with Taylor – race.”

Maybe the strongest proof that Desgrange wasn’t a racist is that he was crucial of racism. In 1903, when the American biking authorities as soon as extra sought to discover a strategy to ban Taylor and different Black riders, Desgrange wrote in L’Auto of their defence.

An April 1903 column penned by Henri Desgrange and speaking out against racism

This Henri Desgrange penned column appeared in ‘L’Auto’ in April 1903. In early 2021 it was posted on social media by David Gunel, with the Main Taylor Affiliation selecting it up and including a translation.
L’Auto / BnF

“Isn’t it saddening to assume that the easy probability of start can remove a person from strong competitors,” he wrote, “that the People, when now we have lengthy been satisfied that sport has no nation or race, nonetheless contemplate themselves dishonoured by the presence beside them in races of muscle tissues and minds pretty much as good as theirs, as a result of doesn’t the identical blood course by way of all veins?”

Earlier within the article Desgrange had turned the problem on its head: “If we solely noticed the factor by way of the fallacious finish of the spyglass, we may enjoyment of an answer that would thrust onto the European continent a number of dozen emulators of Main Taylor and thereby give our races extra enchantment.” He closed by popping out clearly towards racism: “In France our palms are outstretched to welcome a very good effort wherever it comes from. We don’t distinguish between Negroes and whites, and victory seems simply as spectacular to us if gained by a Jacquelin as by an Ellegaard or a Main Taylor.”

When Woody Headspeth arrived in France in 1903 he was welcomed within the pages of L’Auto. His American unpaced Hour report was famous and it was hoped that he would set a world report whereas in Paris. The unpaced Hour report, as everyone knows, is the one legendarily created by Desgrange himself and L’Auto may at occasions be a bit proprietorial about it. Ibron Germain was one other rider who needed to depart America due to the foundations towards Black riders. Like Headspeth he grew to become an everyday in observe races organised by Desgrange within the Parc des Princes or, later, the Vélodrome d’Hiver. Desgrange didn’t simply discuss the discuss, he backed his phrases with deeds.

Woody Hedspeth and Ibron Germain

Woody Headspeth (l) and Ibron Germain (r) had been two of the People who relocated to Europe. Early of their European years they joined the Mauritian rider Hippolyte Figaro (aka Vendredi), who was a veteran of Paris-Roubaix and in addition rode on the observe. Later they had been joined by the Tunisian rider Ali Neffati, a Tour de France veteran who was invited to take part in observe races Desgrange organised within the Vel d’Hiv in the course of the struggle.
Jules Beau / BnF

Print the Legend

Biking historical past is stuffed with tales that aren’t true. Take the dying of Arthur Linton, which began out with him dying ten years earlier than he shared victory within the Bordeaux-Paris race and finally morphed into him dying in the course of the Tour. Or contemplate Marie Marvingt shadow-riding the 1908 Tour quarter-hour behind the boys and ending with an elapsed time that might have put her on the rostrum. There’s no modern proof for that and the story might owe its origins to nothing greater than Marvingt as soon as noting that she’d completed a tour of France on her bicycle. Or take a look at the largest fable of the second, the blessèd Gino Bartali, hero of the Holocaust. Irrespective of that this story has been debunked by a scholar of the Shoah in Italy, with new cash flowing into the game from Israel few wish to admit it’s based mostly on a misunderstanding.

Some myths, regardless of having little or no reality in them, they will nonetheless converse a bigger reality to us. When speaking to Lynne Tolman of the Main Taylor Affiliation about this story – she herself has sought to seek out the reality of it – she in contrast it to the legend that grew up round American servicemen getting back from the Vietnam struggle being spat upon by anti-war protestors.

That story has been debunked by the sociology professor Jerry Lembcke, who – whereas acknowledging the problem of proving a unfavourable, the problem of claiming one thing didn’t occur – factors to the shortage of proof from the time supporting the claims and the implausible parts they include. Why then do the spitting tales persist, even making it into movies like Rambo? Lembcke gives a number of arguments, certainly one of which is that nobody needs to query the authority of these telling them. The tales additionally converse to the assumption that it was the anti-war protestors who triggered the struggle in Vietnam to be misplaced. They’re not true however they converse to a bigger reality, or not less than a broadly accepted perception.

Does the wheelbarrow story converse to a bigger reality, aside from the assumption held by some that Desgrange was a bigot and a racist? Tolman thinks it does. “As with the post-Vietnam spitting tales,” she informed me, “the anecdote suits a story that individuals wish to inform and wish to hear. Whereas we discover no proof that the story itself is factual, it conveys a bigger reality concerning the humiliating therapy {that a} Black athlete was topic to. However as you level out, it’s not fairly truthful to throw Desgrange beneath the bus.”

Acknowledging that Taylor suffered humiliating therapy due to racism is central to nearly all of the tales we inform about him as we speak. However, by and huge, we paint a considerably simplified image: we notice that Taylor was handled horrifically in America due to the color of his pores and skin however we propose that wherever he went in Europe he was greeted with open arms. The fact is that even in Europe Main Taylor was subjected to racism. There was the pernicious type of ‘on a regular basis racism’, of without end being referred to by the color of his pores and skin – the identical othering that Josephine Baker endured 30 years later whilst she grew to become the darling of Paris – however there was additionally the outright racism of those that wouldn’t serve Blacks. And there’s proof that, whilst he was welcomed by the French, in some locations Taylor was turned away. Robert Coquelle recalled an incident shortly after Taylor’s arrival in France when, simply twenty-four hours after registering in a single resort, the supervisor ordered him to go away, crying out “No Blacks within the resort! No Blacks!”

A Dangerous Sport

To information him by way of a world that was set towards him, Taylor relied on an ethical compass. He was a Christian and revered the Sabbath, that’s why the Jacquelin races had been on a Thursday and a Monday. He prevented alcohol and different intoxicants. On the observe, whereas gamesmanship was a part of his tactical armoury – take a look at the handshake with Jacquelin – Taylor didn’t approve of unsportsmanlike conduct.

There was an incident involving Jacquelin, on the finish of their first head-to-head on Might 16. After beating Taylor the French champion had circuited the Parc des Princes thumbing his nostril, an unsporting gesture for which he was a lot criticised within the press and for which he apologised within the pages of L’Auto-Vélo on Might 20. “I had by no means earlier than suffered such humiliation as Jacquelin’s insult triggered me,” Taylor wrote in his autobiography. “I used to be damage to the fast by his unsportsmanlike conduct and resolved then and there that I might not return dwelling till I had worn out his insult.” Taylor went on to clarify how Jacquelin’s insult fuelled him within the second and last warmth of their re-match: “I kicked away from him – the resentment I bore in the direction of Jacquelin for the insult he supplied me serving to tempo me as I had by no means been paced earlier than.”

A short time later in one other race, in Copenhagen towards the Danish champion Thorvald Ellegaard, the match went to the third warmth, the Dane having gained the primary and the American the second. As they barrelled towards the road within the decider Taylor’s rear tyre blew and he went down. “Since my ft had been strapped to the pedals”, Taylor recalled in his autobiography, “I couldn’t free myself and needed to be content material with elevating myself on one elbow and watching the massive Dane dash like mad for the tape. The thought went by way of my thoughts in the mean time that Ellegaard had displayed a really poor model of sportsmanship beneath the circumstances. Proper then and there a sense sprang up between us and it continued to develop increasingly more bitter as time went on.”

Taylor thought that Ellegaard shouldn’t have taken benefit of his dangerous luck – this was a long time earlier than street racing developed comparable qualms about attacking when a rival suffered a mishap – and that the ultimate warmth ought to have been rerun. As a substitute, a revenge match was organized and a fortnight later the 2 once more met, this time in Agen, France. “It proved to be the toughest match race that I ever competed in,” Taylor later recalled, the match once more going to the third warmth. “It was a grudge struggle,” wrote Taylor, “and there was no pleasant hand-shaking both earlier than or after our heats on this observe.” It was a close-run factor within the deciding warmth however Taylor prevailed.

Taylor endured so much in his racing profession however he didn’t endure it meekly. He spoke out about the way in which he was handled. And he settled his scores. This was a person who needed to struggle for every thing he gained. He didn’t simply should be higher than the next-best rider in America, he needed to be higher than all of his rivals mixed for that was the way in which they raced towards him, as a mix. Repeatedly the American authorities tried to cease Taylor from racing, again and again Taylor challenged their authority. This was a person with a core steeled by adversity, a core steeled by the racism he needed to endure each day. This was not a person simply cowed.

And but right here we’re, requested to imagine that Taylor’s response to Desgrange paying him in 10-centime cash was to wheel them away in a barrow earlier than returning to Desgrange repeatedly when he raced in Europe in subsequent years, maybe most notably on Bastille Day 1903 – when the riders within the first Tour de France had been on the penultimate leg of their journey, racing between Bordeaux and Nantes – and 15,000 spectators crammed the Parc des Princes to look at Taylor, Jacquelin and the Dutch nationwide champion Harrie Meyers race for a handbag of 4,000 francs.

Regardless of the bigger reality the wheelbarrow story tells of the racism endured by Taylor in Europe, this can be a story that’s unnecessarily unkind to Desgrange, who regardless of all his faults was progressive and doesn’t should be solid as a bigot or a racist. However this story isn’t any much less unkind to Taylor too, suggesting because it does that he simply meekly accepted the insult. This was a person who stood up for himself, and in so doing has left a legacy which stands up for others as we speak. We must be cautious of taking that away from him cheaply.

Major Taylor portrait

“No certainly one of shade was in a position to provide me recommendation gained by way of expertise as I began up the ladder to success. In a phrase I used to be a pioneer, and due to this fact needed to blaze my very own path.”
Jules Beau / BnF


Journalist specialized in online marketing as Social Media Manager. I help professionals and companies to become more Internet and online reputation, which allows to give life to the Social Media Strategies defined for the Company, and thus immortalize brands, products and services. I have participated as an exhibitor in various forums nationally and internationally, I am the author of several articles in digital magazines and Blogs.

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