The cyclists of the 1926 Tour de France roll down the Champs-Elysées before taking a train from the Gare de Lyon for Evian where the longest ever Tour began. Only 41 would finish all 17 stages (5,745 km).

Hors Course stage 6: Cycling history and safe havens on the Tour’s longest stage

Stage 6 is the longest of the 2022 Tour de France, so what better day than this to delve into some local and cycling history?

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As heard on the Tour Daily podcast, José Been is taking us off the race route for some local historical and cultural context for each stage, from Denmark all the way to Paris.

After just two days we briefly leave France again to start the stage in Belgium. Binche is the home town of Wanty, the sponsor of the Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux. It’s the second time the Tour de France has visited this town in Wallonia. In 2019 it also hosted the start of the stage later won by Julian Alaphilippe in Epernay. It’s also the namesake of the last race of the Belgian road season: Binche-Chimay-Binche. In the town of Chimay halfway into the race, there’s an intermediate sprint where the rider who crosses the line first gets his body weight in Chimay abbey beer. 

Danny van Poppel rides to victory in Binche-Chimay-Binche 2021, a home race for his team’s title sponsor Wanty.

At 220 kilometres this is the longest stage of this year’s Tour de France. Only three stages are longer than 200 kilometres with stages 2 and 15 being just 202.5 kilometres each. It’s a response to the trend to make stages shorter and shorter. One of the reasons behind this is extended television coverage from start to finish. I know there are people who love a flat 237-kilometre-long stage from start to finish but ASO wants to cater to a younger public, and making the broadcast shorter and more dynamic is a means of doing so. 

The longest Tour de France ever was in 1926. Winner Lucien Buysse from Belgium needed 248 hours and 44 minutes for the 5,745 kilometres through France. They had 17 stages that year. 126 riders started in Evian-les-Bains of which 41 made it all the way to Paris. 

Lucien Buysse rides through a Pyrenean storm on his way to victory on stage 10 (326 km) of the 1926 Tour de France, the longest ever edition at a terrifying 5,745 kilometres. The Belgian won overall by 1h22, the fastest of only 41 riders to reach Paris out of 126 starters, while only 26 seconds separated second and third.

Gradually the Tour got shorter and shorter. The last Tour de France of over 4,000 kilometres was in 1987. This century the total distance is usually between 3,300 and 3,650 kilometres, and this year we are on the low side with just 3,328 in total. This is the shortest edition since 2002 which was 52 kilometres shorter.

On the route we find the city of Sedan. This has nothing to do with the car type, which is named after a chair or windowed cabin for one person, carried by at least two porters in front and behind, using wooden rails that pass through brackets on the sides of the chair. The shape of the car resembles that of the chair and rails.

The French city of Sedan is also not named after the eleven Sedans in the USA, nor the one in Australia. It is most likely the other way around because Sedan is a city that was a safe haven for protestant refugees in the 16th century, like the United States were for European religious refugees. 

Sedan was an independent Protestant state in the Catholic Kingdom of France. From the reign of king Francis I in 1515, protestants following the teachings of John Calvin were fiercely persecuted. This continued well into the 16th century and led to massacres where Royal troops killed Protestant worshippers. The massacre of Wassy, not far from Sedan, was the start of the French Wars of Religion. 

Completed in 1530 after over 100 years of construction, the imposing castle of Sedan has seen a lot of history.

There were wars raging everywhere in France and the small state of Sedan was not a priority for the French King. For years it blossomed as an independent state where protestants were safe from persecution. In 1642 the state lost its independence after its ruler Fréderic Maurice plotted to overthrow Cardinal Richelieu, the Prime Minister of France.

Nowadays Sedan is a relatively quiet provincial town of about 16,000, dominated by a rather impressive castle which is one of the biggest in Europe. Building started in 1424 and was finally completed in 1530. It has seven floors, walls that are seven metres in thickness, and measures 35,000 square meters or nearly 38,000 square feet. It has served as a garrison of the French army, Napoleonic troops and a German hospital in World War 1 before the French army eventually gave it back to the French state in 1962. It’s now a museum and a hotel.

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