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The Inaugural Bordeaux – Paris
The classic Bordeaux – Paris race was conceived as Europe was enjoying a rare period of peace and prosperity. The French were experiencing the Belle Epoque and Britain revelled in the Victorian period of technological advances and engineering marvels. It was 1891 when the first race was held between France’s most illustrious population centres. The race featured a never-to-be-repeated clean sweep of the podium places by English riders. First man home was George Pilkington Mills who had already broken the Lands End to John O’Groats record five years previously at the youthful age of 18. One of the keys to Mills’ success was his rapid turnaround at the checkpoints. At Angouleme, all preparations had been made to receive the riders in proper fashion including hot baths, comfortable beds and a full meal. Mills astounded the locals by ignoring the comforts on offer and was reported to stop “for several moments at most”. The early editions featured pacing by other cyclists on bicycles or tandems and it was as he exited Angouleme that Mills picked up his pacer, Lewis Stroud, another champion cyclist.
Upon reaching Tours after 215 miles and more than 12 hours on the road, Mills ate raw meat and a “specially prepared stimulant”. By the finish Mills was more than an hour ahead of second place rider Holbein, completing the event in 26 hours and 36 minutes. He received a rapturous welcome from the assembled crowd and was escorted in triumph to his hotel. After a victory for Welshman Arthur Linton in 1896, it would be more than 60 years until Britain’s next triumph in the most gruelling of races.
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