Death of Tom Simpson

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Death of Tom Simpson
Tom Simpson memorial, Mont Ventoux, 2 May 2009.jpg
The memorial to Simpson
Date 13 July 1967 (1967-07-13)
Location Mont Ventoux, Provence, France
Deaths Tom Simpson

Tom Simpson (30 November 1937–13 July 1967) was a British professional cyclist, one of Britain's most successful of all-time.[1] At the time of the 1967 Tour de France, he was the undisputed leader of the British team. In the 13th stage of that race, he collapsed and died during the ascent of Mont Ventoux.

Simpson fell ill with diarrhoea during the Tour's tenth stage. He was under pressure from his personal manager to continue in the race, though members of his team encouraged him to quit. Near the summit of Mont Ventoux, Simpson fell off of his bike but was able to get back on it. After riding a short distance further, he collapsed. He was pronounced dead after being airlifted to a hospital. The post-mortem examination found that he had taken amphetamine and alcohol, a diuretic combination which proved fatal when combined with the heat, the hard climb of the Ventoux and the stomach complaint.

Approximately 5,000 people came to Simpson's funeral service. A memorial stands close to the spot where he died and has become a pilgrimage for many cyclists. At the Harworth and Bircotes Sports and Social Club, there is a museum dedicated to Simpson's memory.

Background[edit]

Going into the 1967 Tour de France, Simpson was determined to make an impact. He was in his eighth year as a professional cyclist and wanted to earn as much money as possible before retiring. He was optimistic that he could finish high in the general classification, securing larger appearance fees from post-Tour criteriums.[2][3][4] His plan was to either finish in the top three or wear the leader's yellow jersey; he had targeted three key stages, one of which included the 13th over Mont Ventoux, riding safe until the race reached the mountains.[5][6][7][8] The 1967 Tour was contested by national teams rather than trade teams.[n 1] Simpson was the undisputed leader of the British team, one of the weakest in the race. Four team members had experience in top-level racing and six were riding the Tour for the first time.[10][11][12][13] This could have been seen as a handicap, but Simpson was not guaranteed the leadership of his trade team, Peugeot-BP-Michelin, and would have to compete with Frenchman Roger Pingeon – the winner of the 1967 Tour.[14]

After the first week, Simpson lay in sixth place overall, leading the favourites.[15][16] As the race passed through the Alps, he fell ill on stage ten through the Col du Galibier pass, with diarrhoea and stomach pains. He was not able to eat and rode on reserves, finishing in 16th place and dropping to seventh overall, with his rivals ahead.[16][17] On the evening of 12 July 1967 on stage 12 his personal manager, Daniel Dousset, put Simpson under pressure to produce good results.[18][14][19] His friend and teammate on the British team, Vin Denson, advised Simpson to limit his losses and settle with what he had;[20] his Peugeot manager, Gaston Plaud, was in Marseille and asked Simpson to quit the race, even though he had no authority.[21][13]

Death[edit]

The limestone peaked Mont Ventoux, where Simpson died, aged 29, on the 13th stage of the 1967 Tour de France.

Stage 13 (13 July 1967) measured 211.5 km (131.4 mi); it started in Marseille, went over the 1,910 m (6,270 ft)-high Mont Ventoux, the "Giant of Provence", before finishing in Carpentras.[15][22] At the start of the stage, the temperature was possibly as high as 45 °C (113 °F);[22] the Tour doctor, Pierre Dumas, took a stroll at dawn. Near his hotel, the Noaille at Cannebière, he met other race followers at 6:30 am. "If the riders take something [drugs] today, we'll have a death on our hands", he said.[19][23] At the start line, a journalist noticed Simpson looked tired and ask him if the heat was the problem. Simpson replied, "No, it's not the heat, it's the Tour."[24]

As the race reached lower slopes of Mont Ventoux, Simpson – still suffering with illness – was seen ingesting a number of pills with brandy.[25][26][n 2] As the race closed in on the summit of Ventoux, the peloton began to fracture, and for a while, Simpson managed to stay in the front group of elite riders. He then slipped back to a group of chasers around one minute behind before he began to lose control of his bike and zig-zag across the road.[31][n 3] His team manager, Alec Taylor, feared for Simpson less for the way he was going up the mountain than for the way he would go down the other side.[n 4]

One kilometre from the summit, Simpson fell off his bike. Taylor and the team mechanic, Harry Hall, then arrived in the team car to help him. Hall tried to persuade Simpson to stop when he fell, saying, "Come on Tom, that's it, that's your Tour finished." But Simpson said he wanted to go on. Taylor was informed and said, "If Tom, wants to go on, he goes." Noticing that his toe straps were still undone, Simpson said, "Me straps, Harry, me straps!" They got him on his bike and pushed him off.[33] Simpson's last words, as remembered by Hall, were 'On, on, on.' The words 'Put me back on my bike!' were invented by Sid Saltmarsh, covering the event for The Sun and Cycling – now Cycling Weekly. Saltmarsh was not there at the time and was in a reception black-spot for live accounts on Radio Tour.[33][34][35] Simpson managed to ride a further 500 yards (460 m) before he began to wobble. He was held upright by three spectators who then helped him to the ground on side of the road. He was unconscious with his hands locked to the handlebars. Hall shouted for the other mechanic, Ken Ryall, to pry them loose and the pair laid the lifeless Simpson beside the road. Hall and a nurse from the Tour's medical team took turns giving Simpson mouth-to-mouth resuscitation before Dumas came with an oxygen mask.[36][37][38]

Around 40 minutes after his collapse, a police helicopter took Simpson to a hospital in nearby Avignon,[37][39][13][40] where he was pronounced dead at 5:40 p.m.[37][13] Dumas refused to sign a burial certificate and a poisons expert from Marseille was commissioned to conduct an autopsy.[40][41] Two empty tubes of amphetamines and a half-full tube were found in the rear pocket of his racing jersey, one of which was labelled Tonedron.[42] The British team was called in for questioning and their baggage was searched. Two of the Belgian soigneurs – who looked after riders on the British team including Simpson – locked themselves in their room, got drunk and did not come out.[43]

On the next racing day the other riders were reluctant to continue racing and asked the organisers for a postponement.[44] French rider Jean Stablinski proposed instead that the race should go on but that one of the British riders, all wearing black armbands, would be allowed to win the stage. This honour went to Barry Hoban. This was later a subject of argument as it was widely believed that the race winner should have been Denson, Simpson's other teammate and close friend.[45][46][47][15]

Aftermath[edit]

Tommy Simpson rode to his death in the Tour de France so doped that he did not know he had reached the limit of his endurance. He died in the saddle, slowly asphyxiated by intense effort in a heatwave after taking methylamphetamine drugs and alcoholic stimulants.

Daily Mail reporter, J. L. Manning, broke the news that drugs were in involved in Simpson's death, 31 July 1967[48]

There was no inquest in either Britain or France. Then on 31 July 1967, British reporter, J. L. Manning of the Daily Mail, broke the news. Manning was a serious and well-respected journalist. His exposure, the first time a formal connection had been made between drugs and Simpson's death, set off a wave of similar reporting in Britain and elsewhere.[48] French authorities confirmed that Simpson had traces of amphetamine in his body, impairing his judgement and allowing him to push his body beyond its limit.[35][49][50] The official cause of death was heart failure due to dehydration and heat exhaustion, with the addition of drugs a contributing factor.[51] His death was a factor in the introduction of mandatory testing for performance-enhancing drugs within cycling.[52][53]

Funeral[edit]

Simpson was buried in Harworth, Nottinghamshire, after a service at the 12th-century church in the village. An estimated 5,000 mourners attended the ceremony, including Peugeot teammate Eddy Merckx, who stood outside in the rain like the other mourners to hear the service by loudspeaker.[54][34][55] The epitaph on Simpson's gravestone reads, "His body ached, his legs grew tired, but still he would not give in", taken from a card left for him by his brother, Harry, following his death.[56]

Memorials[edit]

The granite memorial to which stands on the spot Simpson died on Mont Ventoux has become a pilgrimage for many cyclists.

A granite memorial to Simpson stands on the spot where he collapsed and died on Ventoux, one kilometre east of the summit, with the words "Olympic medallist, world champion, British sporting ambassador."[57][58] Cycling opened a subscription fund in the week following his death, raising around £1,500. It was unveiled in 1968 by Simpson's wife Helen, Hoban and the British team manager Alec Taylor. It was inspired by the memorial to motorcycle racer Jimmie Guthrie, who crash and died at Guthrie's Memorial, Isle of Man, in 1937.[59] Over the years, Simpson's memorial slowly fell into disrepair and a new plinth was constructed, secured into the mountainside with steel rods.[60] On the 30th anniversary of Simpson's death, his daughters Joanne and Jane added a plaque that reads, "There is no mountain too high."[34] Concrete steps from the roadside to the memorial were opened on the 40th anniversary.[61] The memorial has become a pilgrimage to cyclists, who pass the memorial and frequently leave tributes such as drinking bottles and caps.[62] In nearby Bédoin, there is a plaque in the square, placed by journalists following the 1967 Tour.[63]

At the Harworth and Bircotes Sports and Social Club, there is a museum dedicated to Simpson, opened by riders Denson, Hoban, Arthur Metcalfe and Lucien Van Impe on 12 August 2001.[64] The main display includes the bicycle he used to win the 1967 Paris–Nice and the jersey, gloves and shorts he wore on the day of his death.[65][66] A memorial outside the club – a replica of the one at Ventoux – was erected in 1997 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of his death.[66] In his adopted hometown of Ghent there is a bust of Simpson in the Sportpaleis (Sport Palace).[67]

British rider David Millar won stage 12 of the 2012 Tour de France on the 45th anniversary of Simpson's death and, having previously been banned from cycling for using performance-enhancing drugs himself, paid tribute to Simpson and reinforced the importance of learning from his – and Simpson's – mistakes.[68]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The national team format was used in 1967 Tour de France after tour organiser Félix Lévitan believed the team sponsors were behind the riders strike in the previous year's Tour.[9]
  2. ^ Alcohol was used as a stimulant and to dull pain.[27] At the time, Tour organisers limited each rider to four bottles (bidons) of water (about two litres), two on the bike and two more given at feeding stations – the effects of dehydration being poorly understood. During races, riders raided roadside bars for drinks and filled their bottles from fountains.[28][29][22][30]
  3. ^ Zig-zagging on an ascent is way of lessening the gradient.
  4. ^ The rushing air would revive him but Taylor feared that Simpson, whom he described as a madcap descender, would overdo things and crash.[32]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Birnie, Lionel (22 January 2013). "The all-time list of British pro winners". Cycling Weekly (London: IPC Media). Retrieved 11 February 2013. 
  2. ^ Watts 2011, 2 minutes in.
  3. ^ Sidwells 2000, pp. 237–238.
  4. ^ Fotheringham 2007, pp. 130–131.
  5. ^ Sidwells 2000, p. 239.
  6. ^ Fotheringham 2007, p. 28–29.
  7. ^ Laurence 2005, 5 minutes in.
  8. ^ McGann & McGann 2008, pp. 27–28.
  9. ^ McGann & McGann 2008, p. 24.
  10. ^ Sidwells 2000, p. 238.
  11. ^ Fotheringham 2007, p. 28.
  12. ^ Mulholland, Owen. "Tom Simpson". BikeRaceInfo. Cherokee Village, AR: McGann Publishing. Retrieved 10 May 2013. 
  13. ^ a b c d Gallagher, Brendan (13 Jul 2007). "Tom Simpson haunts Tour 40 years on". The Daily Telegraph (London: Telegraph Media Group). Retrieved 30 April 2013. 
  14. ^ a b McGann & McGann 2008, p. 27.
  15. ^ a b c "1967 Tour de France". BikeRaceInfo. Cherokee Village, AR: McGann Publishing. Retrieved 27 April 2013. 
  16. ^ a b Sidwells 2000, p. 244.
  17. ^ Fotheringham 2007, p. 19.
  18. ^ Fotheringham 2007, p. 131.
  19. ^ a b Woodland, Les (21 July 2007). "Simpson: martyr, example, warning". Cyclingnews.com (Bath, UK: Future plc). Retrieved 27 April 2013. 
  20. ^ Laurence 2005, 8 minutes in.
  21. ^ Fotheringham 2007, pp. 216–217.
  22. ^ a b c Rosen 2008, p. 32.
  23. ^ Cazeneuve & Chany 2011, p. 572.
  24. ^ McGann & McGann 2008, p. 28.
  25. ^ Fotheringham 2007, pp. 30–31.
  26. ^ Dimeo 2007, p. 61.
  27. ^ McGann & McGann 2008, p. vi.
  28. ^ Fotheringham 2007, p. 179.
  29. ^ Watts 2011, 4 minutes in.
  30. ^ Woodland, Les (3 October 2007). "The chasse à la canette". Cyclingnews.com (Bath, UK: Future plc). Retrieved 27 April 2013. 
  31. ^ McGann & McGann 2008, pp. 28–29.
  32. ^ Woodland 2007, p. 333.
  33. ^ a b Fotheringham 2007, pp. 34–35.
  34. ^ a b c Woodland 2007, p. 334.
  35. ^ a b Rosen 2008, p. 33.
  36. ^ Fotheringham 2007, pp. 35–37.
  37. ^ a b c Sidwells 2000, p. 248.
  38. ^ Thompson 2008, p. 102.
  39. ^ Fotheringham 2007, p. 186.
  40. ^ a b Nicholson, Geoffrey (14 July 1967). "Simpson dies after collapse on Tour". The Guardian (Guardian and Manchester Evening News). Retrieved 30 April 2013. 
  41. ^ Nelsson 2012, p. 98.
  42. ^ Fotheringham 2007, p. 167.
  43. ^ Fotheringham 2007, pp. 38–39.
  44. ^ Laurence 2005, 56 minutes in.
  45. ^ Fotheringham 2007, p. 6.
  46. ^ Fotheringham 2007, pp. 90–91.
  47. ^ Rosen 2008, pp. 33–34.
  48. ^ a b Manning, J. L. (31 July 1967). "Simpson was killed by drugs". Daily Mail (London: Associated Newspapers). 
  49. ^ Houlihan 2002, p. 65.
  50. ^ Dauncey & Hare 2003, p. 214.
  51. ^ Sidwells 2000, p. 13.
  52. ^ Van Vleet, Samantha (16 March 2012). "1967 Death of Cyclist Tommy Simpson Brought Drug Testing to Cycling". Yahoo! Sports. Sunnyvale, CA: Yahoo!. Retrieved 13 July 2013. 
  53. ^ McGann & McGann 2008, p. 32.
  54. ^ Fotheringham 2007, p. 100.
  55. ^ Sidwells, Chris (17 June 2010). "Eddy Merckx interview". Cycling Weekly (London: IPC Media). Retrieved 15 February 2013. 
  56. ^ Fotheringham 2007, p. 83.
  57. ^ Fotheringham 2007, p. 208.
  58. ^ Williams & Le Nevez 2008, p. 83.
  59. ^ Fotheringham 2007, pp. 208–209.
  60. ^ "Tom Simson Memorial Fund". Universal Cycle Centre. Retrieved 22 February 2013. 
  61. ^ "Harworth's Tom Simpson remembered". Retford Trader and Guardian (Edinburgh: Johnston Press). 13 July 2007. Retrieved 22 February 2013. 
  62. ^ Moore, Richard (26 July 2009). "British riders remember Tommy Simpson – a hero to some, to others the villain of the Ventoux". guardian.co.uk (London: Guardian Media Group). Retrieved 22 February 2013. 
  63. ^ Woodland 2007, p. 265.
  64. ^ "Tom Simpson". Daily Peloton. 12 August 2002. Retrieved 22 February 2013. 
  65. ^ Williams, Richard (13 July 2007). "White flowers for a man in white who rode himself to destruction". guardian.co.uk (London: Guardian Media Group). Retrieved 25 April 2013. 
  66. ^ a b "Simpson Museum". International Cycle Sport. Retrieved 22 February 2013. 
  67. ^ Simpson 2007, pp. 12–13.
  68. ^ "Tom Simpson: Forgotten by all but one". The Scotsman (Edinburgh: Johnston Press). 18 July 2009. Retrieved 21 May 2013. 

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