Vintage Badassness: François Faber and The 1909 Tour de France

It’s been a while since XXC posted about the vintage badasses of yesteryear here on the blog but we’re bringing it back baby!! As luck would have it this post includes much about the 1909 Tour de France which was one of the most crap-tastic weather races in Tour history, so it fits perfectly with our Hurricane Sandy week here on the blog. Win.

I’m always leery of posting about road cycling here on XXC, but back in the day things were different; hard men rode heavy bikes, big miles, mostly on dirt roads and took no shit. In other words, they were “the balls.” I heard some racers even used to bite the heads off of live chickens whilst racing. OK, I made the chicken thing up, but it could have happened! Maybe… someone… No?

Having said all that, I give you François Faber.

François Faber (1887-1915)

While born and raised in France he was technically a Luxembourger due to his father being born in Luxembourg (whatever).

Unlike the 110 lb. elven knick-knacks that make up the Pro peloton today, Faber was a full 6″1″ and 200 lbs. (or 6’2″/209 lbs. depending on where you read) and sported the nickname “The Giant of Columbes.”

Racing History

François Faber raced as a pro from 1906 to 1914 for five different teams: Labor, Peugeot (twice), Alcyon, Automoto and Saphir Cycles.

In 1906 he started the Tour de France but DNFed. He returned to the Tour in 1908 to finish 2nd. 1909 was to be his year though!

1909, Here’s Where Things Get Badass

I believe the 1909 Tour could be called the Tour de Badass Mother F-WATCH YOUR MOUTH!-ers.

The 22 year old “Giant of Columbes” would not only win the Tour that year, but would also win five stages in a row (2 thru 6) plus stage 10 in some of the worst condition the Tour has ever seen! Within six days 50 of the 150 starters had dropped out due to the rain, snow, frost, mud, and rutted dirt roads and only 55 racers finished. Even without the weather the ’09 Tour was a crusher! Check out the stats on the 14 stages that year:

Stage 1 July 5 Paris–Roubaix 272 km (169 mi)
Stage 2 July 7 Roubaix–Metz 398 km (247 mi)
Faber rides the last 200 km of the race in a solo breakaway (note: some reports say last 110 km) and won- in an unbelievable by today’s road racing standards- time of 14 hours, nine minutes. It is also reported that the entire stage was ridden in the freezing rain.

Stage 3 July 9 Metz–Belfort 259 km (161 mi)*
The race day temperature was only 39 degrees (4˚C), In the last kilometer Faber broke his chain and ran his bike across the finish line (see pic below).

Stage 4 July 11 Belfort–Lyon 309 km (192 mi)*

Stage 5 July 13 Lyon–Grenoble 311 km (193 mi)*
At one point Faber is blown off his bike by the gusting wind, remounts and continues. Later in the stage he is kicked off by a horse! Remounts, continues on an wins the stage by 5 minutes. Badass!

Stage 6 July 15 Grenoble–Nice 346 km (215 mi)*
Stage 7 July 17 Nice–Nîmes 345 km (214 mi)
Stage 8 July 19 Nîmes–Toulouse 303 km (188 mi)
Stage 9 July 21 Toulouse–Bayonne 299 km (186 mi)
Stage 10 July 23 Bayonne–Bordeaux 269 km (167 mi)
Stage 11 July 25 Bordeaux–Nantes 391 km (243 mi)
Stage 12 July 27 Nantes–Brest 321 km (199 mi)
Stage 13 July 29 Brest–Caen 424 km (263 mi)
Stage 14 Aug. 1 Caen–Paris 250 km (160 mi)

*Mountain stage.
BOLD is Faber victory.

Additional Vintage Badass 1909 Tour Facts: At one point Tour organizers actually asked Faber to “calm down” so as to keep the Tour exciting. Stage 7 was won by Faber’s half brother Ernest Paul. OK, that’s not real badass, but it is a fact. A Non-Faber Badass Fact: In Stage 14 Jean Alavoine was winning with 10 km to go when his bike broke. No help, no radios, no team car, no bike change…. Alavoine RAN the last 10 km with his bike on his back and won the stage by over 6 minutes. I think I remember seeing Andy Sclhelk run with his bike on his back once a few Tours ago. Oh wait, NO I DIDN”T!!

I am in freaking awe of the drama and the stages of this Tour…. 39 degree temps, 247 miles, 243 miles, 263 miles!! Kicked by horses, blown off of roads, running with bikes on backs, 14+ hours in the saddle, stages starting at 2 a.m.! Just amazing! Sure you could argue that there were rest days in between stages and that the speeds were surely slower than that of today and I will argue right back at you red faced and angrily that the racers were responsible for their own equipment and travel expenses, the bikes were heavier, the roads were crap, traveling took longer, there was no EPO, no blood transfusions, etc., etc., etc., I could go on and on but saying etc., was easier.

So François Faber wins the 1909 Tour, 6 stages, becomes (technically) the Tour’s first foreign winner, was one of the youngest racers ever win the Tour at just 22 years old and was also named meilleur grimpeur by the Tour’s organizing newspaper L’Auto (an ancestor of today’s L’Equip). The meilleur grimpeur was basically the “KOM.”

Other Faber Wins and Accomplishments

1908
Tour de France 2nd place G.C.
Won stages 3, 4, 8 and 12
Giro di Lombardia

1909
Tour de France winner
Won stages 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 10 (see above)
Sedan-Brussels
Paris Brussels

1910
Paris-Tours
Tour de France 2nd place G.C.
Won stages 2, 4 and 7

1911
Won stages 3 and 6 of the Tour de France
Bordeaux-Paris

1912
What were you doing in 1912 François?? Racing, but no victories.

1913
Paris-Roubaix winner (badass!)
Won stages 10 and 13 of the Tour de France

1914
Won stages 12 and 14 of the Toure de France

For a complete list of François Faber’s wins and accomplishments visit bikeraceinfo.com.

Here’s Where World War One Went & Screwed Up Everything

Just as the Tour was finishing up in 1914 World War I went and broke out. Faber joined the French Foreign Legion and by August was promoted to corporal. On May 9th, 1915 at the Battle of Artois he received a telegram informing him that his wife had given birth to their baby girl. That same day he was shot and killed. His regiment (2nd Régiment de Marche of the 1st Regiment, French Foreign Legion) lost 1,950 of 2,900 soldiers in the battle. François Faber was posthumously awarded the Médaille Militaire. Damn, dead at 28 years old. Sad.

In my Googling and research for this post, I noticed that I am not the only person to gush on about how awesome François Faber was. I could have just put a bunch of links to the other blogs but I had to represent François Faber right here on XXC because he, and many of his fellow racers, were just the sort of racer to make you say “Lance who?” Drug scandal what?… Doping?” These racers who I joking refer to as “Vintage Badasses” are much more than that, they are inspirations.

Various web sources: bikeraceinfo.com, Wiki [here] and Wiki [there]. I’m sure there were a few others, but too many and I am lazy.

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