Rest days have been part and parcel of Le Tour since the first edition in 1903. Back then they were needed as much to allow the riders and the organization time to plan and prepare for the next stage as they were for recuperation. Today they focus on a routine that largely revolves around eating and sleeping. In between riders will go for a relatively gentle 2 hour spin, get a massage, and fulfil any media duties they may have. Team directors will hold meetings to discuss the team’s tactics in the coming days and the race mechanics have a busy day washing and maintaining both the race and the spare bikes to ensure they’re in top condition. On an ideal rest day riders will be able to relax and remain free of stress.
Sometimes that isn’t possible, as happened to the Swiss rider, Urs Zimmermann, in 1991. During the rest day on 17 July he decided that rather than fly with the rest of Le Tour riders from Nantes to Pau he wanted to make the most of the journey by car with the team mechanics and the final 60 kilometres on the bike. Partly this was down to a dislike of flying, which he found stressful and tiring, and partly down to a desire to have a brief break from his Motorola team mates and the rest of the peloton. His team management had no objection and Zimmermann set off. At Aire-sur-l’Adour he jumped out of the car and rode to the hotel where he was met by journalists who informed him that he was out of the race. He had infringed a race rule that required all the riders to travel on the plane provided by Le Tour for the rest day transfer.
Jim Ochowicz, the team manager, argued his case with the race officials claiming that Zimmermann was afraid of flying, but to no avail. Despite allowing Pascal Richard to continue when he had also missed the flight (to visit a dentist was the stated reason) Zimmermann was out. The following day the rest of the peloton decided to protest about another issue, the compulsory wearing of helmets that had been introduced that year which they felt would be too hot in the mountains. The timing was fortunate for Zimmermann whose cause they also took up. No Zimmermann, no race they said. After 36 minutes of impasse the city police commissioner informed the race that he could no longer keep the roads closed and was ready to set the traffic free which would block the race.
The race officials relented. Helmets didn’t have to be worn and Zimmermann, who had become aware of the protest while being driven to the airport to fly home and was now at the start line after a quick change into his racing clothes, was reinstated. Ochowicz was told to report to the race Director, Jean-Marie Leblanc, at the end of the stage. Leblanc, as autocratic in his own way as his predecessors Desgrange, Goddet and Lévitan, sent Ochowicz home, deaf to protests that he had been unaware of the rule which had only been available in French in the Tour rulebook. Zimmermann went on to finish in 116th place, and in a revolutionary step Le Tour organizer’s began issuing an English edition of the rulebook from the following year.
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