1966 Bordeaux rider's strike: Power in a union

Like any other group of workers, cyclists are capable of industrial action to protect their rights....

Like any other group of workers, cyclists are capable of industrial action to protect their rights. In 1966, cyclists flexed their trade union muscles to protest against mandatory drug tests and the botched way with which the tests were carried out. Les Woodland looks back on a chaotic, and ultimately tragic, period in cycling.

"Piss! Piss! Piss!"

Strikers' chants are rarely elegant but rarely this crude. In France, land of philosophy, the Enlightenment and Molières, it was this that riders in the Tour de France chanted 40 years ago this year as they pushed their bikes through the outskirts of Bordeaux.

Why? Because they had just been subjected to surprise drug checks. The law not simply of cycling but the French state said they had to have them and it was the police who descended to conduct them. Not for the first time, riders considered themselves beyond the law. It's worth remembering that to this day, four decades after Bordeaux, it's still the police and not cycling itself who have had the real effect on the drug issue in cycling.

There aren't many laughs in the Puerto investigation in Spain but in the Giro swoop of recent years we were at least entertained to tales of riders leaping out of hotel windows and hiding themselves in the shrubbery. And so it was that there was a bittersweet side to the events of 1966.

The background is that France had followed Belgium in introducing a national law against drugs in sport. Belgian police had raided changing rooms and skidded to a halt on all the pills that riders threw from their pockets before they could be searched. At Bordeaux, the French police decided that the eve of the first stage in the Pyrenees would be a good time to make their own move.

Click here for the full feature

Back to top