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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > August 2018 > Death in the Saddle

Death in the Saddle

As a world champion and a true showman, Tom Simpson was the most popular British cyclist of his generation. But then, as Nige Tassell explains, tragedy struck during the 1967 Tour de France
In the last hour of his life, Tom Simpson steels himself for the challenge of Mont Ventoux. He never reached the summit
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You didn’t need to be a cycling aficionado to know that the rider was in trouble. His bike was zigzagging back and forth across the narrow road cut into the mountainside, pinballing between bank and precipice.

In the support car behind him, both his team manager and mechanic sprang into action. The intense heat of southern France in July hit them as they charged out of their car and towards the ailing rider. The mercury had reached 55°C that day on the fearsome Mont Ventoux, on the 13th stage of the 1967 Tour de France.

Simpson arrived on the continent as a professional in 1959
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The man on the bike was no ordinary Joe. This was Tom Simpson, the British former world champion. He was no world beater that day, though. The heat, and the unrelenting gradient heading towards Ventoux’s summit, had apparently done for him. The mechanic, Harry Hall, was first to Simpson, who had collapsed into the bank. Hall explained to the barely conscious rider that his Tour was over. Simpson, far from coherent, nonetheless got his message across: “On, on, on…”

Three years later, he became the first Brit to lead the Tour de France, albeit for just a single day
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About History Revealed

In this month's issue… Captain Cook's secret mission Retrace James Cook's 1768 first voyage - a scientific expedition that morphed into a globe-spanning quest to find a lost continent thanks to a set of secret instructions. Plus: Louis XIV and the Palace of Versailles; the tragedy of British Tour de France hero Tom Simpson; the fall of the Russian Romanov dynasty; history of chocolate; William Wallace; weird pets; and Palymrene Queen Zenobia takes on Imperial Rome.