SportsA mess of referees

A mess of referees


Héctor Heusghem with a bouquet of flowers, after a stage of the Tour.

He worked in the mines of Wallonia, was taken prisoner in World War I, where he lost his brother, and the 1922 Tour was taken away from him, after having been second in the previous two. That is the story of the Belgian Héctor Heusghem, who began his particular relationship with the French race in 1913, riding in Odile Defraye’s team. In the seventh stage, between Luchon and Perpignan, they forced him to retire because his boss was not doing well, so they all left.

He returned after the Great War. In 1919, conditions were dire, especially on the roads. The runners had to carry a bag with a chisel for the chain links, links, a pedal wrench, spokes, wing nuts, a piece of tube in case it broke, in addition to spare tires. Heusghem was one of the countless victims of the first stage. He arrived in Le Havre 11 hours behind the winner, after 27 hours of racing.

He insisted a year later, on a great Tour for Belgium. He won the 333-kilometer Nice-Grenoble stage, two days after his brother Joseph won in Aix-en-Provence. The first seven in the general standings were Belgians, six of them Walloons, and one from Brussels. Thys won and Heusghem was second, 54 minutes behind the winner, but 44 ahead of third, Firmin Lambot.

By 1921 he was already among the favorites, but misfortune visited him one hot day. He drank a salty broth and thirst began to torture him. He stopped in front of a bistro to buy beer. He had left the bicycle on the other side of a level crossing, and when he tried to retrieve it, a very long freight train prevented him from doing so; then another, in the opposite direction. By the time he was able to get going he had wasted a lot of time. The next day he failed again, but in the Pyrenees he escaped at the Tourmalet to win with a 24-minute lead. He finished second in Paris.

And in 1922 he was already among the chosen ones. After the Alps he dresses in yellow, ousting Jean Alavoine. The next day, in Strasbourg, things started badly from the beginning. They give him a jersey yellow without pockets, and you have to put another over it. On his way to Metz, he is crossed by a stray dog, he turns the bell and his bicycle fork breaks. Nothing happens to him. One of the commissioners arrives and Héctor asks him to change his bicycle, which contemplates the regulations if his is disabled. The judge allows it. A teacher who was on vacation offers to leave him his. Take the wheels in good condition, the bag of food, and put the broken bike in the judge’s car. He rejoins the squad with the teacher’s bike after a little chase.

There are three days left for Paris and a lenient tour, but in Metz the judges meet and disallow their partner. By two votes in favor and one against, they decide to sanction Heusghem with a penalty of one hour. Dupont, who was the name of the referee who had allowed the change, considers it a scandal and assures that he would never accept a position on the Tour again. He did it. Firmin Lambot wins in Paris, 44 minutes ahead of Hector, who is fourth, and who will proclaim until his death: “They stole my Tour.”

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