There was the time former world champion Tom Simpson fell off his bike near the top of the hill and died flat on his back in the July sun. The racers got Barry Hoban, another Briton, to finish first in the next day's stage and Hoban crossed the line sobbing, which made quite a picture.
The autopsy on Simpson showed he was doped.
This week the Tou de France endurance lost another martyr of sorts when Belgium's Michael Pollentier was thrown out of the month-long race on charges of cheating on the dope detection test after he took the lead by winning the 150-mile stage race.
Pollentiar was caught with a test tube, containing an old urine sample, taped to his armpit. Officials said he tried to substitute that sample for the one taken after the race because he had taken a drug.
Pollentier, 27, said the drug detected in the postrace tests was used to help him breathe and was not a amphetamine.
It was harsh punishment for trying to cheat doping controls, 11 years after Simpson's death put them solidly into the rules. Not since a Paris editor founded the tour in 1903 had the leader been kicked out, and Pollentier's loss cannot be measured in Belgian francs alone. (He could have made $100,000 in endorsements).
All up and down Western Europe from Portugal to Scandinavia, country boys dream of wearing the leader's yellow jersey - "le maillot jaune" - the way American kids dream of being All-American football players or playing a final at Wimbledon. This is the longest street party, the great bike race, probably the most exhausting annual sports even in the world.
Millions lined 2,568 miles of road this year - in Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and France for the raucous procession of advertising floats, blaring car horns, gendarmes and press photographers swearing on their motorcycles, loudspeakers babbling sales talk, helicopters - and then, ahead of the team cars with upside down bikes bristling on their tops, a snaking multicolor "whish," and the racers have come and gone.
All told, the tour's TV audience - probably exceeds 100 million.
Pollentier's nicknames include "Quasimodo." The little Fleming won his first yellow jersey at 4:10 p.m. Sunday, with a visibly exruciating win in the 16th of the 22 stages. The previous leader had burned out on the Alpine switchbacks. The new one raised leaden arms and disappeared into his hotel room at Alpe D'Huez.
It was nearly 5:10, the deadline, when Pollentier came back to the mobile medical unit. The doctor in charge was new, a Frenchman, an Italian Tour commissioner officiated.
The rules say you drop your pants to your knees, raise your shirts to your chest and urinate. Like everybody else, the Belgian kept his clothes on. Like some (a lesser race was caught out that same afternoon), he had a rubber bulb taped into an armpit. The medic tugged and found a tube running down his back and under his pelvis. So much for Pollentier, whose suspension also eliminates him from this year's world championship.
The yellow jersey went to a Dutchman, Joop Zoetemelk, who led French champion Bernard Ninault by 14 seconds. Zoetemelk, 31, gave himself no chance to win the tour unless he could increase his lead substantially in a second, more gureling alpine state yesterday, after a day of rest Monday.
He failed. Hinault, a 23-year-old Breton, set out for Lausanne today still just 14 seconds behind and expecting to take the lead for good in a 47-mile time and trial in Lorraine tomorrow.
Frenchmen have won nine times and Belgians six in the last two decades. Jacques Anquetil of France got the last of his five tour victories in 1964, and Belgium's Eddy Merckx did the same in 1974. What with retirements and collapses, this year's winner almost has to be a first-timer. Pollentier had hoped to become a new Merckx.
Racer-power, one of the innovations of the 1978 tour, prevailed Monday while Pollentier was writing to the organizers asking "humbly" for their "pity". Seven men had been penalized for being pushed too often by merciful fans along the roadside. The field threatened revolt and the directors backed down. But for Pollentier it was no dice.
"Why me?" he asked over and over of all corners.
"How dumb can a guy be?" asked another racer of nobody in particular. Pollentier knew that a stage winner has to go for a urine sample and he knew that the asthma drug he used to help his breathing at altitude in the alps long has been on the blacklist.
Over the years, the number of dropouts during the tour has averaged 52 percent. This year, of the more than 100 men who started at Leiden on June 30, 80 were still pedaling in Switzerland after crossing Belgium and Normandy, covering the length of the French Atlantic coast to Biarritz in a heat wave, and suffering high in the Pyrennes, then the Massive Central, yet the race goes much faster than in the old days. How do they do it?