The Biggest TdF Scandals: 1967—The Death of Tom Simpson

Forget about Lance Armstrong. These ten scandals rocked cycling to its core.

Jul 15, 2013
Outside Magazine

Tom Simpson on the slopes of Mont Ventoux.    Photo: Tour de France 100: A photographic History of the World's Greatest Race.

In 1962, Tom Simpson made history as the first British racer to don the yellow jersey as the Tour’s overall leader. He lost it the next day, but the feat signaled he was a rider to watch. Indeed, more success followed, including victory at the 1965 World Road Race Championships, stage wins at the Vuelta a Espana, and the overall at Paris-Nice.

In 1967, Simpson entered the Tour hoping for a podium finish and to wear yellow for a portion of the race. He started well but unfortunately got sick as the race passed through the Alps. By stage 13, weakened and unwell, Simpson was determined to fight on. That day’s route went over the infamous Mont Ventoux, the feared “Giant of Provence,” a hellish climb snaking over barren, moonscape-like slopes to a brutally exposed summit. Simpson hit the Ventoux with the leading group but then fell off the pace, slipping back though the shattered field of riders.

Soon he started zigzagging erratically across the narrow road. A kilometer from the summit, he toppled over. Helped back on his bike he road another few hundred meters before again nearly crashing. Caught and held upright by spectators, Simpson was now unconscious, still sitting on his bike gripping the handlebars. The Tour’s medical staff was unable to revive him and he was airlifted to a hospital in Avignon, where he was pronounced dead.

The official cause of death was heart failure due to dehydration and heat exhaustion. However, traces of amphetamine were found in Simpson’s body and medical officials said the drugs were a contributing factor to his death, as they likely allowed him to push his body too far. A memorial on the Ventoux near where Simpson collapsed is a popular pilgrimage site for cyclists from all over the world.

Filed To: Sports, Road Biking