The story of the 1906 Eiffel Tower stair race

Posted: October 8, 2019 in Tower running history
Tags: , , , ,

1906 eiffel tower race

Tower running returned to the Eiffel Tower in 1906, as athletes from around France gathered to see if they could break the course record set the year before.

At the time, the Eiffel Tower was the tallest structure in the world, and on 26th November 1905 it had hosted what is believed to be the first recorded tower race in history. On that day, cyclist Eugene Forestier was the fastest up the 729 steps that led to the second platform of the tower. His winning time was 3:12.80.

A year on from that inaugural event and some of the best athletes from the French running and cycling scene arrived in Paris with one goal in mind; break Forestier’s record. Find out about the Eiffel Tower stair race of 1905, or read on for the story of the second edition.

Championnat de la tour Eiffel 1906

The second Eiffel Tower stair race took place on Sunday 18th November 1906. As it had been the year before, the event was organised by a publication called Les Sports.

Once again, the race involved running up 729 steps to the second platform (of three) of the tower. The reason they didn’t run to the top is the organisers felt the stairs on the upper levels were too narrow, and that it could have proved dangerous once the stairwell became crowded.

1906 crowds

Crowds of spectators gather underneath the Eiffel Tower to watch the athletes run

Far less people signed up for the second edition than had attended the debut race. In 1905, 300 people had signed up, with 283 making it to the start line. This time around, 200 people signed up but only 140 (some reports say 150) eventually lined up to race.

Although there were fewer people in attendance, the quality of athletes was stronger. Back to defend his title was Eugene Forestier, the cyclist who had won the race in 1905 in a time of 3:12.80.

Joining him were a host of ‘champions’, although newspaper reports fail to specify exactly what they had won. But, further research has revealed at least some of the accomplishments of a few of those in attendance.

Among those listed as ‘champions of France’ were Eugene Neveu (a top long-distance runner, up to marathon distance) – L. Orphée (a cyclist), L. Mosnier and E. Fantou.

According to a report in La Liberté, the ‘Belgian champion’ Verstraete was also there. We were unable to find records relating to that name, but a François Verstraeten was a top level cyclist at the time, who had won the Paris to Ostend race in 1906 and went on to become the Belgian Road Champion in 1907 and 1908. It may be him they were referring to.

Louis Bouchard, billed as ‘champion of Paris’ was there, too. A year earlier, he had been the French record holder for the 10,000m with a time of 33:14, but that record had since been eclipsed by his great rival, Gaston Ragueneau.

Bouchard has finished second behind Ragueneau at the French Cross Country Championship in 1905 and 1906.

louis bouchard

Louis Bouchard (l) and Gaston Ragueneau race for the finish line at the Challenge de La Nézière in 1905

Louis bouchard 2

Louis Bouchard (41) in the lead (ahead of Ragueneau) at the Paris Cross Country Championship, 1905

Other runners and cyclists singled out for mention in the newspapers were Louis Prévôt, L. Mephisto, E. Figniez, Tonnin and Piel. Although some of these names pop up in race records from around the time, it’s been difficult to find firm details on any of these men.

L.Orphee 1905

Champion cyclist, L. Orphée

The racers were split into different waves depending on which federation or category they belonged to. Category winners would receive a gold-plated medal, while second place would take home ‘an artistic medal’.

In the women’s wave, Mme. Baube was the only competitor to finish (or possibly even start) and won by default. She climbed the 739 steps in 7:44 (or 7:26 according to one report).

Mme Baube 1906

Mme. Baube, winner of the women’s division at the 1906 Eiffel Tower stair climb

Finishing in around the same time as Mme. Baube was a Mr. Wachoru, who climbed all the steps in 7:37. The key difference being he did it while carrying a 50kg sack on his back.

1906 50kg bag climb

Wachoru

In the Union des Sociétés Françaises de Sports Athlétiques wave, L. Frederick clocked 3:25 to win bragging rights among his fellow federation members. He was followed by Agogué in 3:43 and Ceroni in 3:50.

All eyes were on the wave of runners from the Union Vélocipédique de France, as among them was the 1905 winner, Eugene Forestier.

Unfortunately for Forestier, he was unable to repeat his triumph and had to settle for second place in his wave. Thiebaut finished in 3:18.40 and Forestier in 3:19.40. In third place was Chenot in 4:01.

1906 Thiebaut

Thiebaut on his way to winning his wave

Next up were athletes from La Fédération cycliste et athlétique de France (FCAF). Fastest among them was Peuvrel, who clocked 3:56.20.

In the Indépendants category, a strong performance from J. Bielen saw him go into the overall lead, ahead of Thiebaut, with a time of 3:18.20. G. Lepage followed in 3:36.20, just ahead of Goulet in 3:37.60.

Apparently Bielen’s father was one of the people who painted the Eiffel Tower after the completion of its construction in 1889.

1906 J Bielen

J. Bielen finished in 3:18.20

1906 eiffel tower race

J. Bielen poses for a photo

With Forestier failing to clock the fastest time, he had to stand by and see if anyone in the Professionnels category might take the title ahead of Bielen.

Three members of the Club des Sports – L. Prévôt , L. Mephisto and E. Neveu – all finished ahead of Bielen and beat the previous course record.

1906 Eiffel tower race 2

Orphée, Neveu and Mephisto (l-r) on the stairs of the Eiffel Tower

1906 climbers

Club des Sports: Orphée, Mephisto and Neveu (front to back) pose for a photo (although it seems unusual that it’s not Prévôt alongside Neveu and Mephisto, the original caption says it’s Orphée)

Louis Prévôt finished in 3:12.40, beating the existing record by less than half a second. L. Mephisto then smashed that time when he reached the top in 3:04.40.

But overall victory went to the long-distance runner, Eugene Neveu. He won by the narrowest of margins with a time of 3:04 flat.

1906 Neveu winner

Eugene Neveu, winner of the Eiffel Tower stair climb 1906

‘Neveu’s time of 3:04 is simply wonderful, as it beats Forestier’s record by 8 seconds. We saw how much effort the victor had to produce to accomplish such a feat’, wrote one reporter.

Although 140-150 competitors lined up at the start, it was reported that only 93 completed the course. ‘A magnificent average’, according to one newspaper, ‘if one thinks of the effort that must be made to climb 730 steps in one go.’

If only they knew what the future held.

Championnat de la Tour Eiffel 1906 results (top six):

  • E. Neveu – 3:04
  • L. Mephisto – 3:04.40
  • L. Prévôt – 3:12.40
  • J. Bielen – 3:18.20
  • Thiebaut – 3:18.40
  • E. Forestier – 3:19.40

You may also be interested in:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s