|Jacques Anquetil won the first of his
five Paris-Nice victories in 1957
1955 brought a victory for Jean Bobet, the less-talented younger brother of Louison (who was celebrating his 30th birthday as the race began, see below)n who had been the winner three years earlier. The race leader's jersey was changed to white and the Points competition leader's jersey to pink.
1957 brought a first victory in this race for Jacques Anquetil, who would go on to become the first rider to win three, then four and finally five editions. The same year, Jean Leulliot - as editor of Route et Piste, the magazine that owned and organised Paris-Nice - became race director.
|Bobet on Izoard
(image credit: Dave's Bike Blog)
Bobet's father was a baker but seems to have had an interest in sports because he gave his son a bike when the boy was just two years old and immediately started teaching him to ride it - within six months, the toddler was apparently able to ride 6km. Jean was encouraged to play football, while Louison and their sister were encouraged to play table tennis - Louison won the Breton Table Tennis Championship during his teenage years. His Uncle Raymond, the president of a Paris cycling club, recognised promise in the boy and took over his training, persuading him and his parents that he might make a living on the bike. He came second in his first race in 1938, later making it through to unofficial Youth Championships of 1943 when he came sixth; the race being won by none other than Raphaël Géminiani who would go on to become one of the most successful riders of the 1940s and 1950s - the beginnings of the (sometimes friendly, sometimes not so friendly) rivalry that would persist even when the two men became team mates years later. Around this time, Bobet acted as a messenger for the Resistance, smuggling secret missives right under the noses of the Nazis - detection would almost certainly have led to execution, either summarily or very soon afterwards. After D-Day, he joined the newly-formed French Army and served in the east of the country, helping to drive the Nazis out of their alpine strongholds.
Having been demobilised in December 1945, Bobet applied for a racing licence and was accidentally sent one declaring him to be an Independent - the semi-professional class of riders that were then permitted to compete in major professional races (including the Tour de France) provided they met their own costs. We don't know if he originally planned to send it back and explain the mistake, but if he did he soon realised that it would allow him to compete in both professional and amateur events - and he was sure enough of his abilities to do so (in the future, several riders put their dislike of Bobet down to his tendency to consider himself a cut or two above the rest - whom he seems to have viewed as common oiks). Having won 2nd place in the Breton Championships, he rode in the Nationals and, having attacked a pair of experienced professionals who had broken away from the peloton, dropped one before beating the other in a final sprint (during that race, he also competed against 1929 Champion and Tour veteran Marcel Bidot, who would later become his manager).
|(image credit: Polygoon Hollands Nieuws
CC BY-SA 3.0)
However, the Tour turned out to be vastly more difficult than Bobet had expected and he abandoned during Stage 9, the Alps reducing him to tears. The press savagely attacked him for his weakness and the public scorned him for being soft; rather unfairly since they'd made a hero of René Vietto in 1934 and continued treating him as such even when his apparent heroism turned out to be distinctly tarnished. Then, in 1948, the management of the Stella team was taken over by Maurice Archambaud. Archambaud, who had won a total of ten Tour stages and worn the yellow jersey fourteen times, was a man highly qualified to spot Tour promise in a rider and he spotted it in Bobet even when nobody else did. He decided that Bobet would benefit from his expertise, and he was right: that year, Bobet took the overall lead after Stage 3. He lost it the next day, but then took it back by winning Stage 6. At this point, he had a 20-minute advantage over 2nd place Gino Bartali. Bartali would win, after a superhuman effort aimed at preventing his country from descending into civil war that has become one of the most-told instances in the Tour mythos, but Bobet came 4th - an incredible feat from a man who had been written off a year before.
The 1949 Tour was a disaster and he dropped out in Stage 11 as soon as the race reached the mountains. The next year, he raced alongside Géminiani for the first time. Géminiani, who had a habit of creating nicknames for other riders by taking a syllable from their name, changing it and then repeating it, rechristened Bobet Zonzon - which he didn't like very much but decided he could live with. After all, it was better than "Crybaby," which had become his nickname in 1947. Besides, the two men had become friends despite frequent and sometimes fierce arguments - and Bobet was presumably well aware that he didn't have many friends. The pair had hoped one of them would be in with a chance of winning that year as Fausto Coppi was absent after breaking his pelvis earlier in the year at the Giro d'Italia, but they ended up spending much of the race vying with one another for second and third place as neither stood a hope of standing up to the wild, fire-breathing Ferdy Kübler. Stan Ockers got the better of them and took second place overall, but Bobet must have been pleased with third - especially since Géminiani was fourth. Better still - and strangely, in view of his previous history - Bobet won the King of the Mountains with little difficulty, taking the jersey in Stage 11 (the first for which it was awarded) and wearing it with the exception of one single day for the rest of the race.
Bobet had another off-year in 1951, cracking so badly in the mountains that new manager Marcel Bidot gave up on him and ordered the riders he'd commanded to assist him to help Géminiani instead. He was not entered the following year - yet, Bidot still saw promise and entered him for the Critérium International, Paris-Nice and the GP des Nations and Bobet won all three, along with a number of other races. Bidot explained his faith in the rider later:
"Bobet is a good climber and time-triallist who rides with authority and intelligence. He is careful with his preparation, careful with his efforts and totally serious. An outstanding rider but has a lack of confidence. He is extremely nervous, sensitive, worried and susceptible. But with experience he will overcome the problems. A charming friend, happy, often joking and with spirit, but some days he shuts himself off, wrapped in his worries."He was back on the start line at the Tour in 1953.
That year, Bobet won Stage 18, one of the most remarkable stages of post-war Tour history and a classic, text book example of team tactics. His team mate Adolphe Deledda, who was out in front riding with a breakaway group, received the message that Bobet had dropped Jesus Lorono on the way down from the Col de Vars and was on his way. So, he left the group and took his time while Bobet caught up, then helped him all the way to the Col d'Izoard.
|Memorial to Bobet and Coppi, Izoard
(image credit: Podium Cafe)
When he reached Briançon, he had a five minute advantage - enough to retain the yellow jersey for the rest of the race. A perfect individual time trial in Stage 20 won him the race with an advantage of 14 minutes. When he crossed the finish line he was greeted by Maurice Garin, winner of the first Tour, there to celebrate the 50th.
It was not long after the race was over before his victory began to be picked apart. Coppi had not been there and Bartali, at 38, was not the man he had once been. Koblet, the winner in 1951, had abandoned following a crash in Stage 10 and Kübler hadn't entered. The general consensus was that while Bobet's Izoard win had been impressive, the opposition throughout the race had not been up to much. 1954 was a different matter entirely - the Italian team still hadn't replaced its greatest ever stars but the Belgians and the Dutch were formidable - and Kübler was back. Bobet took the yellow jersey in Stage 3, but lost it in Stage 7 to Wout Wagtmans who kept it for four days before Gilbert Bauvin took it in Stage 11. All the while, Bobet fought hard to get it back, eventually doing so in Stage 13 and keeping it to the end. Another perfect time trial gave him 15 minutes on Kübler - and this time, nobody could deny he'd won a hard race.
In 1955, Pierre Rolland appeared to be the strongest French rider and Bidot ordered Bobet to support him. However, Rolland's strength faded in the mountains, unable to withstand the sheer ferocity of repeated attacks on the unforgiving climbs by a young Luxembourgish rider named Charly Gaul. Bobet, though suffering from a saddle sore that would later lead to an oft-told tale in which he couldn't bring himself to describe the affected body parts when asked for details of the surgery he underwent after the race, completely bamboozling her by insisting that he had experienced problems with his pockets. Géminiani, who had been listening in, decided the time had come to end the lady's confusion. "Oh for heaven's sake, Zonzon," he interrupted, "tell her you've got bloody balls."
|(image credit: Dave's Bike Blog)
Bobet, as we have noted, was not popular among other riders who found him stuck-up and distant. Sometimes, their dislike was due to his abrasiveness, as when he made the mistake of insulting Charly Gaul (who was even less popular but didn't care; Gaul heard the insult, strode up to the Frenchman and hissed, "Don't forget - I was a butcher. I know how to use a knife." Bobet avoided him for the rest of his life. He also had tendency to be a bit of a snob: Géminiani - his friend, remember- said, "He really thought that, after him, there'd be no more cycling in France") but in many cases was down to his being in some regards several years ahead of his time. When he refused point blank to wear the yellow jersey the frst time he won the right to do so, explaining that he wouldn't wear synthetic fibres, it wasn't because he considered the cheaper material not befitting his status; it was because as a man who had suffered saddle sores in the past he realised that natural fibres would allow sweat to wick away from his skin (any modern rider who has suffered the same affliction and been ordered to wear soft cotton underwear by a doctor knows this is the case). He acted like a Hollywood star, which was put down to self-importance; but could also be seen as an understanding that the cult of personality was going to be how he made his living once he retired, thus predating the boxers and footballers who make fortunes selling their image to the fashion industry today. When he attacked his country for its involvement with the war against Communist rebels in Indochina, it wasn't because he was unpatriotic or, as many claimed, himself a Marxist - he explained that he was simply a pacifist, thus anticipating the wider adoption of anti-war beliefs in the 1960s.
As might be expected of a man who was so concerned for his own health, Bobet refused to take drugs at a time when doping was beyond rampant in a sport not yet woken up by the death of amphetamine-addled Tom Simpson on Mont Ventoux. Whether or not he did take them is debatable - he may have believed he did not, but Jacques Anquetil and Eddy Merckx were reduced to paroxysms of laughter at a formal dinner organised by the Tour's organisers when Bobet, having informed them that he never doped, added that before races he had drunk small bottles of an unknown fluid prepared for him by his personal soigneur Raymond Le Bert (he was ahead of his time on that one, too - nobody else had ever employed a soigneur of their own).
|On Mont Ventoux
(image credit: Mariocipo.sportblog)
In retirement, Bobet became involved in a number of business ventures and used his fame to ensure they got attention. The best-known of these was his development and promotion of the distinctly scientifically-shaky alternative health treatment thelassotherapy, which was invented in Brittany in the 19th Century and claims to improve well-being through the absorption of beneficial minerals found in sea water (administered using a variety of methods including hot and cold showers, muscle rubs and going for a swim). He opened a thelassotherapy resort at Quiberon and, with his canny understanding of the power of celebrity, named it after himself. It's still in operation to this day, albeit under the new name Miramar Crouesty, and going by the numerous favourable reviews on independent French tourism websites is doing very well.
Bobet died of cancer on the day following his 58th birthday in 1983 and is buried in the cemetery at Saint-Méen-le-Grand, the town where he was born. In addition to his three General Classifaction and one King of the Mountains victories at the Tour, Bobet also won the Mountains Classification at the Giro d'Italia in 1951; the World Championship in 1954; the National Championship in 1950 and 1951; the Critérium des As (1949, 1950, 1953 and 1954); Milan-San Remo, the Giro di Lombardia and the Desgrange-Colombo Trophy in 1951; the Critérium International (1951 and 1952); the Tour of Flanders, the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour de Luxembourg (1955); Paris-Roubaix in 1956 and Bordeaux-Paris in 1959.
Not bad for a crybaby.
The Death of Andrei Kivilev
|Andrei Kivilev, 1973-2003
Then, in the same race 12 years later, Kazakh rider Andrei Kivilev got into a crash with Cofidis team mate Marek Rutkiewicz and Gerolsteiner's Volker Ordowski. The two men he'd hit were unhurt and finished the stage but Kivilev fell heavily, hitting his head hard on the road and did not get up. When doctors reached him moments later, he was in a coma.
Kivilev was taken immediately to the nearest hospital at Saint-Chamond, then to the intensive care unit at St. Etienne from where it was announced that he'd sustained two broken ribs and a serious skull fracture. The next morning - the 12th of March - he died at 10am. He was 29 and left behind his wife and six-month-old baby son.
The following stage was dedicated to Kivilev's memory and ridden slowly, without attacks. Meanwhile, the UCI once again suggested making helmets compulsory in all races and this time - partly due to how much they'd improved since 1991 and largely because of the shock of seeing a popular, prominent rider such as Kivilev killed in such an apparently minor, everyday crash - there was little opposition. At first, the rule was not stringently enforced and riders would often remove their helmets during steep climbs; but now all UCI-sanctioned events demand riders wear them at all times and will disqualify any rider who removes his or her helmet during a race.
|(image credit: thomasrdotorg CC BY 2.0)
Phil Anderson was born in London on this day in 1958 but moved to Melbourne in Australia with his family during early childhood. His reputation for crashing frequently - which remained with him throughout his career - did not prevent him from winning the Tour of New Zealand while still an amateur in 1977. A year later he won gold at the Commonwealth Games and the National Amateur Road Race Championship, also riding with the victorious National Amateur Time Trial team; then - as have so many promising riders from English-speaking nations - he joined the legendary Athletic Club de Boulogne-Billancourt and took up residence in France to be at the heart of the sport. That season, riding alongside Robert Millar, he won the amateur GP des Nations and the prestigious Issoire criterium.
Turning professional in 1980 with Peugeot-Esso-Michelin, Phil recalls a distinct sense that French riders were getting preferential treatment over the foreign counterparts. However. as is typical of him, he didn't sulk - "I had to go a bit deeper or had to be a little better than some of my colleagues on the team. But that hardened me, and put pressure on me, and I think became part of my make-up in the end," he says. He won two races and finished on the podium in three others that year before moving to Belgium to concentrate on criteriums. he won the Tour de l'Ause that year and - more importantly - made four appeareances on the Tour de France podium, coming 10th overall.
Most impressively of all, his third place finish on Stage 5 had put him into the overall lead and so he became both the first Australian and first non-European to wear the yellow jersey - by accident. He said after the race that he had been assigned to help his team's General Classification contender through the mountainous stage (the only one in the Pyrenees that year), but gone into what he called "survival mode" as he worked to get himself up the climbs:
"I forgot my instructions and just sort of went in to survival mode over a number of mountain passes, just staying up with some of the top riders, and before I knew it, my team director came up beside me in his car and told me, 'Listen, what happened to your leader, the guy that you've been instructed to watch today?' you know. And to help if he has any troubles, or just pace him back if he's having some troubles. And I said, 'Oh gee, that's right. Where is he?' And he said, 'he's five or ten minutes back, in the next group.' I said, 'No worries I'll wait up for him.' He said, 'No, no, stay up here, you're doing OK, just stay out of trouble and try and hang on as long as possible."The rest is Tour legend. Anderson not only kept going, he kept up with Bernard Hinault when the Badger was at the height of his powers and only Lucien van Impe could get away to win the stage. Afterwards, he said that the first thing on his mind was relief at escaping the chore of rinsing out his sweaty jersey that evening: "Oh yes, great, I don't have to wash my old jersey tonight, you know, get a new one."
|(image credit: Steel Wül)
Anderson retired in 1994, having moved Australian cycling several steps along the path that began with Ivor Munro and Don Kirkham when they became the first Australians to ride in the Tour in 1914. Could Anderson have won a Tour? The general consensus is that had he only have been born a couple of years earlier or later, yes. Unfortunately, he happened to be one of those riders whose best years coincided with one of the all-time Tour greats: had Hinault not then been the rider he was, Australia's first Tour win might have come some three decades before Cadel Evans in 2011. Australia recognised that - Anderson has never been thought of in his home nation as an also-ran and was lauded as a hero as early as 1987 when he was awarded the Order of Australia. Retirement has been good to him - he invested some of his prize money in a farm in Jamieson, Victoria, where he still lives. In 2000, he received the Australian Sports Medal and then a year later the Centenary Medal.
On this day in 2011, John Allan Butterworth set a new Para-Cycling World Record when he completed 1000m in 1'07.615". Butterworth's left arm is a prosthetic, which clips into a socket mounted on his handlebar. In 2004, Alois Kaňkovský set a new record for a Czech rider when he rode 1000m in 1'02.452" at Aquascalientes, Mexico.
(image credit: Thomas Ducroquet CC BY-SA 3.0)
Damian McDonald was born in Wangaratta, Australia on this day in 1972. He was part of his nation's reserve team at the Olympics in 1992 but did not compete in the main team's silver medal-winning ride, then won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games two years later. In 1996, he was part of the main Olympic team and won the first Malaysian Tour of Langkawi. On the 23rd of March 2007, McDonald was driving through the Burnley Tunnel in Melbourne when a broken-down truck caused a pile-up with two other trucks and four cars, one of which exploded. The tunnel's automatic safety system instructed people in the tunnel to leave their vehicles and walk to safety. He died in the resulting fire during which temperatures inside the tunnel reached 1000C, leaving behind his wife and two-year-old son.
Stanislas Bober, born on this day in 1930 in Nanterre, won Stage 3 at the 1953 Tour de France - the first year Louison Bobet won overall.
André Desvages, born in France on this day in 1944, won Stage 5a at the Tour de France in 1968. However, he is chiefly remembered for the time he served as technical director of the Gitanes team, during which he signed up a young Breton rider named Bernard Hinault.
Serbian Ivan Stević was born in Belgrade on this day in 1980. On the 20th of July as he crossed the finish line while winning Stage 4 at the Tour of Qinghai Lake, he stuck his middle finger up (an offensive gesture) at mechanic who had made joke about his fitness. Judges disqualified him from the rest of the race in response. In October the same year, the UCI disqualifed all his results for a two-year period from the 17th of September 2008 after he was found to have used or attempted to use "a prohibited substance or method."
Other cyclists born on this day: Dietmar Hauer (Austria, 1968); Marcel Beumer (Netherlands, 1969); Jens Mouris (Netherlands, 1980); Frank Weber (Germany, 1963); Daniel Becke (Germany, 1978); Zhu Yongbiao (China, 1976); Marcello Bartalini (Italy, 1962); Milan Perič (Czechoslovakia, 1928, died 1967); Magnus Knutsson (Sweden, 1963); Gregorio Aldo Arencibia (Cuba, 1947).