How Tour de France winner Louison Bobet sealed his legend


As the peloton prepared for the 18th stage of the 1954 Tour de France, a 216 km race from Grenoble to Briançon on the Col d’Izoard, Frenchman Louison Bobet wore the yellow jersey. He was the defending champion, having won the Tour the previous year in 1953, and his lead over second-placed Fritz Schaer was more than nine minutes.Bobet had made his touring debut seven years earlier, in 1947, the first edition after World War II.

It was his first year as a pro with the Stella-Hutchinson team and the previous month he had achieved his first professional victory in the 280 km Loops of the Seine. He had entered the Buffalo velodrome more than six minutes ahead of Henri Aubry that day with enormous success.

“Never has the ovation given by the spectators of a crowded Buffalo been so deserved,” wrote Pierre Le Merrec in Humanity.

Moments after this victory, the young 22-year-old Bobet was told by Léo Véron, technical director of the national team, that he would ride for France in the Tour.

It turned out that Bobet would have to give up. While descending the Izoard, he hit a rock and fell, seriously injuring his elbows and left knee. Worse yet, he had also broken a wheel.

“Bobet talks about giving up,” reports Maurice Choury, who was following the race in the press kit, “but he nevertheless stops all the following cars by asking for a wheel. We abandon it to its sad fate.

This spell was to leave the race before the halfway mark. There is a certain irony that Bobet’s first Tour ended on the slopes of the very mountain on which he would later forge his Tour victories and where a small monument now stands in his honor.

The Tour is won on the Izoard

About eight hours after the start of the 1954 stage by Bobet in a yellow jersey in Grenoble, he stood in Briançon and posed for this photo.

Previously, he had launched a scathing attack on the Izoard, driving the Swiss Ferdi Kübler away and crossing the Casse Déserte – the arid area atop the Izoard – in splendid isolation.

In Briançon, his margin of victory over Kübler was 1min 49sec, his overall lead 12min 48sec. It was the third time in five years that Bobet had led the race on the Izoard and arrived alone in Briançon.

The first took place in 1950, a decision that allowed him to win his first Tour podium in Paris. He repeated the feat in 1953, this time in yellow at Briançon thanks to a stage victory of more than five minutes.

The Tour will be played on the Izoard. This is where it will be won, ”said Bobet the day before this 1953 stage, and it turned out. While crossing the Deserted Casse, he had been observed by a Fausto Coppi armed with a camera.

“Coppi, after taking my picture, gave me a friendly wave and a wink that said, ‘It’s all sewn up,’ Bobet said afterwards. “It cheered me up and I thank him for it. ”

Indeed, Bobet won for the first time in Paris. Twelve months later, he abandoned Kübler to defend this title. This time he was already in yellow – the only time Bobet would wear the jersey on the Izoard.

Accordionist in the caravan

Among the crowds awaiting Bobet’s arrival in Briançon was musician Yvette Horner, 31. As part of the advertising caravan that paraded in front of the race, she had passed the stage as she had passed the previous 17: sitting on the roof of a Citroën with a slogan wearing a sombrero and playing her accordion.

Now she had to make a presentation to Bobet of an armband sponsored by Suze (a kind of armband). The makers of the French aperitif Suze sponsored the yellow jersey and provided his car – the Suze Vedette – which was driven by her husband.

Born Yvette Hornère in 1922 in the Pyrenean city of Tarbes, she trained as a pianist before learning the accordion and changing her name at the suggestion of her commercially astute mother.

After plying her trade in concert halls in southwestern France and winning the 1948 World Accordion Championship, Horner’s big break came in 1952 when she joined the Circus of the Tour for the first time. . It was hard work.

“I played the entire course, without stopping on the climbs or descents,” she once said. “Sometimes I had to remove the mosquitoes from my nose, sometimes I was dirtier than the winner of the stage.

Horner remained on the Tour until 1965. Over a 64-year career, she claimed to have sold some 30 million records.

Bobet won the 1954 Tour and won a third in 1955, becoming the first driver to win three Tour titles in a row. It was a turnaround on the part of the runner who many previously believed didn’t have the resilience to win a three week race.

“In the Tour, it looked like Bobet just didn’t seem to have the stamina needed for a total victory,” Jock Wadley wrote in 1956 reflecting on Bobet’s early performances.

What helped was working with healer Raymond Le Bert, who performed athlete surgery in Saint-Brieuc and examined Bobet after the 1948 Tour.

He was shocked to find the rider covered in boils and physically drained. The Bert took him to retrieve, leaving no one an address but simply saying, “This is a wreck and it is high time he was saved.”

It was the start of a long professional relationship that ultimately led to the success of the Tour.

“I no longer recognized him,” wrote Jean, Bobet’s brother and colleague, reflecting on his brother’s victory in the 1954 Tour. “He had been released; Louison the disturbing had become a warrior.


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