1960 Bordeaux-Paris




7 Hours hard labour - behind the Dernys

Roy Green, Coureur Sporting Cyclist December 1960

THE pace quickens from a 12 m.p.h. "club potter” to a brisk 24 m.p.h.; the pistol cracks as the 13 riders pass under the red and white " L'Equipe-Rustines " banner over the Pont de Pierre crossing the river Gironde on the outskirts of Bordeaux. The neutralised 4 km. section from race headquarters has ended, and the coureurs are on the road at the start of the 557 km. from Bordeaux, wine capital of Europe, to Paris, the French capital. The time is 2.30 a.m. on a Sunday late in May and there are far more spectators than would turn out at 2.30 p.m. for a Sunday event in Britain.
There are frequent shouts of "Allez, Bobet!" for the 35-year-old idol of the French crowds, and quite a few calls of "Bravo, Biquet!" These are the two favourites of the crowd, little Jean Robic, past Tour winner, at 39 now on the threshold of veteran's category, but unlikely to figure on the finishing list, and the doyen of the French sporting public, triple-Tour winner, Louison Bobet, strongly tipped to add this year's edition of the French "Derby of the Road" to his 1959 success.

Despite the early hour, the main square in Bordeaux was crammed with people, crowding round the team cars, in a nocturnal examination of machines. The appearance of each rider had been the signal for small boys to break through the barriers with appeals for autographs.
The machines differed very little from my own or those of my friends, in equipment or general appearance. The wheels were of normal 32-40 spoking, beautifully balanced and free-running, shod with 8-9 oz. Italian tubulars - the Bordeaux-Paris roads were comparable with the average time-trial course, apart from the odd cobbled stretch through a village.
The gears, brakes and chainsets, though naturally of the highest quality, could be bought in any “gen" lightweight shop in Britain. The frames of these supermen of the bike game were similar to the products of Mr. Lightweightman of Great Britain, with, if anything, slightly "heavier" lug designs and noticeably staunch rear triangles. Very little clearance under fork crown or rear bridge, because no 'guards are ever used on these thoroughbreds. In these days of one man - three-or-four bikes, quite a few British racing men will have frames built to these limits (and regret it after a soaking return from an evening's training in "flaming June"!).
No 24-hour man's "gimmicks" of sponge-rubber taped to the 'bars ; these were covered with normal cotton tape. The other point of contact, the most vital, showed the continued popularity of Brooks' saddles. Most of the bikes had these fitted, with the tops rather more supple than the saddles used in British time trials).
Just clear of the town now, the peloton forges into the night at a steady 23 m.p.h. Through the villages the riders are encouraged with enthusiastic applause. Many of the people are clad in pyjamas and dressing gowns. Alarm clocks had no doubt been set at an unaccustomed hour to give these keenest of supporters just a fleeting glimpse of the 13 " giants of the road." At 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning back home, I reflect, the British time-trialist will be deep in slumber, with three or four hours to go before his starting time.

The quiet of the countryside is disturbed by the noise from the many following cars in the caravan, by the exhaust cacophany of the motor cycles bearing reporters and photographers and the police escort. The tunnel of gloom ahead is pierced by the many headlights long, grotesque shadows are cast on the cottage walls through the villages a sudden vivid blaze of light from the rear of a motor-cycle means that a cine-cameraman is adding footage to his newsreel chronicle of the race, aided by powerful floodlights mounted on his camera. Ahead of us, the speed cops are waving any approaching vehicle to the side ; the police vanguard is followed by the car of the directeur de la course, lit like a Christmas tree, a flashing beacon on top giving ample warning of the race's approach.
The inky blackness of the sky is relieved to the east ; dawn is near. Looking round the caravan, I see that the rear-s'eat occupants of the press-cars are dozing ; these boys know full well that the action of Bordeaux-Paris will not really start until Chatellerault, some 250 km. from Bordeaux ; it is here that the race really comes to life. This is the place nominated this year for the " prise des entraineurs," the taking up of the Derny pacing bikes.
From the first Bordeaux-Paris, in 1891, won by the Englishman G. P. Mills when the event was open to amateurs, the "Derby" has always been paced, either wholly or in part, various types of pacing machines, both human- and motor-powered, being employed.
The pacing vehicle has been standardised since 1938, with the Derny (a moped with the small engine continually assisted by the pacer pedalling a high fixed gear), providing the shelter for the riders.
The journalists are right. Nobody is going to start an attack in the early hours of the day, with so far to go, especially with the wind blowing into the riders' faces quite strongly.
Main action of the morning, with plenty to occupy the many photographers in the caravan, comes just beyond Poitiers, at 219 k.m. The directeurs techniques of the various trade teams had decided that it was time for their riders to change from heavy jerseys and tights to normal racing attire.
Photographers rush frantically from group to group of the disrobing riders, who snatch a hurried snack and drink whilst completing toilet operations. Robic's bike receives attention from the mechanics ; the brief halt is a golden opportunity for any small fault, not otherwise worth a stop, to be remedied, any suspect wheel or tyre to be changed.
After their morning " refresher course," the riders move off in ones and twos, a bunch of about eight forming quickly and moving quite fast, the stragglers chasing furiously to make contact. We are nearing Chatellerault now, the assistant race director in whose car I am privileged to have a seat, is busy, with the cooperation of the motor-bike cops., clearing the unofficial cars from the course. During the paced section the road will be totally closed for the passage of the riders.

More press cars have joined the caravan, also several more motorbikes, photographers on the pillions. These worthies are threading their way amongst their acquaintances following the race - shaking hands, exchangling news of the race so far.
Over our car radio comes the voice of Raymond Louviot Directeur Sportif of the Rapha-Gitane concern, giving his views on the chances of his two coureurs.
Looking behind we see the French Radio car alongside the Rapha van, mike held across the gap to pick up Louviot's words and relay them to the listening millions. French radio coverage of a bicycle race is a technical marvel.
About 10 km. from Chatellerault, we pass the peloton and speed on to the town to supervise the procedure of taking up the pacers. We take the left-hand side of a wide, dual-carriageway, the side signposted for the riders, the right side being for the press and following cars. In the town the crowds are the densest seen so far. Mechanics stand with spare machines at the ready, should any rider require a change.
Further on are the entraineurs (pacemakers), with their Dernys. They are clad in racing gear ; the rules of pacing are very strict, the pacers being checked that they are not padded in any way. The machines, too, have been measured to ensure that they do not have a shorter-thannormal wheelbase, so that each rider is afforded roughly the same amount of protection. The previous day, in Bordeaux, the riders' machines had been measured from bottom bracket to front fork end to make sure that only orthodox machines were being ridden. The forks were sealed with fine wire and taped to prevent alteration.
We pull over to the side opposite the pacers to watch the proceedings. After a few minutes, the noise from the crowd at the end of the road grows louder, then 13 riders swing round the corner into view, the pacers move off, shouting and waving at their particular rider. Further down the road, the second-string pacers join the melee. The scene is temporarily one of confusion ; after a while, the riders settle down behind their own pacer, the reserves keeping out of the way, to one side.
First into their stride are Bobet, Viet, Varnajo and Sauvage, opening a slight gap, but the peloton re-groups just outside the town. The first solo breakaway is the young Belgian, Marcel Janssens. Following him we notice his easy, effortless style, pedalling beautifully, at 105 r.p.m. on a fair-size gear, descending a moderately steep gradient through a village over the pave, with the car speedo showing 70 k.p.h. He rides to the right of his pacer, to combat the fresh wind coming from the front, to the left-hand side. After 35 km. alone, however, he is swallowed up by the peloton.
Louison Bobet seems ill-at-case. He has already been in trouble with the commissaires, who spotted that his velo had no wire and tape round the front forks to show that it had been passed. Bobet had to dismount quickly, let the commissaires take a quick measurement check, hop back on to the bike, then make frenzied chase after the bunch. Following him, his action seems somewhat forced, shoulders heaving from side to side climbing the gradients. But he rejoins the peloton after five or six kilometres of lone effort.
It is early yet for attacks, but the young French rider, Claude Sauvage, undeterred by the distance still to go, is the next to try. He is only allowed the lead for 10 km., however, for with 200 km. remaining, little Albert Bouvet, the French pursuit champion, takes over. What a Tryer! "Flying” downhill, riding with a “pushing” style on the flat and up hill, not losing much of his speed up the drags, well adapted for Derny pacing by virtue of his low, forward position on the bike ; here we have a picture of a man riding to his limits.
But 150 km. still remain to the Parc des Princes, and the hot afternoon sun glares down from an almost cloudless sky on the small figure punching away at the kilometres of the N.10, stretching straight as a die into the distance. A momentary easing as he snatches off his goggles, throws them by the wayside, takes a quick drink from his bidon.
Through the cobbled streets of Vendome the crowd is wild with delight at the lead of the popular Frenchman, shouts of " Bou-vet, Bou-vet ! " encourage him as he streaks round the sharp bends in the village, front wheel inches from the rear of the Derny. 'Tonin Magne, directeur sportif to Bouvet and Bobet, moves up in his van to pass over a musette in the feeding zone, keeping well to the rear of the rider as the rules demand.
Bouvet's lead on the field is now seven minutes. We wonder where the Master, Bobet, will make his attack. Our driver reckons that near the valley of the Chevreuse Bobet will pass "comme une fleche!"


But the rider who eventually quits the companionship of the peloton "like an arrow" is not the man everybody is hoping will win this race, Louison Bobet, but the first attacker of the day, Marcel Janssens. The Belgian rider is a fine all-rounder; he came nearest to giving his country her first post-war Tour win, in 1957, when he was second to Anquetil in the " Grande Boucle."
At Chateaudun, with 136 km. of the course remaining, Bouvet is leading by four and a half minutes. At Bonneval, 16 km. further on, he looks desperate as the motor-cycle messenger holds up a blackboard bearing the news - " No. 7 a 2 1/2 min." Another 26 km. and the large crowd in the town of Chartres, 94 km. from Paris, sees the lithe figure of Janssens overtake the struggling Bouvet at 35 m.p.h. Farther on we see Bouvet relegated to third place on the road as the Breton Mahe passes in pursuit of the flying Janssens. Then a little later Bouvet is passed by a group headed by one of the pre-race favourites, Cerami, the 38-year-old Belgian, who received a new lease of life this year by winning Paris-Roubaix and Fleche Wallone.
The original 13 have been chopped to nine now. Robic was the first to give best to the heat and accumulation of kilometres after about 180 km. of the paced section. The young Sauvage has paid for his early efforts and continues the journey in the sag waggon, together with Varnajo and Van Tongerloo. The legend of Bordeaux-Paris  -  "The race that kills " - has come true for these unfortunates. But not for the man whose name we hear continually over the radio - " Janssens, encore seal en tete ! " - Janssens, still away alone, and in command of the race.
Now we are approaching the final, vital section of Bordeaux-Paris, the dreaded long drags of the Valley of the Chevreuse. Janssens climbs out of the saddle up the ramp of St. Cyr de, Dourdan, bike swinging rhythmically from side to side, his pacer, Cools, now by his side, encouraging him - "Allen Marcel, the race is yours, Mahe is four minutes down."
But the race is not yet won, the worst of the climbing through the valley is yet to come before the run downhill to Versailles and the final kilometres through the streets of south-west Paris to the Pare des Princes. They say that every rider of this 360-mile race must suffer a defaillance somewhere along the route ; it is the man who surmounts this bad spell best who will come through the victor. But the Belgian, who has ridden strongly throughout, has no respect for reputations, neither that of the course, nor of Louison Bobet, the man behind from whom the enormous crowd lining the slopes of the hillsides, is still expecting a "miracle" come-back attack. But Louison, fighting back after a bad patch over the plain of the Beauce, is more than eight minutes down on Janssens, who is now attacking the final slopes of Chevreuse.
Now in the saddle, now dancing vigorously, the lithe figure climbs strongly to the tumultuous welcome of the crowd. The sporting French fans, - who have travelled by bus, car, scooter or bike to this noted beauty spot, although longing to see their idol, Louison, at the head of things, are applauding this young Belgian, shouting his name, clapping him all the way, swaying back to the sides of the road as the police motorcycle vanguard scythe a clear path for the rider and his entourage.
At last the hills are over, we see a gleam of victory in the Belgian's eye as he turns to look for his team van. Hooting continuously as it forges a way through the press and radio cars, the team car draws alongside Janssens, passes him a drink.

During the race, his soigneur told me afterwards, Janssens has consumed ham and cheese sandwiches, spiced bread, biscuits and sugar, as well as 10 pints of tea. He had had a pre-race meal of chicken three hours before the start.
Theugels, the directeur sportif, presses a sponge on the back of his man's neck and gives him the news that Mahe, nearest challenger, is still four minutes in arrears.
A fantastic descent into Versailles follows, the din is terrific, the shouts of the crowd combining with the roar of motor-bike, car, and Derny engines, above the whole is the continued hooting of the klaxons of practically every car and motor-cycle in the caravan, heightening the excitement. Screeching of tyres round the sharp bends as we descend into Versailles, the speedo. showing over 80 k.p.h. On one of the sharp bends I have to duck in quickly from the side window of our Peugeot, as the Radio Europe car lurches towards us, trying to pass on a too-tight corner.
Over the bone-shaking pave of Versailles now, and swinging right just before the famous Chateau, up the Picardie Hill, a few more kilometres, mostly over 50 k.p.h. now, and the rider passes over the Seine at the Pont de Sevres. The hero's welcome for Janssens through the densely-packed streets to the Parc des Princes.
The press cars cut away round to the car park at the back of the track. I jump out, push a way through the crowds around the track entrance. As I run down the tunnel leading to the track centre I hear a terrific roar from above me as the rider enters the track. By the time I am on the green sward of the track centre, Janssens is finishing his final lap to victory.
A jostling mob of photographers, reporters, officials surround the sweat-stained figure, congratulating him, trying to get photos or a few words from the victor. Suddenly there is another roar from the crowd, the crack of a pistol, and Mahe behind his pacer enters the track. Varying intervals elapse as the other finishers sprint round the cement bowl, trying for the fastest last lap. The prize of 1,000 N.F. (80) goes to another Belgian, Cerami, completing the 437 metres in 29.3 seconds. Showing his strength at the end of the 16-hour ordeal, Janssens is second, in 30 sec.
The biggest roar of the day goes up as Louison Bobet circles the track relatively slowly, not trying for the prime. Bobet, beaten but not disgraced, in the event on which he had set his heart on winning, dismounts wearily, the fatigue and despair show in his face. But by their great reception the crowd in the stadium show that even in defeat he is still the King of the sport in their eyes.

1960 - The 59th Bordeaux-Paris - Result
1. Marcel Janssens (B), the 557km. in 15h. 59m. 55s.
2. Francois Mahe (F) - at 4m. 16s.
3. Pierre Oellibrandt (B) - at 4m. 48s.
4. Louison Bobet (F) - at 7m. 18s.
5. Pino Cerami (B) - at 9m. 20s.
6. Albert Bouvet (F) - at 13m. 26s.
7. Leopold Roseel (B) - at 13m. 29s.
8. Jan Zagers (B) - at 18m. 46s.
9. Bernard Viot (F) - at 41m. 23s.
Non-finishers: Robic, Varnajo, Sauvage, Van Tongerloo

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