1973 Bordeaux-Paris



Pete Duker International Cycle Sport July 1973


ICS7307T0 appreciate Bordeaux-Paris, one must first take some measure of its severity. Apart from the colossal physical effort required to race nearly 600 kilometres in one day, take into account that a rider must remain in the saddle for between 14 and 15 hours. Jean-Michel Leulliot of O.R.T.F., one of France's most able television commentators, described it as "inhuman". It may well be, but I would rather change the prefix from "in" to "super", for I'm sure that this would be a little nearer the truth.
Nobody forces a man to become a professional roadman, and once he is reasonably well established in that method of making a living, nobody is going to force him to compete in Bordeaux-Paris if he feels that he hasn't got what it takes in that type of competition.
It is a completely unique event in every shape and form, and therefore attracts the "specialists", the hard men of the road, who can suffer the preliminary agonies, and then drive their bodies far beyond the limit set down by Mother Nature.
The history of Bordeaux-Paris is rich with fabulous and unbelievable exploits dating from the very first edition when G. P. Mills of England won the day, or might I say 26 hours-plus. Farther down the list appears the name of Francis Pelissier, who's amazing performances, not only as a rider but as pace-maker and directeur sportif as well, earned him the title of "The Sorcerer of Bordeaux-Paris'', On through the years to "Monsieur Bordeaux-Paris,'" Bernard Gauthier, who won the event four times, then Jacques Anquetil, who flew directly from his victory in the ultra-severe Alpine stage-race, the 1965 Dauphine-Libere, after a ferocious "mano a mano" against the watch with Raymond Pouhclor in the afternoon, to Bordeaux, where at midnight he was ready and waiting to suffer 15 hours of the most cruel type of cycle-racing that the sport has to offer ... and to win it! I
Tom Simpson had also carved his name on the immortal list to follow Mills' example . . . but enough of yesteryear, it is now 1973, and the race, after three years of rest, (mainly because it's former end-of-season place in the calendar did not make it a viable proposition for the top riders who had had a very tough season already), had been allotted a more sensible date, May 27th, excellent preparation for the Tour de France, if you could possibly label this incredible event with a tag as mild as preparation ! !
A marathon for me too, 20 hours by boat and train from Newhaven, no chance of rest at Bordeaux because of signing in etc. during which I found some new companions from Die Laatste Nieews of Brussels, who were prepared to allot me a seat in their car.
During the stifling afternoon I was able to talk with another great name of "The Long Road", Wim van Est of Holland, 3-times winner in '50, '52 & '61, on 3 occasions 2nd, and twice in fourth position. He told me of the magic of the 400 kilometre mark, after about 11 hours, when a man's attention starts to wander the hallucinations commence, and Van Est stressed the horror of the shadows of the trees, which everyone who has ridden or driven in France will appreciate that the effect of these shadows is very similar to flicking a light-switch on and off. At this particular point, too, the riders are extremely dehydrated and need a massive amount of liquid.


The hours spent in waiting gradually passed by. and our Anglo- Belgian party moved on down the road to a point 7 kilometres north of the town to await the start proper at 2 a.m.
Outside the "Quatre Pavilions" there is a wide roundabout, and this was the point to which the crowd converged, and in point of fact had been converging all the previous evening, and by midnight whatever they had been carousing with had taken effect, and a lot of singing and dancing was going on, giving no chance for a few minutes "kip".
It's quite an eerie atmosphere at the start, the
riders and accompanying team vehicles bathed in the lights high above the roundabout. The heat is very oppressive, but, as forecast, a light rain starts to fall just before the flag goes down, necessitating a bit of taping-up.
As soon as the "depart" was given the small peloton of 15 was off to a flying start. Now, 15 riders you may, in all sincerity, not consider very impressive, but later on we will add to this two pacers mounted on Dernys who also have their own service vehicles, two service vehicles for each team, along with at least 16 Press cars and 10 photographers motorcycles, and you will see that we have quite a formidable armada of men and metal on the road later on in the proceedings.
However, at this point in time, by the lights of the following cars, the riders were pumping away at around 60 k.p.h., which, when you consider what was in store for them, was more than a praiseworthy speed. "Tour Radio" announced that the police had made it clear that the left-hand side of the road was open to ordinary traffic, this caused a little hilarity as at that exact moment most of us were negotiating a roundabout against the normal flow of traffic!! However to keep the wheels of commerce turning, traffic going in the same direction as the race, including the massive juggernaut trucks, were led by the race entourage by the police outriders, which brought back reminders of the horror of British road-racing 1
It might be opportune at this moment to dwell, albeit briefly, on the extraordinary relationship that exists between the police and the organisers of major races in France. Each treats the other as an efficient and highly competent organisation, controlled to the nth degree in a sporting aspect, and so there is a mutual respect, (plus a lot of laughter and banter besides), but from this understanding between the two of them emerges an immaculate operation that has to be experienced to be believed.
Well wrapped-up in leg and arm warmers although it was not at all cold, and the rain had stopped, the field immediately got down to work and the first hour saw 40 kilometres behind them, the wind being favourable. They kept up this pace during most of the hours of darkness.so when dawn broke at about 5.15 the race was some 20 minutes ahead of schedule. During the run from here on through Angouleme and Ruffec (153km) it was amusing to see the spectators standing outside their houses in pyjamas and slippers.

Ferdi Bracke (Peugeot B.P.) was the first puncture victim, but as Lucien Aimar (de KovaLejeune) was attending to the needs of nature at approximately the same time, they returned to the fold together. Danguillaume (Peugeot) also suffered a deflation, and came back grinning, obviously at this time still feeling good.
Soon it was time for the traditional changing routine, the field sloping as one man, with the team managers and soigneurs bustling about, trying to get their men into dry clothing in the shortest possible time. Joseph Carletti (de Kova) was by far the quickest. away, followed by Michel Perin, Cyrille Guimard, and Jacques Cadiou, all of GAN-Mercier.
Perin and Carletti got together, put their heads down, and held a lead of 55 seconds for a while, but prudently sat up and waited for the rest who had now settled down after Jurgen Tschan (Peugeot) had had trouble in making contact after a late start.
Our car motored on to Poitiers so that we could have a sandwich and coffee, and Fred Daman went off to have a chat with the pacers, who were already testing their Dernys in the wide street.
Mounted on one of these machines a Derny pacer looks odd enough as it is, but even odder without it!! Clad in layers of racing clothing, which is designed not only to keep them warm but to give maximum shelter to their charges, with racing shorts, white socks and Adidas training shoes, plus racing cap, crash-hat, goggles or glasses, they are ready for the fray.
There are two pacers allotted to each rider, together with a following van with spares and fuel on board, the mechanics being able to service the Dernys and racing bikes as they roll along.
Through the blue haze thrown up from the exhausts of these grotesque machines charged the field, 219 kilometres already in their legs, with riders fighting to try and get to their pacers through the mass of men and machines, as the whole circus roared out of Poitiers, cars four abreast with riders all over the place. Rosiers (Bic) and Aimar were the last to join their Dernys, and at the front, Perin, Ronald de Witte (Flandria), and Enzo Mattioda (G itane- Frig icreme) got off to a small lead.
The speed was an almost 60 K.P.H., and one pacer who had stopped for adjustments had a terrible job in getting back to the field!
Jurgen Tschan, stopping to change bikes, started off a long chain of personal misfortunes when he took 15 km to get in contact again.
Gerard Vianen (Gitane) and Cadiou overhauled the leaders, and all of them settled down to work. Behind the bunch and the race-director's car are always the little group of "second" pacers, stirring along flat-footedly ready to take over from number one at any time. It must take a considerable amount of courage and determination to act as pacer in Bordeaux-Paris, as these machines are all fixed-wheel, so a man must pedal these buzzing brutes all the way to Paris, no mean feat if you could see the shape of some of them ! !
Tschan stopped again to change onto his own bike, and once more had a long chase to rejoin. The German rides very smoothly, and is beautifully muscled. For a first-timer he was going to show a great deal of courage in this frightening event.
Around Chatellerault (253 km), which was the old pick-up point for pacers, Vianen and Cadiou were 25" ahead of Carletti, with the bunch at 1' 05".
Carletti caught the leaders and then Daniel Rebillard (Flandria), De Witte, and Perin set off in their pursuit, but to no avail, for soon the whole field was together again. Immediately Carletti and De Witte went again, followed by Perin, Danguillaume and Rebillard but this assault only attained a maximum lead of 1 ' 20'.

Rosiers had been doing the main portion of the work in the peloton, but monumental efforts from Jurgen Tschan brought the field once more together after 47 km of the paced section. Once again the German was brought to his feet by mechanical trouble, and whilst he was pounding away trying to get back on, his team-mate Ferdi Bracke got clear up front, thus increasing the speed of the field making Tschan'stask really crucifying.
De Witte and Carletti joined Bracke with Rene Pijnen (Bic) and Perin at the 281 km mark, 62 km having been covered in the first hour from Poitiers I
Our car was moving up past the peloton on the left side of a dual carriageway, when we saw young Tschan, also on the same side, making a tremendous effort to go clear, and we followed him as he forced his way up to the leaders, who then had a lead of a minute.
As the peloton was fast losing ground, Guimard attacked with Vianen following suit, a general regrouping being the result. Ferdi Bracke then attacked again, and De Witte decided that his fellow- countryman had gone far enough, got the same idea, and soon caught and dropped the former world pursuit champion who had suddenly been hit with the proverbial hammer.
At 310 km Vianen set off in pursuit of De Witte, passing a now completely-shattered Bracke in the process. So now the position was De Witte, with Vianen in full cry approximately 1 r 30 ahead of Mattioda, Rebillard, Pijnen, Tschan, and Perin, with the peloton containing race favourites Godefroot (Flandria), Aimar, and Rosiers a further 5' 40' in arrears.
Both De Witte and Vianen were caught by the group of Five, who in turn had to capitulate to a flying peloton under the impulsion mainly of Rosiers and Godefroot.
From this situation, at the 404 km mark, Enzo Mattioda attacked and got quickly out of sight, the big guns marking each other and taking little notice of an "unknown" escaping with almost 200 kilometres left to go. However, as we shall see, Mattioda's move was to prove the most important decision he had ever made in his life.
After the warm night, the high temperature in the bright sunlight caused Rosiers, to whom the sun is no ally, to call up the doctor. Rebillard, too, was in trouble, and a screaming of brakes brought attention to young De Witte who was zig-zagging in the road. Old Sol was taking his toll. However the magic sponge got him going in a straight line, and he managed to rejoin, as did Rebillard shortly afterwards.
On learning that Mattioda was now 3 minutes clear, Rosiers mounted an offensive, the major effect of which was the final disappearance of Rebillard, Bracke having retired just before Vendome (377 km).
Danguillaume was busy being physically sick, and lost contact irretrievably when Rosiers went again. At Chateaudun (416 km) Mattioda had pushed open the gap to 5' 11 ", and despite of all Rosier's efforts he steadily piled it on, until at the 450 km point he was clear by 7" 30', and all of us were just waiting for the inevitable "blowing-up'' to take place.

As an added horror, the organisers had decided that as there was a brand-new, and yet as unused, stretch of motorway almost 20 km long just after Trancrainville (464 km), they would put on a test of speed against the watch for each competitor, no matter what position he held on the road, and this I thought would be the death of Mattioda, as the battle between Rosiers and Guimard who had attacked and escaped just before this section) Tschan, De Witte, Aimar, and Godefroot, was one of the fiercest and most ferocious that I have ever witnessed.
We were able to travel in the left-hand carriageway, and being in a Belgian press car all their interest was centred on Godefroot. Setting a blistering pace. almost beside his Derny to shelter from the strong crosswind the super-tough crack tore into the job with a ferocity and single-mindedness of purpose that was almost frightening to watch. Jurgen Tschan fought desperately to keep with him, to no avail, and gradually Godefroot pulled up to Guimard who had no answers to the animal power produced by the Belgian.
Rosiers, too, he vanquished just before the line, and then the effort was over, and the four came together again as the normal road was reached, Godefroot being the richer by El 50.
Incredible as it may seem, the next announcement over the radio was that Mattioda's lead was now 8 minutes I !
We were now moving steadily towards the Chevreuse valley with about 60 km to go, and facing riders who had ridden already for more than 12 hours was first of all the killing climb out of Dourdan (504 km). Over the radio came the news that young Mattioda was in serious difficulties on the steep slope, at walking pace, and actually on the point of dismounting and walking!
Digging deep down into his last remaining vestiges of strength, he forced himself and his machine, that now weighed 100 tons, over the top, and once this was accomplished, his morale and force came back, and on the following ascents of St Cyr-sur-Dourdan and the next one, he was in magnificent form, never hesitating at all. On past Rungis, with Orly Airport on the right, his nostrils filled with the smell of victory, he pounded his weary body until at last he was on the short finishing circuit round the supermarket of Belle Epine, to a well-deserved and unexpected (except for him) win.
Meanwhile, Guimard had got another wind, probably a fourth or fifth ( !), and had left Godefroot who was obviously now paying for the dreadful battle on the motorway, in the company of Perin, Rosiers, and Tschan who finished in that order,
It would be very difficult to estimate the crowds that lined the long roads and packed the towns during the 400 km between Poitiers and the Capital, but let it suffice to say.that they were of Tour de France proportions, with the last hour of the race live on millions of television screens throughout Europe.
So two things are certain, that in young Mattioda the French have found a strong arm against the present might of the Belgians, and that Bordeaux-Paris is elevated once more to being the great classic that it was before the war.

1 Enzo Mattioda (Gitane- Frigecreme) 563 km in 14.17.55
2 Cyrille Guimard (Gan-Mercier at 4 5"
3 Walter Godefroot (Flandria) at 7 53"
4 Michel Perin (Gan-Mercier) at s. t.
5 Roger Rosiers (Bic) at s. t.
6 Jurgen Tschan (Peugeot-B.P.)at  s. t.
7 Gerard Vianen (Gitane) at 11 ' 53"
8 Lucien Aimar(De Kova) at 15' 03"
9 Jacques Cadiou (Gan-Mercier) at 17'03"
10 Rene Pijnen(Bic) at 33' 34"



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