1979 Bordeaux-Paris



The Derby of the Road

Daniel Schamps International Cycle Sport August 1979


ICS7908A small village with policemen channelling the nearly non-existant traffic around diversions in the early hours of a wet morning with some fifteen mechanics and soigneurs and twice as many spectators was the scene. The reason for this disturbance of the peace soon became apparent to the un-initiated as a small group of riders swept into the grounds of a large house in Ruffec. The riders were welcomed by shrill blasts of a policemans whistle, the Bordeaux to Paris had arrived in town.
Ruffec was the 'toilet stop' where the caped and track-suited bunch changed into dry clothing after a massage and a quick snack. Twenty minutes later race director Albert Bouvet called the thirteen men outside into the chilly dawn, where a damp mist had replaced the earlier rain. After the re-start, the pace was still slow until Poitiers where the group picked up their Kawasaki pacing machines. At this point the convoy was very short with just nine team cars, a sag-wagon and two press cars. The reason for the latter small number was that most of the journalists and photographers were waiting in Poitiers, where they had enjoyed a nights sleep unlike myself and one or two others who had been present at the 02.20 am start from Bordeaux. So you see, it is not just the riders who suffer hardships but also we Journalists, though I must confess that I was pleased not to be out on my bike this particular morning.
After winning the Derby for a record fifth time, Herman Van Springel had declared he would not be riding any future editions but contrary to his word, he was back again as a red-hot favourite. The near veteran Belgian had prepared well as usual behind a pacer for 400 kilometres every day for three weeks, irrespective of the weather and he had confirmed his good form with a recent kermesse success at Betekom and was such a favourite for the event that everyone else appeared to be riding for second place. How the form book can be upset!


That Van Springel lost the race came as no great surprise to anyone who saw the heavy crash he suffered at a time when he was moving well, pegging back the early leader and eventual winner Andre Chalmel. The fall was caused by an over zealous mechanic who was busy oiling the chain on Van Springel's cycle and accidentally caused the Marc Zeepcentrale team captain to lose his balance when he attempted to steady himself by holding the seat pillar. Herman was badly knocked about after hitting his head on the pavement edge and it was five minutes before he re-mounted and courageously finished the course despite his head wound.
Back at Poitiers the 'real racing' commenced with an attack from Jean-Philippe Pipart (La Redoute-Motobecane) who was paving the way for his team leader Roger Rosiers. (Unfortunately the efforts of Pipart were wasted for when he was caught, Rosiers was already out of contention). As an 'habitue' of the race (his eighth) Van Springel did not worry unduly when Chalmel passed through Tours after one hundred kilometres behind the motors with a lead of 5'40" on him (along with Laurens (Marc), Bertin (Peugeot) and Rosiers with Delepine (Peugeot) between at 2'40". Already the rest of the field were spread out over a lot of time, with last man on the road being motor-paced record holder Franz Doegl (Voeslauer) who, was clearly not in condition for such punishment.
After the town of Amboise (kilometre 340) Van Springel moved into over-drive, dropping first his team-mate Laurens, then Rosiers and finally Bertin before catching Delepine who was unable to retain contact for more than two kilometres. It was then that ill-fortune arrived for Herman as leaving Orleans the accident happened all because of the bad weather which had rendered his gears nearly useless without the oil and Chalmel was in sight just ninety seconds ahead. Delepine was soon past and as Van Springel lay semi-conscious on the ground his chance of victory slipped away.
Francis Campaner and Gerard Simonnot (both Amis du Tour de France) abandoned before Orleans. After this we wondered if Chalmel would hold out but after looking likely to be caught at one point, he rallied and entered the finishing circuit with an uncatchable lead. Delepine tried hard to get on terms with Chalmel for a second victory in this race, but had to settle for second spot with Van Springel who was still 'groggy' when he finished hanging on for a meritorious third place and nobody could have blamed him if he had 'climbed off'.
Andre Chalmel, a team-mate of Bernard Hinault followed up two third places (in 1976 and 1977) with a victory, owing much to good fortune on his part in this longest race in the world for professionals (organised by L'Equipe newspaper). Before this day he had only five previous wins; four Brittany criteriums and one stage in the 1975 Tour of Luxembourg. Of course it was a well deserved victory we were left with, no doubt that Van Springel would have given him a torrid time but for fate.
Final word must go to Herman who said he definitely won't be riding in Bordeaux - Paris again. We shall have to wait and see.


1 Andre Chalmel (Renault-Gitane) 584.50 km in 12-25-12 (47,061 km/h)
2 Regis Delepine (Peugeot) at 3-44
3 Herman Van Springel (Marc) at 7-47
4 Yvon Bertin (Rena ult- Gitane) at 9-23
5 Roger Rosiers (La Redoute) at 18-30
6 Marcel Laurens (Marc) at 40-33
7 Serge Perin (Miko) at 48-32
8 Philippe Tesniere (Fiat) s. t.
9 Patrick Beon (Carlos) at 1-06-14
10 Jean-Philippe Pipart (La Redoute) at 1-10-36
11 (and last) Franz Doegl (Voeslauer) at 1-43-22

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