To some, the 1956 Tour de France is an aberration. Scratch the result, the winner was lucky, he didn’t deserve it. It was a Tour à la Walkowiak.
This phrase is used to describe a sporting victory that was undeserved, or fortunate. But when Roger Walkowiak became ‘Walko’ and won the 1956 Tour, few considered it lucky.
Jacques Goddet and Félix Levitan described the Tour as perhaps the finest, most athletic renewal to date. From the moment the riders left Reims, riders attacked relentlessly, forming breakaways that maintained speeds of 50km/h. With no former winner in the peloton, riders felt free to abandon their team affiliations and ride for themselves.
After just 9 stages, Raphaël Géminiani, one of the toughest and most competitive riders of his generation, lay breathless on the grass at the centre of the velodrome in Bordeaux and complained:
“I can’t go on like this. We’ve just ridden 9 Classics in 9 days. They’re tearing each other apart.”Raphaël Géminiani
And all of this before the Tour hit the Pyrenees and the Alps.
And so here is the story of that Tour – and the stories within the peloton that make a Tour what it is. The renaissance of Roger Hassenforder, Jempy Schmitz’s awesome adventure, Roger Darrigade’s rapid rise and brutal fall, and Sauveur Ducazeaux’s culinary and man-management skills. You’ll meet Pierrette Walkowiak, before she is brusquely ushered from the scene, and the Miroir des Sports journalists as they quaff their way around l’hexagone.
Each stage is a self-contained tale in its own right, some containing multiple stories, all of which can be verified – to a degree – if you’re of such a mind.
This project started out as a book, but ended as something altogether more interactive, but let’s call it a book for now. It’s completely free, too – all I ask is that, if you really like it, you buy me a coffee below, and that you sign up for updates on my next book, Koblet + Kübler.
I hope you enjoy Walko, and of course, I’d love to hear from you.