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None The Wiser, Nothing By Half
A rest day in Aix-en-Provence and an opportunity for the cyclists to soak in some culture and put their feet up.
8 min read
The Physician, The Belgians, and the Fishy Excuses Previous Dotto and Lerda Leave Laurédi In The Lurch Next

Chapters

None The Wiser, Nothing By Half
Louison Loves Laurédi
A Picot in the Tour
Admire Cezanne, Roger

Soundtrack
Tour de France, Wout Wagtmans & Wim Van Est (yes, really)

None The Wiser, Nothing By Half

There have been many yellow jerseys so far in this Tour de France, but as the race takes a break in Aix-en-Provence, the Alps loom large over the Tour and we’re still none the wiser as to who will be riding yellow into Paris.

Wout Wagtmans is the latest wearer of yellow and is perhaps our most serious contender yet to have worn it. Wout can climb, he can time trial – and this will be handy with the time trial coming up after the Alps – and his slight frame belies a punchy strength that the beefier Belgians would be proud of. Wout’s childhood is not out of place with many in the peloton. A farmhand at the age of 14 with parents eager to put him and his seven siblings to work as soon as possible, Wout discovered the bike, and discovered an easier way to make money.

Wout did nothing by half. As an amateur rider, he signed up for two simultaneous races, earning himself a suspension as well as a podium finish. He quickly turned professional and became the youngest ever Dutch rider in the Tour de France in 1950. Wout’s problem, if it were a problem, was that he simply couldn’t stop riding. He’d ride almost non-stop from March to November every year, and would then train 6 days a week in the winter. 

None of this would prevent Wout Wagtmans from living the life he’d dreamed of. He bought a house for his parents and more for his relatives and friends. He’d buy new cars – American or German – whichever was fastest. You’d find Wout in the nightclubs of Paris, you’d find him smoking cigars and drinking whisky. You’d even find him drinking mid-race. Wout lives life as fast as he rides his bike, and today in Aix-les-Bains, the little Dutchman the peloton loves and knows as The Clown, is finally able to rest, and rest in a yellow jersey at that.

Does anyone take his claims seriously? Could he really hold on to yellow all the way to Paris? Wagtmans is a climber, slight of frame and a demon on the descent, and yet he isn’t taken seriously. There is a suspicion that he’ll crack in the Alps, a victim of his own hectic schedule.

Louison Loves Laurédi

Breathing down his neck is the man Louison Bobet loves to hate – Nello Laurédi. Nello hasn’t really disturbed anyone during this Tour. He has sat in behind wheels, rarely challenged for finishes, but has displayed a rather boring tendency to be consistently there or thereabouts, finding himself on the second rest day with around 90 seconds deficit on the yellow jersey and his favourite mountains about to spring up from the earth in front of them. Three-time winner of the Dauphiné Liberé, Laurédi is even being taken seriously by Bobet himself.

The Bobet-Lauredi rivalry dates back to 1953 when Nello won a stage in a sprint ahead of Bobet, who was aiming for the first of his three Tour victories. Louison was still usually called Louis at that stage – a nervous, spindly individual with bags of promise, but a palmarès waiting to be written. Bobet confronted Laurédi after the race, and the French team appeared to be siding with their Franco-Italian friend and not Bobet. All of that changed when the team leader agreed to share his winnings with the team. Nello Laurédi had won not just the stage, but he had boosted his own personal finances that day.

In a straight-up duel between Wagtmans and Lauredi, the romantic follower of the Tour might side with Laurédi. Rejected by the French national team, Nello now finds himself in one of the worst regional teams around, Sud-Est. Apart from Jean Dotto – himself excluded from the French national team even after having won the Vuelta last year – the team is made up of allegedly hapless, disorganised and ill-disciplined riders including the former lanterne rouge Raymond Meyzenq who somehow found the legs to climb the mountains with the best of them before falling back into the ranks where he belongs.

So if Nello Laurédi is to win this Tour, it’s without the help of teammates, unlike Wagtmans who can count on Nolten, Van der Pluym and Voorting among others.

A Picot In The Tour

Journalists are quick to avoid the name of Fernan Picot, even though the Breton is wearing green and is bringing home more money to the Ouest team than multiple stage-winner Roger Hassenforder.

There are more glitzy names in the Breton cohort.

Fernan Picot is another of those riders nobody expected to crest the Pyrenees, and yet crest them he did, finishing 2nd behind Jempy Schmitz on the breakaway day and then second again. Picot keeps popping up, and yet like Roger Walkowiak, he’s rarely considered a threat despite his consistency. And consistency wins tours.

Picot is young, and green is perhaps the best jersey he could hope for with the Alps ahead of him, which should prove too stern a challenge for the Breton. Antoine Blondin called him a little pocket picker for the way in which he nicked races from some of the bigger fellows in the pack such as Mahé. His teammates called him Frog’s Legs, something to do with his riding style; you can imagine what they might be implying.

He made his name beating Fritz Schär, the Swiss ratagasse, two years ago. That got peoples’ attention, but he was overlooked for the Tour with Tour organiser Jacques Goddet famously saying “We’ll have no Picots on this Tour”. This was not – it should be said – about Fernan, but about the illegal nougat sellers found ambling among the crowds at start and finish towns, also known as Picots. It’s Goddet’s Tour, and he will control everything, especially the commercial aspects.

Either way, it rankled with Fernan, who trained harder that winter to ensure that there would be at least one Picot on the Tour.

This year, his first at Mercier, he is playing an altogether different game – more patient, dare one say it – better managed.

Admire Cézanne, Roger

And then, of course, there is Roger Walkowiak. The Nord-Est-Centre man doesn’t have a team of luxury domestiques around him, but he does have the experience of Adolphe Deledda and the inspired leadership of team director Sauveur Ducazeaux. Roger got in the famous breakaway alongside Fernan Picot and multiple others on the road to Angers, but Roger has been in breakaways and chasing groups for most of the race, except when in yellow. He was in the original Darrigade breakaway on stage 1 until he punctured, and he climbed the Pyrenees with consummate ease.

Ducazeaux has been transformed as a technical director, too. From the easy-going régionale coach, Ducazeaux has morphed into a strategist with military precision, dosing each meal and every bidon with just the right amount of nutrition required, ensuring his men sleep the precise number of hours per night required. Ducazeaux may not have the army he would have wanted, but he has the battle he has longed for all his life.

Today, Ducazeaux has chosen to take Walkowiak to the art gallery. Take his mind off the race, at least temporarily. They’re putting on a special Cézanne exhibition, and half the caravane is there to appreciate it.

50 years since he died, boy, 50 years, can you believe it. How apt that the Tour should stop off here, at the home of Cézanne, after having ridden through those sun-bleached fields of Provence, through towns of white-washed houses and fields of lavender. Dear boy, I know you don’t look up from your handlebars, but you have one day to admire the work of this man, one day.

He’s impressed by his rider’s sang-froid and the relaxed manner in which he has adapted to the role of hunter for the yellow jersey. He has climbed well in the Pyrenees and he claims openly that if his man can maintain his place ahead of the crucial Gap-Turin stage, then the race is as good as won.

For now, Ducazeaux says, admire Cézanne. Your time will come.

lauredi picot wagtmans walkowiak


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