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Treason Among The Tricolores
Stage 13, Luchon to Toulouse, including the climb of the Portet d'Aspet
13 min read
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Gilbert Bauvin, (Place Money Only)
Belgium In Charge
Punctures and Fractures

Mon ami m’a trahi, Gilbert Becaud

Gilbert Bauvin, (Place Money Only)

Gilbert Bauvin. Were it not for Louison Bobet’s withdrawal and Jacques Anquetil’s decision not to ride the Tour, would Gilbert Bauvin have been in the French team at all? Probably not. He’d have been riding for the Nord-Est-Centre team, and Roger Walkowiak would have been his loyal servant as usual, but would Gilbert Bauvin have been so prominent in the General Classification with that team around him?

Well, if Ducazeaux can get Walkowiak up there, he could certainly get Bauvin up there. Gilbert is torn.

And yet, here he is, at the start of the 13th stage with André Darrigade a handful of minutes behind and tricolore team boss Marcel Bidot avoiding making any kind of decision about whose position to defend. For Bauvin, it’s obvious. If any tricolore is going to Paris in yellow then it’s him, and not Monsieur le routier-sprinter. He’s cooked. Burnt out. Clearly not a climber. And with one more Pyrenean stage and the Alps ahead of them, Darrigade is going backwards. Bauvin is going forwards.

Bauvin’s background is typically arduous. His father was a paver, and Gilbert was all set to follow in his father’s footsteps, doing his own Tour de France des artisans, touring the country learning his trade and bringing the trade to the doorsteps of the regions. That’s how it always used to be, and for many, how it always would be. The war put paid to his paving ambitions – after all, who needs a paver when the country’s at war – and Gilbert ended up working as a mechanic, repairing vehicles in his native Lorraine throughout the fighting, discovering the bike later than most professional cyclists.

He came out of the war extremely poor – like most people, only more so. Riding his grandfather’s ramshackle old bike, Gilbert discovered that he could ride for long periods, and climb some serious hills of which there were many around the town of Luneville. He spent his few spare centimes on new parts and inner tubes, and soon joined the local cycling club, discovering that he was a gritty, punchy little rider who was not short of a turn of speed. In his first race, he finished second despite a number of accidents, falls, thrills and spills.

“I always have problems when I’m riding well,” he would later complain, and a grey cloud of bad luck would follow him throughout his career.

He often finishes second, in fact. He was second on his debut race and second in the 1953 World Cyclocross Championships, as well as 2nd in the French Cyclocross National Championships. Like a horse that prefers to follow another to the frustration of punters, Bauvin wasn’t always a safe bet for victory. Place money only.

If you are a team director, Gilbert saddles you with a number of problems:

  • He’s kind of unlucky. He’ll tell you that, and it will annoy you. But he’s right.
  • He speaks his mind. This would usually be OK, but Gilbert’s opinion is that he’s hard done to, and it’s often your fault.
  • He’s hard to integrate into a team. Others usually don’t like him. You imagine that even Gilbert struggles to like Gilbert.
  • Géminiani wouldn’t ride for him. Gem would ride for Bobet, or Coppi when he rode in Italy. But he’d never ride for a “regional little whiner” like Bauvin. 
  • However, you might end up liking him. He’s determined, he’s gritty, and he never ever gives up.

And yet, here he is, 12 stages gone and this short, balding little puncheur may look like a cheap door-to-door encyclopaedia salesman, but he is the best-positioned tricolore in a sea of over-ambitious riders riding for themselves.

What is Marcel Bidot to do? Stick with the glitz and glamour of André Darrigade in the hope that yesterday was an aberration and today will be an improvement? Or does he put all his eggs in the Bauvin basket and hope that this last-minute regional replacement can fulfil his promise?

“I’m a team man,” he would proclaim. “But I’m not a minion.”

Year after year, Bauvin would enter the Tour de France under the Nord-Est-Centre banner, hunting for stage wins while Coppi, Kübler, Koblet, Bobet and the other superstars of the era would fight for the overall. And now, here he is.

Bauvin, Tour winner?

Once more, the press are pressing the claims of Nello Laurédi, a sort of Bauvin-lite regional rider with a more glamorous name. He’s made it through two stages of the Pyrenees, slipping into the right groups without being noticed. Laurédi’s advantage? Taller, slimmer, more elegant, more the ‘type’ of rider you’d expect to be winning the Tour.

And all of this underestimates vastly the potential of Gilbert Bauvin, a man who deserves a break. Unlike Walkowiak, he has always been ambitious. He has always aimed high, and his refusal to accept second place in an era of riders far superior to him is commendable. He will never have a better opportunity. And perhaps Marcel Bidot has this in mind as the riders prepare to leave Luchon, with two leaders in his team: the new one, Gilbert Bauvin, and the old one who still harbours hopes – André Darrigade.

For André Darrigade, there is an extra incentive today. Françoise, the new love of his life, will be waiting at the Toulouse velodrome, bouquet of flowers in her arms. He saw Pierrette waiting for Roger Walkowiak and sent a message straight away for Françoise to welcome him home. André was immune to the murmurs around the peloton that Françoise was a little – and this is putting it delicately – ‘fresh’ for him. They met for the first time last year. Darrigade, competing in a local criterium, Françoise, a 16-year-old girl brought by her parents. Little did they know that the blonde cyclist would be holding a candle for their little girl.

So for Marcel Bidot, two men with ambition, and just one team.

Belgium In Charge

In opposition, a Belgian team that was growing stronger by the day. They held the yellow jersey in Adriaenssens, a doughty, reliable climber, not your average sort of Belgian you’d expect to be winning Classics races every spring, but a Belgian in yellow nonetheless. And early on, Bidot would have noticed the manner in which Constantine (or Stan) Ockers was marshalling the early breakaways.

Brian Robinson, who had seen his Luxembourg teammates enjoy themselves on the breakaway yesterday, thought that in the absence of Charly Gaul’s form, he’d have a go as well. Ockers didn’t so much as reel him in as admonish a severe reprimand, and the Yorkshireman meekly retired to the warmth of the peloton.

Others tried, and once more it was Stan Ockers, rainbow jersey and all, springing from the bunch to remind them that Belgium was in charge today, and there would be no breakaway of any kind, not at least until the col d’Ares. Even Roger Hassenforder got a telling off – and accepted it. These are strange days indeed.

And so a relative calm falls upon the race as the riders roll through the misty fog of the valley, into the morning freshness between the flowers and the rocks, the smell of cut hay once more making certain riders sneeze, others stare misty-eyed at their childhoods passing by. La Pique flows alongside them, crashing off rocks.

It all seems so easy.

Punctures and Fractures

Perhaps the first sign that today wasn’t going Marcel Bidot’s way was the puncture on the Portet d’Aspet. Not a rider this time, but the Peugeot 203 – rear driver-side tyre. Ten minutes were wasted fitting the spare, so Bidot sent their other car ahead, the 4CV, to support Antonin Rolland who had also suffered a puncture. Bergaud is the next to puncture so the 4CV will have to deal with him too.

Next to go was Bauvin himself, a faller on the col de Latrape. Malléjac and Géminiani wait for him, dust him off, put him back on his bike and drag him back towards the peloton but Bauvin is losing time, and Bidot’s strategy of two leaders appears less wise by the minute. In the meantime, in the front group, Darrigade has gone off with Forestier and Privat, and for Bidot this could be a double whammy – not just Darrigade back in the yellow jersey, but the Team Classification – also known as the Martini trophy – with three men at the finish.

With Barbotin in between the two French groups, Bidot had a choice. Send him to support the Darrigade group and push harder for the stage win, or let him slip back to support the Bauvin group in which Géminiani and Malléjac are burning up matchsticks to keep Bauvin in the race. Who’d be a team director, he thinks to himself. Stick. Twist.

It was easier as a rider.

Marcel Bidot, 1929, when he rode the Tour

It’s Bauvin, he shouts from the 203. Stay back and support Gilbert. We may need him.

Darrigade and the boys were counting off the kilometres in the meantime. 30km to go, 20km. The gap had stayed the same and remained the same at 10km to go. The roads had flattened, the pace had picked up both here and behind, the wind was at their backs. Toulouse – and Françoise – were waiting. When like a whip cracking at André’s rear wheel, a tyre gave up its soul, puncturing at 8km from the finish.

Guys, help me out. Give me a wheel.

And so started the betrayal. Privat pretended not to notice. He rode on, leaving his friend and colleague stranded. Forestier would save me, thought André, Forestier’s a good sort. But each to their own, thought Forestier, the 4CV is on its way, they’ll sort you out André. They’ve got a spare wheel waiting for you, I’m off.

André’s problem was that the 4CV was stuck behind Rolland and Bergaud still, a handful of kilometres further back. The 203 was further back with Bauvin, Malléjac, Géminiani and Barbotin. Who to turn to? A hopeless André stood alone at the side of the road brandishing his wheel. Each second that passed was a second lost in the General Classification, so André set about repairing the tyre himself.

Leaping back on his bike, Darrigade pumped at his pedals, trying to regain some of the pace he’d earned for his teammates who were perhaps already in the velodrome, perhaps already celebrating in front of Françoise, the bastards.

Bidot pulled alongside in the 203. 

“What’s going on? Where’s Jean and René?”

“Fuck you Bidot. Fuck you and fuck your French team. They’ve buggered off without me haven’t they.”

“Easy André, I’m sure they had their reasons.”

“Reasons? Fuck you and your reasons,” screamed Darrigade, throwing the deflated spare inner tube through Bidot’s open window. “And screw Bauvin.”

Bidot’s mistake? To have acted in support of men he thought under threat in the General Classification, and not to have acted in support of the man he thought a certainty for the stage win. In hedging his bets and believing that Gilbert Bauvin was the man to protect and bring back to the main group, Bidot had seen his other potential winner eliminated.

Darrigade rode into Toulouse to a hero’s welcome. De Filippis’s stage win was greeted with subdued enthusiasm, but Darrigade – the boy from the South – was received with a standing ovation worthy of a world champion.

He hardly noticed.

He was two minutes behind the stage winner, but effectively out of the running for the General Classification. Throwing his bike to one side, Darrigade sat crying by the railings, hurling insults at anyone who approached. Treason, he cried. I’ve been betrayed by my team, by Marcel, by fate. You’re all bastards.

Françoise was advised to hold back, to leave André to himself, for now. After all, she’s far too young to hear these things.

A relieved Gilbert Bauvin had only lost a couple of minutes. It could have been far worse, were it not for the efforts of Raphaël Géminiani and Jean Malléjac. And yet, that evening, it was Bauvin who provided Andre Darrigade with perhaps his biggest insult of the day:

“What was he hoping for? That he’d float over the Alps?”

Gilbert Bauvin

Ah yes, Darrigade. Hopeful. Ambitious. Over-reaching himself, perhaps, but what’s wrong with that? After all, he’d completed the Pyrenees, he’d tackled the Aspin, the Peyresourde, the Portet d’Aspet – and he was leading the team 8km out from the finish on the final Pyrenees stage. But tonight, no hope. No ambition. No more over-reaching himself.

André Darrigade’s tour was over, and he’d return to the ranks, a hollowed-out shell of a man no longer quite himself, no longer enjoying the Tour, no longer competing for the Tour.

At least that would make Marcel Bidot’s task a little easier.


Stage results

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General Classification

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