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1969 Bordeaux-Paris

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Waiting for Godefroot

J. B. Wadley International Cycle Sport October 1969

ICS6910WALTER GODEFROOT at last managed to get away from the crowd of reporters and photographers, and was making for the showers. He had been in the saddle for 14 hours and was understandably a bit on edge. He was pursued by the usual crowd hunting for autographs - and his racing hat. He gave his signature willingly enough, but refused to part with the hat. Godefroot rode a few yards, before stopping to talk with a Belgian journalist who had raced over with a last-minute question. The hat and autograph hounds were after him again.
"Your hat, please!"
Godefroot turned round, another refusal surely on his lips. Then he looked down. The applicant was a five-year-old boy. With a beaten grin, the Belgian star pulled off the prize, jammed it over the little fellow's head, smacked his bottom and pedalled off to the showers.
Next morning in dad's paper, the young cycling enthusiast would see big pictures of "his" hat still on the head of Walter Godefroot. Above it would be such headlines as "Godefroot: great winner of little Bordeaux-Paris" or "Godefroot's class saved the day."
Serious followers of continental racing will understand the significance of such phrases. For several years Bordeaux-Paris has been avoided by the big names who are afraid of risking their reputations. Last year, after the May strikes had caused a postponement until September, it became nothing more than a consolation race for men who had had a bad season. This was the closing paragraph of my story on the win of outsider Emile Bodart of Belgium:
Next year / hope the race will be back to its proper date in May, that it will be taken more seriously by all concerned, and that Bodart will have won something other than the 1968 Bordeaux-Paris by then.
Those hopes were not realised. The 68th Bordeaux-Paris was on September 7th. Only 12 riders started, most of them insufficiently trained for a 365 miles test. Bodart had won nothing.
More than ever it was a consolation race. Those desperate to salvage something from a poor season included: Jan Janssen (Holland); Rolf Wolfshohl (Germany), Jean Jourden (France) Gorges Van Coningsloo and Emile Bodart (Belgium).
The odd man in the 12 starters was Walter Godefroot who had won something. Something big. Paris-Roubaix, in April. But following a difference with his employers Flandria (he made it known that he would be riding for an Italian firm next year) he was dropped from their Tour de France team. Godefroot is a big rival of Eddy Merckx whose popularity was fantastic after his Tour de France win. Godefroot was counting on a world championship success to restore the balance, but although in the vital break at Zolder, he failed to win.
Bordeaux-Paris, then was an ideal chance for Godefroot to hit the headlines at the season end. The fact that he won it as he liked with 12 minutes to spare, does not detract from his performance. It was a little Bordeaux-Paris, but he was a great winner because with a fresh headwind all the way, he was very near to equalling the record average speed.

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This year I did not follow the "Derby of the Road" all the way from Bordeaux, nor even from Chattelerault where the riders made contact with their Derny-pace. I merely saw them on each of the eight laps they made of the 3-kms circuit of the new market "city" (the largest in the world) at Rungis on the southern outskirts of Paris.
The arrival of Bordeaux-Paris was the final item of a long day's cycling which had begun at 8 a.m. with 150 “thirds and fourths" riding a 75 km event.
One hundred and fifty amateurs on a 3 kms circuit. The idea sounds dangerous. In fact 300 could have been accommodated in perfect safety The road between the spacious fruit, butter and cheese warehouse was as wide as the runaway of nearby Orly airport.
When I arrived the 75 kms event was half-way through, and as yet the riders outnumbered the paying spectators. The pre-race advertisements for the promotion had advised the purchase of tickets (7/6) before the day "so as to avoid waiting at the gates on the day of the race." Very few took the advice, yet there was no congestion at the gates. The advertisements, too, stressed the availability of 27 permanent restaurants around the circuit, but apart from one in the vicinity of the finishing line, the staff were not rushed off their feet.

The poor public support was due to two main reasons. The general lack of interest in Bordeaux-Paris. The lack of appeal of Rungis as a finishing area compared with the traditional "finale" at the Parc des Princes. (Last year there was a big crowd on the new housing estate at Massy not far from Rungis, but they were getting a free look).
Rungis remined me of the starting area at Mourenckx Ville Nouvelle in this year's Tour de France. The square, was too wide, too spacious, too perfect, the crowd too far away. There was no atmosphere. To get it a bit of confusion is necessary; officials must blow whistles, the team cars blast a way through the crowd to the parking place, the riders must be close to their public.
There was. as I said last month, the possibility of the finish of the 1969 Tour de France being at Rungis, and the idea was still being considered for1970 I shall be surprised if it is pursued, following the experience of this Bordeaux-Paris day promotion. Only 3,200 paid their 5 francs, and they were lost in the vastness of the place. Compared with the capacity crowds of 30,000 who cheered Bordeaux-Paris winners Bernard Gauthier, Louison Bobet, Tom Simpson and Jacques Anquetil into the Parc des Princes, it was a very sad occasion.

When I arrived at Rungis at 9 a.m. there were only about 200 spectators gathered around the finishing area, most of them connected in some way with the riders in the amateur competitions. Recently I criticized a British road race organiser for not having his programme available all round the circuit. There at Rungis there wasn't one at all ...Luckily I had Saturday's 'L’Equipe" which gave the bare details, but I just hadn't a clue who the riders were. It was evident, though, that they weren't "big" amateur riders, since the best men were all riding in the two-day Paris-Vierion. There were, in fact, a few very small riders taking part - some of the 15 year olds in the Cadets race, and half a dozen jockeys I One of the attractions of the opening night of the Paris six-day race was the Jockey's championship, with the little fellows sprinting furiously round the steep Velodrome d'Hiver in hippodrome colours while excited trainers, stable boys and owners urged them on, Again at Rungis, this atmosphere was missing. The jockeys handled their "mounts" well and were obviously very fit, but there was no great spectator enthusiasm during the five-laps race.
The Cadets event over 18 laps (34 miles) brought home to me again the strange situation whereby French youngsters in this 15-16 year old category have no gear restrictions. Neither have the 13 and 14 year olds in the "Minima" class; when he was 14 Serge Guyot (brother of Bernard and Claude) told me he regularly used 52 x 14 in his races ...I spoke about this with M. Simon Chevalier, president of the Comite de l'ile de France of the French governing body.
"No, I'm not happy with this at all" he said "Until sixyears ago there used to be a restriction of 46 x 15. That was a bit low, perhaps, and there was certainly a case for raising it. Instead the restriction was lifted entirely. Next year we are trying to get a maximum of 52 x 16 for Cadets."
Another official I spoke to was puzzled at the low average speeds for the events. The Rungis circuit looked as fast as a cement track, yet the best laps in the senior races were under 24 m.p.h. Two obvious explanations occured to me. One was that the circuit was more than 3-kms - indeed it would be remarkable if it were exactly that figure. Secondly, a continental roadman always will "use all the road" available. In this case the road was literally as wide as a big airport runway, and the youngsters were often snaking across from side to side and back again in an effort to get rid of each other on one side of the circuit, and to combat the fresh wind on the other. Moreover they took the two right angled bends very wide. The riders could have been covering as much as 31 kms each lap.

After following so many professional races abroad I found it interesting to see most of the youngsters riding marques of bicycles that are produced by the local lightweight man, or at least carry his transfer. Among those used at Rungis were: Leuridan, M. Lemoine, Poussch, Allegro, M. Gobillot, Super Royal, Chariot, Jean Louviot, Salmon-Sport, L. Borne, Champy-Sport, C. C. Igny, Haussard, Special Robbo Antony, Chaplait, J. Robbo, A. Hoyer, E. Lebaue, Grimaldy, C. Dardenne, Amiral. Among the extra-sportif jerseys of these amateurs: Ski equipment, a transport company, typewriter manufacturers, office equipment, embrocation, furnishing stores, wine merchant, photographers.
The most intriguing point of all the Rungis programme was, for me, the event known as the "Criterium des Comingmen." I spotted this strange name on my first visit to France in 1933, and have often cited it when talking about the adoption - and in this case the manufacture - of English expressions by French cyclists. Lately the name had disappeared. I always imagined it to be a conventional race for young riders. In fact, it is something special. M. Chevalier told me something of its background.
"Le Comingmen is a team race with a difference. Seven riders from one club take part, one of them designated as the actual competitor. It is over 100 kms, and the other six are there to.pace him, but with a maximum of three at a time.
"The first Comingmen was held at Montlhery in 1923, when the winner was Choury, who later as a pro. became a popular prime-chaser in the Paris "six". Then the race was transferred to Longchamp, where it was always a hotly contested curtain-raiser to the Criterium des As.
The last event was held in 1957 when Jean Raynal won it. Following the tradition, today's winner will be given a ride in the 1970 Criterium des As."

In the current copy of "Ile de France Cycliste" I saw that the winning "Comingmen" received a prize of 40 with the same amount divided among his team. Travelling expenses would be allowed as follows for Comingmen and team: Those travelling between 30 and 90 miles, 4; 90-250 miles, 12; above 250 miles, 24.
Although the race was open to a maximum of 16 Comingmen (1st and 2nd and hors-categories except ex-professionals) only. ten riders lined up for the start. On the other side of the circuit the team-mates were waiting to begin their pacing duties.
It was an interesting race from the technical angle, but - like everything else there on the spacious circuit without any real spectator appeal. Interesting because after each spell pacing, the team-mates cruised round like off-duty Six-day men, before going in again on the stipulated zone on the back straight. It was soon evident the team-mates' duty was not only to pace, but to plan the race as well. Any small break by one team, was soon countered by another with the "pace follower" hanging on.
The Criterium des Comingmen was scheduled for 34 laps, but a decision was suddenly taken to trim it down to 29 because of the imminent arrival of a number of men coming from Bordeaux. At the "bell'' the 10 men and their pacers were all in a long line. At 600 yards from the line the pacers were called off, leaving the 10 Comingmen to sprint it out. The winner was Garat of the J.P.S. club to which Billy Bilsland belongs. The time of 2h. 21m. 47s. for an alleged distance of 54 miles is proof enough that the circuit distance was well over 3 kms.
Then Godefroot appeared, and 12 minutes after him Perin and Jan Janssen who swopped the lead for the eight laps of the market before Janssen took the sprint for second place. Perin was the only "revelation" of another non-vintage Bordeaux-Paris. There are dangerous signs that the race - at least in its present formula - will be dropped from the calendar, as Paris-Brest-Paris was 13 years ago.

Result
1. Walter Godefroot Belgium 14 37 17
2. Jan Janssen Holland 14 49 25
3. Michel Perin France 14 49 29
4. Georges Van Coningsloo Belgium 14 49 59
5. Emile Bodart Belgium 14 52 57
6. Jean Jourden France 15 2 28
7. Jose Catioau France 15 13 25
8. Jiri Daler Czechoslovakia 15 30 53
9. Henri Hiddinga Holland 15 32 22
10. Jean-Marie Leblanc France 15 46 13
Retired
Rolf Wolfshohl (Germany)
Willy Spuhler (Switzerland)

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