International Cycle Sport | September 1968 | Issue No 5 | Page 3
The 3000 Miles Race Won in the Last Twenty Minutes
By J B Wadley
There are wines and wines. Some taste very ordinary if drunk after a few months, but develop with age. Unless some others are "killed" almost at birth, they will go musty and vinegary. Others suffer from travel-sickness. They are wonderful when drunk in their village of origin, but become thin and lifeless if carted back to Britain in a suitcase.
Tours de France are, in some respects, like the Wines of France. Whenever cycling fans talk about the Tour, the names of Years are tossed about with the same significance as when wine lovers get together. In the first number of this magazine, for instance, Rene de Latour wrote about incidents in the 1949 Tour de France - a real vintage year, remarkable at the time, and still improving with age. We talk, however, of '56 only in passing, as a poor year.
What of the Tour 1968? I would call it an unusual year. A year when many bottles had no taste at all, a few had "character", and the last one, opened at Melun and finished off in Paris, was really terrific. A year when the "wine" travelled well - when the news of Jan Janssen's dramatic victory was well received by cyclists in all parts of the world. Even in Spain where they were hoping that San (Miguel) would win, or in Belgium where they thought at last, after 29 years, one of theirs, Van (Springel), would take the Tour - even they could not complain that Jan was an unworthy winner.
Time alone will tell whether 1968 will "keep" -whether we shall still be able to enjoy it in 20 years time, as we can that of 1949 today. For the moment all I can say is that it deserves to last, not as an outstanding year in the sense that the racing was great, but as marking a new era in the history of the Tour. I will come back to this later.
For the moment let me pay tribute to Jan Janssen, the man who won the Tour in the last 20 minutes of a 35 miles time trial. The man who was not expected to last the distance. The man who for the last half of the race had only three team-mates to work for him. The man whose sight is poor, but foresight remarkable.
The man whose arrival at the Piste Municipale produced the most moving scenes I have ever witnessed at any sporting event.
This was the position before the start of the final time trial -
1. Yellow Jersey.. Van Springel
2. At 12 sec.. San Miguel
3. At 16 sec.. Janssen
4. At 59 sec.. Bitossi
5. At 1 min 15 sec.. Gandarias
6. At 1 min 38 sec.. Aimar
7. At 1 min 56 sec.. Bracke
8. At 2 min 12 sec.. Wolfshohl
9. At 2 min 28 sec.. Pingeon
They were sent off, in reverse order, 2 1/2 minutes between each at the tail of the complete card of 63 (with John Clarey off No 1). Here, a few minutes before five o'clock, was the position on the blackboards down in front of us in the press stand:
To anybody who understands time trials those figures told everything. That Bracke, who had been tipped to win the trial by so much that he would also win the Tour, was out of the running. That San Miguel, far from having any chance now of ousting Van Springer was certain to lose his second position. That Van Springel himself, after a fast start in a desperate attempt to save his Jersey, was tiring. That Janssen was virtually race leader with 15 miles to go. . .
But would Janssen last the distance? That sounds a funny one to ask of a man who had won the Bordeaux-Paris, Paris-Roubaix and the world pro. road championships. But despite his class, Jan had never shown up well in any time trial above 25 miles This one was straight into a fresh wind.
Besides the blackboard, however, we had the radio checks - and so no doubt did hundreds of readers at home. This year I had no transistor with me. It would have been a waste of batteries I was sitting next to Jean Bobet of Radio Luxembourg, who was jotting down time checks in a notebook as they were broadcast by his colleague Guy Kedia between the 25 miles point and the finish. Only two sets of figures mattered now, Janssen's and Van Springel's.
"Janssen now leading Van Springel by 25 seconds . . ."
"Janssen has caught and dropped Bitossi . . ."
"Van Springel has lost his early fire, is struggling . . ."
"Janssen is now at the kilometre-to-go mark . . ."
We could hear them cheering Janssen even then, more than half a mile away, a relay of applause passed down the line all the way from Melun, and reaching a crescendo as Jan pedalled on to the track to ride the most important lap of his career. It was, in fact, virtually a lap of honour before he had won the Tour. Although Van Springel had started five minutes behind, the Belgian's "graph" was not the kind that can show a marvellous upward final curve. "Van" started fast, gradually slowed. Jan started steadily, gradually got faster, his second half much faster than the first.
"Janssen 's time 1 hour 20 minutes 10 seconds."
Now my friend Jean Bobet was on his feet, making one of his most dramatic radio commentaries. He was saying that all the signs were that Janssen had won the Tour, but the impossible could still happen. Standing next to him was his colleague M. Cavalli holding a stopwatch.
"Van Springel started five minutes after Janssen. He was leading him by 16 seconds on overall time at the start. Four minutes of that time has gone . . . Four fifteen . . . Four thirty . . Four forty five—and Van Springel has not yet entered the track .... Five minutes ... Five fifteen . . JAN JANSSEN HAS WON THE TOUR DE FRANCE!"
Not until then did Van Springel appear, the man who had lost the Tour, the man 38 seconds too slow, just about the time for that dreadful (for him) lap of the track.
By the time Van Springel finished that lap hundreds of Janssen fans had swarmed into the track centre and lifted their hero high with reinforcements pouring on behind. I looked in vain for a certain Tour official who had issued a printed bulletin saying that the strictest measures would be taken against any journalist or "other unauthorised person" who trespassed on to the track centre. In tears, Jan was lowered, trying now to break through the joyful scrum to get to his wife and little girl seated at the trackside. Jan Janssen has won the Tour, and a worthy winner, too. A product of the Tour de l'Avenir . . . winner of Bordeaux-Paris, Paris-Roubaix. Tour of Spain, world road championship . . . Three times points winner in the Tour de France. now the overall winner at last . . A fine, intelligent boy, well liked by his rivals and journalists. The first Dutchman to win the Tour . . . A sprinter noted for his "finishing dash". But never has he snatched a victory like this.
All this we scribbled in our notebooks, and later telephoned to newspapers or told radio listeners. All this was greeted with enthusiasm throughout the world of sport - except maybe in Belgium and Spain.
This was the great joyful moment of the Tour 1968 that made us temporarily forget the previous three weeks which I will now try to analyse.
When I first heard that the Tour was to start at Vittel and take the anti-clockwise route round France, I was sure the opening week would be dull. It always is "that way round" Mainly because the prevailing westerly wind does not encourage enterprise, but also because the strongest teams "control" the race so that their stars get to the Pyrenees having used the minimum of effort.
This year there was an additional reason, although I did not know it at the time the route was first published. Indeed few of us knew until the day the Tour started that - after a bit of arm-twisting - the riders had agreed to accept the principal of a daily "medical control" with the automatic disqualification from the race of any rider found "positively" to have taken forbidden products.
It is history now that only two - Samyn and Stablinski, both members of the French national team - had to be sentenced out of more than 150 riders tested. Boys being boys, I suppose one or two got away with it one way or another, but on the whole the 1968 Tour was probably the "cleanest" continental professional road race for 15 years.
It is history, too, that while there were laughs when race director Jacques Goddet called it "The Good Health Tour" at Vittel, there was approval when he made the same remark three weeks later in Paris. I made the point in last month's issue that while I was sure class roadmen, well trained, could ride a 3,000 miles race without resorting to forbidden chemical aid, many riders were not. There was therefore, a tendency towards the collective security of the big bunch in many of the long stages, with real action only in the final hour.
This was not however, the case in all the stages down to Bordeaux which resulted in big bunch sprints. Many of these were extremely animated affairs, with dozens of attacks made, but none of them succeeding, simply because the defence was stronger.
Personally, with a 400 or 500 word story to produce every day, I had no difficulty in finding something to write about. Many of my colleagues, however, with four times that amount of space to fill, were not so happy. Some indeed blamed " . . . a Tour which is too long, and too old and needing fresh ideas."
It was the last remark which prompted one of the race directors, Felix Levitan, in a T.V. interview to say that perhaps it wasn't the Tour which needed new blood, but the newspapers. And this, in turn, led to the journalists' strike on the next stage when all press men went on ahead of the race, waited 40 miles out, and then car hooted M. Levitan as he drove by ahead of the field.
Yet during all these "dull" stages we had seen the emergence of a quite remarkable rider, Georges Van Den Berghe, who was destined to wear the Yellow Jersey for 12 days. He was the chief product of this "Liberation Tour" which gave him and other "domestiques" the chance to go into business on their own account instead of working for a big star rider. Georges knew it was all too good to be true, that he would never win the Tour. So every day there he was at the head of affairs, whether in the daily "hot spot" sprint along the course - for a prize, incidentally, given by an ice-cream company - or fighting for a place in the finishing sprint.
It was this Liberation, too, which allowed the two Italians Passuello and Schiavon, to steal into the leading places on general classification. Had Motta and Gimondi been riding they probably would not have been in the first 30. These facts go a long way to explaining the apparently negative riding for the first 10 days of the Tour down to the foothills of the Pyrenees.
In previous years the director technique of any potential winner had a notebook containing the names and numbers of Dangerous Men whose escape must be prevented at all costs. To compile such a list was not difficult for an expert. To execute the orders, was of course, a harder proposition, but at least the team-men knew what was expected of them.
This year, however, nobody knew who the dangerous men were - apart from a few obvious cases like Van Springel, Janssen, Poulidor, Aimar and Pingeon. Nobody had considered Van Den Berghe anything more than a "domestique" with the chance of winning a sprint finish if he had not been called on to work too hard during the day. Yet there he was in The Jersey. Perhaps there were other Van den Berghes in the bunch, men who could climb, too. It was a dangerous policy to say "We can't chase everybody."
Everybody did, in fact, chase everybody. Everybody was afraid of everybody - and the result was all those massed sprints on the stages down the west coast. It was easy for some journalists to write: "Once again the Spaniards have been given an arm-chair ride down to the Pyrenees where they will be fresh as paint for the Aubisque and the Tourmalet." The fact is that attempts were made to "distance" the Spaniards but they didn't come off.
But, of course, when the Pyrenees came it was different, for there is no defence against attack in the mountains - and this year there was no reaching for the magic pill in the jersey pocket to get a rider through.
Elsewhere in this issue you will read a more detailed account of the influence of the Tourmalet stage which, at the back, put 14 riders into the sag wagon - and in the front put Raymond Poulidor into the picture for the first time.
For years I have been following the Tour in the Paris-Normandie car, one of my companions being Pierre Joly, a talented writer who two years ago wrote a book on Jacques Anquetil called "En Brulant les Etapes" ("Going PostHaste"). More recently, in collaboration with Georges Dirand, Pierre has produced another remarkable piece of literature, on Raymond Poulidor and entitled "Gloire sans le Maillot Jaune" ("Fame without the Yellow Jersey").
The significance of the title is of course, that although he had twice finished second, and had twice been third in the Tour, Poulidor had not once worn the Yellow Jersey.
"We hope your book is already sold out" everybody was saying to Pierre Joiy "If not it will be out of date within a week. Barring accidents, Poulidor must win this Tour. He is in great form, riding very intelligently." Barring accidents . . .
Poor Poulidor was destined to retire two days after a fall provoked by one of the official motorcyclists whose job it is to "collect numbers" off riders involved in breaks and pass them on to Radio-Tour. But many think that his team-mate Pingeon was responsible for the accident - very indirectly, of course, since at the time Pingeon was 10 minutes ahead on the road in the most remarkable and controversial break of the Tour.
It was on the Font-Romeu to Alibi stage. After following for a few miles, we had gone on ahead to the half-way point, the little town of Mirepoix where the sprint in memory of Tom Simpson was to be held. I had an idea that the field as a whole, because of their affection for Tom, would allow the five British riders left in the race to go to the front and sprint it out among themselves.
But as we moved ahead, Radio-Tour flashes came through that Pingeon was on his own, and building up a lead at an incredible rate. He was 71 minutes up when he passed under the Souvenir Tom Simpson banner, and we Could see that he was that much ahead not merely because the field was pottering. Pingeon was working very hard indeed - and often into the wind, at that, as the road swung around on its way to Albi.
What was all this in aid of ? This was the kind of "suicide break" that a lowly placed rider might attempt with thoughts of glory today and the sag-wagon tomorrow. It was not the kind of thing expected of the man with the No. 1 on his bicycle, the winner of last year's Tour.
Was it a "diversion" to force the Belgians, Spaniards. Dutch, Italians and French "B" team men to chase after him and give Raymond Poulidor an easy ride ? Was this Pingeon's way of thanking Poulidor for all the help he gave him last year?
Whatever the reason, the effect was the same when Poulidor crashed. By the time he had picked himself up, his rivals were away on an attack which not only took them three minutes away from Poulidor, but three minutes nearer Pingeon. Poulidor retired two days later, not so much through his injuries, I suspect, but because he was thoroughly dispirited. Not until several days after the Tour did Poulidor disclose that the night before the accident he and Pingeon had made an agreement that neither would attack until the Alps three days later, and when they did, they would attack together .....
Pingeon did attack in the Alps, by which time Poulidor was home nursing his wounds and his pride at Limoges. Pingeon's great solo on the road to Grenoble was one of the greatest things I have seen in any Tour, a Coppi-like exploit. It was an effort good enough to have won the Tour - had he not wasted all that energy between Font Romeu and Albi, and again next day on the stage to Aurillac.
The Pingeon-Poulidor drama was by far the most important thing of the Tour. Without it, the two men almost certainly would have finished first and second on general classification in Paris - with Jan Janssen perhaps fighting for third place. I don't think even the most ardent Dutch supporter would disagree with that.
This 1968 Tour was saved "newswise" by Poulidor falling off, by Pingeon clearing of on two occasions - and by Janssen pulling it off in the last ten minutes. It was a Tour which appeared dull to newspaper readers and radio listeners, yet attracted more spectators on the roar.5 than ever before. I remember in particular, a remarkable sight on one of the Cobs of the Massif Central. The Tour route approached the summit of the range by a southern pass which was of course, clear of traffic. To the north, we could see another road zig-zagging to the top - a three miles climb, with cars parked bumper to bumper all the way up. Then, when we got to the top, we could see the same thing again on two more roads on the other side, making near enough ten miles of cars parked by people enthusiastic enough to get there three hours before the "dull" race passed by! Not that the organisers are complacent about this. They realise that while they have got away with it this year, an attempt to repeat the formula in 1969 might prove disastrous. Already it has been announced that the start next year will be at Roubaix, beginning perhaps with an "out and home" race which, over the pave, should produce an early sort-out of the field. Then the route will go down and round in a clockwise direction first to the Alps and then to the Pyrenees.
But the overall length of the race will be cut down, certainly by reducing the length of the stages, and perhaps by trimming the number of stages, too. Rest days will be cut out. but the biggest change IS the reversion to trade teams after only two years with national selections The decision has not been made with a light heart, because the organisers have always argued that the national team system is the most sporting. It certainly was in the days when riders of rival trade teams willingly co-operated in a national selection and considered it an honour to do so. In recent years, however, since big business in the form of extra-sportif sponsorship - has come into cycling, the spirit is no longer there
But now, in addition to the reluctance of men of opposing marques to help each other in national Jerseys, there has crept on to the scene cases of men of the same trade team collaborating, even though wearing different national jerseys!
Life has also been made more complicated by the new system of selecting the Directeurs Sportifs in the "old senses" of national teams, that is until 1961, the Directeur had to be someone in no way connected with the cycle industry. A famous example is that of Jean Bidot who directed the French team in the early '50's, the team car being driven by his brother Marcel. Then Jean took a job "in the trade" and had to give up his Tour de France job, which was taken over by Marcel who sold Champagne for a living. He does so still - and has kept his Tour de France job too! A special concession was made in 1955 to allow Syd Cozens (then managing the B.S.A. team in Britain) to direct our first team in the Tour.
The idea, of course, was sound. These "amateur" Directeurs had under their control members of several different trade teams but could control them impartially from a national standpoint. Officially during those Tours the professional Directeurs Sportifs took their holidays, although some used to flip from stage to stage with material and advice for their own riders - advice which often was at variance with that given by the men temporarily in charge!
As "big business" crept into professional cycling on the continent, however, the "amateur" became less acceptable. The big sponsors were reluctant enough, in some cases, to release men to ride in national teams, and pressed for their managers to be given jobs too. As a result last year four French professional Directeurs Sportifs were in charge of the French "B" and "C" teams.
In 1968 the trade influence on national teams was even greater; as this table shows.
France "B": M. de Muer (Pelforth-Sauvage) and R. Louviot (Brie).
France "C": G. Plaud (Peugeot) and L. Caput (Frimatic).
Belgium "A": F. Cools (Mann-Grundig).
Belgium "B": B. Schotte (Flandria).
Spain: D. Langarica (Kas)
Swiss-Luxemburg: E. Greishaber (Tigra)
Now just as temptations exist for collusion between riders of the same marque but temporarily in different national teams so were there occasions this year when some of these Directeurs must have been itching to throw away national loyalties and go to the aid of then own men.
For instance what was Gaston Plaud thinking when his Peugeot man Pingeon in the French National team was away on that Font Romeu-Albi stage? Did he not want to go up and tell Roger to chuck it and wait until the Alps before making his Tour-winning effort ?
Was Maurice De Muer not exasperated at the way Marcel Bidot was using "his" Pelforth boy Bernard Guyot as "domestique" to Pingeon and Poulidor when he could have been winning a stage or two? And what did Maurice think when Aimar (who "belonged" to co-director Louviot!) in his France "B" team had a chance of winning the Tour and beating "his" Jan Janssen ? And Louviot ? Could he not have occassionally been wishing he were directing the German team in which his Bic-man Rolf Wolfshohl was riding so well?
The informed reader will of course be able to think of other similar examples.
All this, you may be sure, has not passed unnoticed by the race organisation. I do not think these symptoms in themselves would be sufficient for Drs Goddet and Levitan to order a "complete change" for their 55 year old patient, but added to an already existing ailment, they have had to order the drastic "cure" of reverting to trade teams.
That particular ailment was the influence of the big Italian-sponsored concern whose anti-national team policy was probably responsible for keeping many of the big names out of the Tour this year, particularly Eddy Merckx. On this occasion it was "fun" to say that it didn't matter, that just as big football sides in opposition do to make a good match, so can the presence of star riders make an uninteresting Tour. But the argument might go stale year after year. Already the Tour of Italy is growing in stature, and the Tour de France organisers naturally do not want to see it so big that it will strangle their own event.
From the British point of view, the news is not welcome. I believe that had the national system been allowed to continue and manager Alec Taylor been given a completely free hand - and a few thousand pounds to spend - then within three years he would have found and trained a team capable not only of winning stages and team races but of playing a leading part in the final battle for the Yellow Jersey.
If the change is to be made in 1969 to a pure and simple reversion to the last trade team system in operation, then Michael Wright, Barry Hoban and Derek Harrison will probably be selected. The rule in operation was that in a team based in France, such as Mercier, at least seven of the ten chosen men must be French, with the three remaining places going to foreign riders if desired.
The signs are, however, that the organisers want to make every trade team completely national with no foreigners at all. If this is so, and unless something is done quickly, there will be no British riders at all in the Tour next year.
That would be a tragedy not only for the British enthusiast but also for the continental spectator who has come to regard les Britaniques as part and parcel of international cycle sport. Our men certainly played an important part in the 1968 race and their performances are summarised in the following pages.