the little man bolted away, and
while he generated a small lead, he
maintained it—right into the stage
win and yellow jersey. If there was
one thing Bobet’s teammates Raphaël
Géminiani and Nello Lauredi agreed
with Bobet on, it was the need to put
Stage 13 was a somewhat mountainous
stage through the Languedoc,
ending in Beziers. The French
national team hit the afterburners
at the outset and put four men into a
nine-man breakaway. At the finish,
Bobet was fried and his teammates
Lauredi and Géminiani took first
and second, leaving him to come in
third—still ahead of other riders in the
breakaway—and miss an important
time bonus. The yellow jersey passed
to Jean Malléjac, a rider for one of the
French regional squads.
Robic missed the move, and the fact
that he finished 73rd on the stage was
less damaging to his chances than was
the fact that the gap was an incredible
38 minutes. Mission accomplished,
right? Not so fast.
The French national team had
only succeeded in snatching
conflict from the jaws of victory.
The next 24 hours would change
the course of Bobet’s career.
Bobet was angry that Lauredi and
Géminiani hadn’t soft-pedaled the
finish and given him the victory as
the rider with the greatest ability to
win the overall. A testy conversation
between Bobet and Géminiani ensued
at dinner. To Bobet’s complaints
Géminiani’s response loosely translates
as, “You want me to get off my bike
while you finish the race?” The French
do snark very well. The episode ended
rancorously, with forks drawn!
Team manager, Marcel Bidot took a
page from the Italian teams the next
morning. He assembled the riders
and then posed a simple, but telling
question: “Who can wear the yellow
jersey in Paris?”
Only Bobet raised his hand. Bobet’s
next move may be what he is best
remembered for. He promised his
teammates that if they would ride for
him, he would give them his winnings,
splitting it eight ways.
Four days later the agreement was
put to the test. Teammate Adolphe
Deledda dropped out of a breakaway
when he was informed that Bobet had
broken away from the lead group.
Deledda waited for his leader and
once he arrived, Deledda put his head
down and sacrificed himself, pulling
Bobet up through the valley to the
foot of the Col d’Izoard. Once the
mountain road turned skyward, Bobet
leapt away in one of the performances
that became his signature.
In the Casse Deserte high on
the upper slopes of the Izoard, a
monument stands with the profiles
of the two riders who made the Alpe
theirs during their years of dominance.
On the left, the great Fausto Coppi.
And on the right, Louison Bobet.
History shows that not only did Bobet
win the stage that day, he pulled on
the yellow jersey and wore it to Paris,
just as he promised. He would take the
Tour the next two years and keep his
competitors on their toes year-round
with wins in the World Championships
(1954), the Tour of Flanders (1955)
and Paris-Roubaix (1956). It’s an
impressive roster of wins, but had you
asked anyone if he was capable of such
palmares, say, in 1949, the response
might have been a laugh. ]p[