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December 2005
 
   
 

By Barry Boyce, CyclingRevealed
Historian

 

 

 

 


Walkowiak making the bridge to the breakaway

 


Roger Walkowiak

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Top 25 All Time Tours #14

1956: Little Known Frenchman Wins TdF!

CR Timeline 1956 [also see Special Notes below]

Many cycling experts in 1956 thought the racecourse was too easy. Tour organizers scheduled fewer major climbs and no mountain top finishes. This fact made most of the top stars stayed away from the 1956 Tour de France. The Tour started with no clear favorite.

Going into the Tour the French National team coach scrambled for a leader. The usually controversial selection process of the French National team was made somewhat easier with the departure of the big stars. The French team pinned their hopes on the very talented French regional rider Gilbert Bauvin.

The race for the overall classification began to take shape on the 244 km stage 7 from Lorient to Angers , when a relatively unknown rider from a regional French team, Nord Est-Centre , took advantage of the top national team riders. While the stars marked each other very closely, Roger “Walko” Walkowiak made an extraordinary effort to join an early, 31-rider breakaway. The only French national rider in the breakaway was the favorite, Gilbert Bauvin. By the time the peloton noticed the seriousness of the escape, the breakaway had gained an 18-minute advantage. Despite a desperate charge by the peloton, the large breakaway group could not be caught. Walko, the highest placed member of the breakaway, was rewarded with the race lead and his first Maillot Jaune (race leader's Yellow Jersey).

The weight of the Maillot Jaune is great and the 15-stage road from Angers to Paris would not be easy for Walko. As most expected, he struggled and relinquished the race lead three stages later to Gerrit Voorting (Hol) .

When the Tour entered the Alps on stage 17, Walkowiak gamely fought back. The inspired regional rider was having the race of his life and took back the overall race lead by matching Spanish climbing specialist Federico Bahamontes pedal stroke for pedal stroke on the last stage in the Alps . The pair finished stage 18 more than 7 minutes behind stage winner Charly Gaul, but Walko gained enough time to take 3'56” lead over Gilbert Bauvin in the overall classification. He was back in the Maillot Jaune with only four stages remaining.

The stage 20 individual time trial (ITT) in Lyon would be the final test for Walko. Second placed Gilbert Bauvin, trailing by 3'56”, started the ITT one spot in front of race leader Walkowiak. Bauvin rode well and completed the 73 km course in 1h49'24”. At each time check along the route, Walko knew the time he needed to secure the victory. Roger Walkowiak did what he had to do, finishing the course 2'31” behind Bauvin but 1'25” ahead in the overall classification. He had survived the final serious challenge of this year's Tour. By the finish in Paris , Walkowiak maintained the slim 1'25” lead on the heavily favored Bauvin.

TdF 1956 Recap

Stage and Distance

Stage Winner

Race Leader

Stage 1 REIMS-LIEGE (Bel), 223 km

Andre Darrigade (Fra)

Andre Darrigade (Fra)

Stage 2 LIEGE (Bel)- LILLE , 217 km

Alfred De Bruyne (Bel)

Andre Darrigade (Fra)

Stage 3 LILLE-ROUEN, 225 km

Arrigo Padovan (Ita)

Gilbert Desmet 1 (Bel)

Stage 4a CIRCUIT DES ESSARTS, 15.1 km ITT

Charly Gaul (Lux)

Gilbert Desmet 1 (Bel)

Stage 4b ROUEN-CAEN, 125 km

Roger Hassenforder (Fra)

Andre Darrigade (Fra)

Stage 5 CAEN-ST MALO, 189 km

Joseph Morvan (Fra)

Andre Darrigade (Fra)

Stage 6 ST MALO-LORIENT, 192 km

Alfred De Bruyne (Bel)

Andre Darrigade (Fra)

Stage 7 LORIENT-ANGERS, 244 km

Alessandro Fantini (Ita)

Roger Walkowiak (Fra)

Stage 8 ANGERS-LA ROCHELLE, 180 km

Miguel Poblet (Spa)

Roger Walkowiak (Fra)

Stage 9 LA ROCHELLE-BORDEAUX, 219 km

Roger Hassenforder (Fra)

Roger Walkowiak (Fra)

Stage 10 BORDEAUX-BAYONNE, 201 km

Alfred De Bruyne (Bel)

Gerrit Voorting (Ned)

Stage 11 BAYONNE-PAU, 255 km

Nino Defilippis (Ita)

Andre Darrigade (Fra)

Stage 12 PAU-LUCHON, 130 km

Jean-Pierre Schmitz (Lux)

Jan Adriaensens (Bel)

Stage 13 LUCHON-TOULOUSE, 176 km

Nino Defilippis (Ita)

Jan Adriaensens (Bel)

Stage 14 TOULOUSE-MONTPELLIER, 231 km

Roger Hassenforder (Fra)

Jan Adriaensens (Bel)

Stage 15 MONTPELLIER-AIX EN PROVENCE , 204 km

Joseph Thomin (Fra)

Wout Wagtmans (Ned)

Stage 16 AIX EN PROVENCE-GAP, 203 km

Jean Forestier (Fra)

Wout Wagtmans (Ned)

Stage 17 GAP-TURIN, (Ita), 234 km

Nino Defilippis (Ita)

Wout Wagtmans (Ned)

Stage 18 TURIN (Ita)- GRENOBLE , 250 km

Charly Gaul (Lux)

Roger Walkowiak (Fra)

Stage 19 GRENOBLE-ST ETIENNE, 173 km

Stan Ockers (Bel)

Roger Walkowiak (Fra)

Stage 20 ST ETIENNE-LYON, 73 km ITT

Miguel Bover (Spa)

Roger Walkowiak (Fra)

Stage 21 LYON-MONTLUCON, 237 km

Roger Hassenforder (Fra)

Roger Walkowiak (Fra)

Stage 22 MONTLUCON-PARIS, 331 km

Gastone Nencini (Ita)

Roger Walkowiak (Fra)

BEST CLIMBER PRIZE

Charly Gaul (Lux)

Stan Ockers (Bel)

Starters: 120

Finishers: 88

Distance: 4,527 km

Average: 36.268 km/h

SPECIAL NOTE: Roger Walkowiak had beaten the odds and won the World's most prestigious bicycle race. However, he failed to win the respect of the press or the admiration of the Tour fans. Very strong and consistent riding generated his championship, but without a stage win. The easy parcours of the Tour and lack of big names in the race kept the respect from the Tour champion. Although Walko became the first regional rider to win the TdF, he never gained the National hero status usually given to Tour winners. Walkowiak continued to race professionally for several more years, but his results never rose to the TdF level again. Sadly, after retiring from cycling, he was forced to take a factory job to make a living. This was an unfortunate finish to a career for the winner of the Grand Boucle.

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