Friday, 2 September 2011

Heroes and pain...

Rene Vietto

We've seen some considerable suffering in this years Giro, then the Tour de France with riders crashing all over the place and being hit by press cars. As I write Bradley Wiggins is leading this years Vuelta, having recovered from a broken collarbone sustained during the Tour de France.

I have just been reading about some of the long forgotten riders from yesteryear.
I came across Rene Vietto who whilst riding the Tour de France in 1934 as a relative unknown, found himself with 'wings on the mountains'. This was not really a surprise, he had won the Grand Prix Wolber earlier in the year. He was prepared for the Alps and won easily on the steepest terrain. After he won the two major Alpine stages, journalists reported that this 'boy' could be the purest mountain climber that France had known.

During the 1934 Tour, he left the peloton standing during a mountain stage and he was poised to become race leader after his team captain Antonin Magne crashed during stage 16. A marshal on a motorcycle caught Vietto to inform him his captain was way back on the side of the road, with teammate Lap├ębie ahead, and the other teammates behind the yellow jersey. Vietto turned and rode back up the mountain to give Magne his bike. Magne mounted Vietto’s bike and was able to close the gap to preserve his overall lead and win the Tour.

A photograph shows Vietto sitting on a stone wall as the race passes.

Vietto after handing his bike to his captain

This made him a star in France. The image of a 20-year-old who sacrificed his chance of winning the Tour doubled his popularity. He was named the Tour's best climber. and finished 5th overall, almost 1 hour behind Magne. Vietto never won the Tour. He was closest in 1939 when he received the yellow jersey in Lorient in one of the first stages. After that Tour, war broke out and the race wasn't held again until 1947.

Vietto wore the yellow jersey for 15 stages during the 1938 Tour and for 14 stages during the 1947 Tour. He finished second in 1939, fifth in 1934 and 1947 and eighth in 1935. He has the highest career yellow jersey statistics of anyone to never win the Tour de France overall.

But the best part of the story is this: Vietto lost a toe to sepsis during the Tour of 1947. Having lost the toe Vietto insisted that his domestique, Apo Lazarides, cut off one of his own toes to match and to feel the pain. Vietto's toe is in formaldehyde in a bar in Marseilles.

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