Summary: Europe gained some much needed distraction after World War II with the peaceful duels of the Tour de France, rapidly cementing its place as one of Euope's preeminent sports contests.
Post World War Rivalries
Henri Desgrange, the Tour de France founder, died in 1940. His successor was Jacque Goddet. The Germans tried to persuade Goddet to hold the race during the war years, but he refused. He considered the first race following the war, in 1947, to be an act of faith given the post-war shortages. Jean Robic of France won and this did much to improve the country’s morale. The government even allowed the Tour to break the food rationing rules.
Italian Rivals Go at it Full Swing
The French win didn’t last long. Two Italian rivals, Gino Bartali, tour winner in 1938, and Fausto Coppi, had lost most of their cycling careers to the war. But their bitter rivalry made the post-war Tours as exciting as ever. Bartali’s 10-year gap between wins is still a Tour record. Louison Bobet had grabbed the yellow jersey early in the race but Bartali showed who deserved to win when he flew through the Alps. Bartali won by 26 minutes in 1948.
Rene Vietto– France’s King of the Hill
After the war, Vietto was one of the few surviving members of the old guard. For awhile, it looked like Vietto might win the 1947 race. Although he didn’t win, he became the Tour’s king of the mountains. It’s been said that wherever there were steep roads and thin air, Vietto was right there.
The winner that year, Robic, had promised his young bride that he would win the Tour de France because he didn’t have a dowry.
In 1948, Bobet’s popularity would increase. The Italian coach, Alfredo Binda, said, "If I had coached Bobet, he would have won." By this time, Bobet was known as "Louison."
The Italians arrived at the 1949 Tour prepared to win. They have with them, up and coming star, Fausto Coppi. Coppi and Bartali battle it out. Bartali loses by more than 10 minutes. Coppi won for the second time in 1952 by a stunning 28 minutes.
Switzerland Wins and France has a Golden Age
Switzerland has had only two victories on the Tour– in 1950 and 1951.
In 1950, the Italians look like they’re ready to claim a third title. Bartali, and French rider, Jean Robic, are battling for the lead in the mountains. Aggressive fans cause them to fall. Bartali is constantly harassed and in disgust, he quits the race. To show their support for their team mate, the entire Italian team also quits.
In 1951, Hugo Koblet was clearly the strongest rider. He claimed the yellow jersey after Wim Van Est had a spectacular crash over the cliffs of the Aubisque pass. Van Est survived the crash but was in shock and couldn’t continue. With Bobet, Kubler, and Koblet all out with injuries, the 1952 race was wide open. Coppi won again in 1952 but not until after being challenged by Robic most of the way. Robic was the victim of a flat tire.
Television was introduced to the Tour in 1952.
France succeeds again with the Tour’s first hat trick. Louison Bobet won in 1953, 1954, and 1955. In 1955, Bobet destroyed his competition on Mount Ventoux, and this was the key to his third consecutive win.
France won again in 1956 with rider, Roger Walkowiak. He took the yellow jersey early on, and held onto it. France reveled in its golden age with another record-breaking ride and a new great rivalry.
Jacques Anquetil won five Tours between 1957 1nd 1964. But it was the story of Raymond Poulidor, the "eternal second," who placed second five times and third three times and he never once wore the jellow jersey. It was during this time that the Tour switched back to sponsored teams. This movement embraced commercial reality but still left plenty of room for theatrics. Enter Jacques Anquetil, winner in 1957 and winner again in 1961, 1962, 1963, and again in 1964. Despite these victories Anquetil was not well loved in France. Poulidor would win a popularity contest in a heartbeat.
In 1959, France looked like it had a winning team with Anquetil, Riviére, Bobet, and Geminiani all on the national team. But instead of working together, the work against each other. The Spaniard, Ferderico Bahamontes , won.
In 1960, it looked like young Riviére was all set to win. He broke the world hour record and at Stage 15 he looked like he’d win. Then, at the Perjuret Pass he crashed into a ravine and never rode a bicycle again. Gastone Nencini, from Italy, won.
1947 Jean Robic (Fra)
1948 Gino Bartali (Ita)
1949 Faust Coppi (Ita)
1950 Ferdi Kubler (Swi)
1951 Hugo Koblet (Swi)
1952 Faust Coppi (Ita)
1953 Louison Bobet (Fra)
1954 Louison Bobet (Fra)
1955 Louison Bobet (Fra)
1956 Roger Walkowiak (Fra)
1957 Jacque Anquetil (Fra)
1958 Charly Gaul (Lux)
1959 Ferderico Bahamontes (Spa)
1960 Gastone Nencini (Ita)