|Full name||Roger Walkowiak|
March 2, 1927 |
Montluçon, Allier, France
|Rider type||Stage race specialist|
|Infobox last updated on
March 23, 2007
The 1956 Tour de France
From 1930 the Tour de France had been contested by national and regional teams. Roger Walkowiak was recruited for the French regional Nord-Est-Centre team, representing the North-east and Centre of France, despite coming from Montluçon in the South-West. He was the only rider available at late notice to replace an original team member, Gilbert Bauvin, who had been promoted to France's main team.
Walkowiak escaped on the 7th stage from Lorient to Angers in a group of 31 riders that won that day by over 18 minutes. The advantage was enough to give him the yellow jersey of the overall race lead. At this stage the race's stars did not consider this 'insignificant' rider to be a risk.
Walkowiak lost the jersey to Gerrit Voorting at the end of stage 10 which took some of the pressure off his shoulders. In the Pyrenees Belgium's Jan Adriaensens took the lead. At Aix-en-Provence (stage 15) Dutchman Wout Wagtmans took the jersey, but Walkowiak was still well placed.
On the Alpine stage 18 (Torino–Grenoble), the climbing specialist Charly Gaul (Luxembourg), who had lost a lot of time in the flat stages, attacked to try and win the King of the Mountains competition (which he eventually did, beating Federico Bahamontes). Gaul's attack split the field; Wagtmans lost 16 minutes and Walkowiak took back the yellow jersey after losing only 8 minutes to Gaul on the day.
For the last four stages, Walkowiak defended his lead, reaching the finish at the Parc des Princes on July 28 just over a minute ahead of Gilbert Bauvin. The race was won in a then record speed of 36.268 km/h.
Walkowiak's win was poorly received by the professional peloton and the public. "The applause sounded like a lamentation", the organiser, Jacques Goddet, wrote in L'Équipe. The crowd was disappointed that the race had been won by an unknown and not by the rising star Jacques Anquetil, who had decided against riding. Walkowiak became the second rider to win the Tour without winning on any of the individual day's stages that make up the race, and is the only rider to ever win the Tour de France and never win an individual stage in any year.
Nevertheless, Jacques Goddet always considered Walkowiak his favourite winner, calling him an all-rounder who had used his legs to win and his head to secure his winning position. France, however, remained unimpressed and for many years, Walkowiak's name passed into the language, so that do something "à la Walko" meant to succeed unexpectedly or without panache.
That reaction depressed Walkowiak. He rode the Tour the following year, but slipped from top of the field to almost the bottom. He rode the Tour of Spain, the Vuelta a España, in 1957 and won a stage, raced a further two years and then retired to run a bar in the area from which he had left, as an unknown, to win the Tour de France. When even his customers teased him about winning the Tour, he lost confidence still more and went back to working on a lathe in the car factory in Montluçon that had employed him as a young man.
It took many years to persuade Walkowiak that there was merit in what he had done and, while he still lives quietly in south-west France, he does now talk about the day he became the unknown who won the world's greatest cycling race.
- 3rd Tour de Dordogne
- 57th Tour de France
- 2nd Tour de l'Ouest (1 stage win)
- 3rd G.P de Vals-les-Bains
- 2nd Paris-Côte d'Azur
- 47th Tour de France
- 3rd Tour de l'Ouest
- 2nd Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré
- 1st Tour de France
- 3rd Circuit du Cher
- 1st stage 13 Vuelta a España
- 1st stage 8 Vuelta a España
- Abandoned Tour de France on stage 18
- 2nd Boucles du Bas-Limousin
- 3rd Tour du Sud-Est
- 75th Tour de France
- 3rd Tour de l'Aude
- 3rd Circuit d'Auvergne
Grand Tour results timeline
|DNE||Did Not Enter|
|DNF-x||Did Not Finish (retired on stage x)|
|N/A||Race/classification not held|
|NR||Not Ranked in this classification|
Tour de France
- 1951 - 57th
- 1953 - 47th
- 1956 - 1st
- 1958 - 75th
- Woodland, L., Yellow Jersey Companion to the Tour De France, Yellow Jersey Press, London 2003 ISBN 0-224-06318-9
- The Tour De France: The Official Centennial 1903 - 2003, Weidenfeld Nicolson, London 2004 ISBN 1-84188-239-9
- Palmares at memoire-du-cyclisme.net (French)
- Roger Walkowiak profile at Cycling Archives
- The story of the 1956 tour and the epilogue at pezcyclingnews.com