Great Cyclists of the Tour de France: Louison Bobet
Louison (or “Louis”) Bobet was one of the great post-war French cyclists. In his career, he was able to win three Tour de France races (one of only eight riders to do so) and had four podium finishes in total. He was also known as a talented climber and tenacious, if sometimes stubborn, competitor.
In 1925, Bobet was born in Brittany, a part of northwestern France, and would compete in his first Tour de France in 1947, at the age of 22. The race did not go so well and certainly didn’t foreshadow Tour de France greatness, as Bobet failed to finish.
However, the following year, Bobet won two stages, was the race leader for a time, and finished fourth in the 1948 Tour de France. It was in that year’s race that Bobet famously rejected the chance to wear the yellow jersey, because he preferred all wool jerseys and the yellow jersey contained some synthetic materials. Race organizers had to have a wool version made up so that Bobet could wear it in the next stage.
In the 1950 Tour de France, Bobet would capitalize on his success by finishing third and winning the polka dot jersey as the race’s best climber. He also garnered another stage win for himself that year. Bobet didn’t make waves again in the Tour de France until 1953, but in that year’s edition he really put on a show.
During the 1953 Tour de France, Bobet celebrated the Tour’s 50th anniversary in his own way- by winning the overall race for the first time in his career. He won two stages during that year’s race, including a five-minute victory over the field in a tough climb up the Izoard mountain that was celebrated as the race’s greatest moment. He would ultimately finish almost fifteen minutes ahead of the next rider at the end of the race.
In the next years, Bobet would only continue his impressive performances. In 1954, Bobet won a career-high three stages in a race known for being the first Tour de France not to start in France at all. Bobet would then win his third consecutive Tour de France in 1955, winning two stages and winning by his slimmest margin, that being 4 minutes and 53 seconds over Belgium’s Jean Brankart.
Unfortunately, Bobet would not reach that high level again. He raced his final Tour de France in 1958, finishing a modest 7th overall without garnering any stage wins. Then, two years later, a car accident near Paris basically ended Bobet’s promising career.
Aside from the famous yellow jersey incident, Bobet was known for having the mannerisms and demeanor of a Hollywood star, and carrying himself in a rather elegant way that was different from the behavior of many cyclists during that era. He also had a reputation for being somewhat moody, especially early in his career, where he took his defeats very hard and would sometimes cry in disappointment after a race.
Regardless of his reputation away from racing, Bobet proved himself to be one of the legends of French cycling. His three consecutive wins put him in an exclusive class, and one can only wonder what he could have accomplished if he had remained healthy. Despite the abrupt ending of his career, Bobet is one of the greatest riders in Tour de France history.