Bernard Thévenet, French, 1948 -
Bernard Thévenet won the Tour twice - in 1975 and 1977, but it was the first of these that will always be remembered. For the 1975 Tour marked the end of the ‘age of Eddy Merckx’ a unique period when one individual dominated everything, and I mean everything, cycling. There is an apocryphal story that one of the later stages of the 1975 Tour featured a bikini-clad female fan holding a placard saying ‘Merckx is beaten, the Bastille has fallen!’. It sounds like something out of a Roger Vadim movie, with Brigitte Bardot pouting soulfully in the lead role, beautifully picked out in extravagant, swirling, helicopter shots.
The race itself was pretty melodramatic. On stage 14, finishing on the Puy-de-Dôme, a spectator viciously punched Eddy Merckx in the back. The next day was a rest day. Stage 15, to Pra Loup, was a roller-coaster, with Thevenet repeatedly attacking on the earlier climbs, with Merckx staying with him and then, in typical Cannibal style, escaping on the final descent to start the final climb ahead. The stage, and with it the Tour, looked to be going Merckx’s way - until, with just a few kilometers to go, he suddenly and catastrophically cracked. As Thévenet caught and passed him, Merckx looked almost unconscious on his bike - suddenly a broken man. Although Merckx continued to compete in the later stages, even taking back time after he had crashed and broken his cheekbone - an era had ended, and a Frenchman - Bernard Thévenet had ended it.
Bernard Thévenet was one of any number of great cyclists who came from humble farming stock - and regarded the rigours of professional cycling as child’s play compared the the sheer, unending, manual, hard work of the small farmer’s life. It’s difficult to see a similar breeding ground for today’s professional cyclists. There just isn’t the same ring to escaping from the terrible, relentless, repetition of a call-centre, or from the punishing, mindless, grind of flipping burgers in MacDonalds.
As for derailleurs, Bernard Thévenet’s Peugeot Team was enthusiastically French, and used Simplex.
I believe that this photo is from the 1975 Tour - with a very focused Bernard Thévenet riding as No. 51.