Roger Walkowiak - photo 1956

Roger Walkowiak - photo 1956 main image

Roger Walkowiak, French, 1927 - 2017

The legend goes that, in 1956 Roger Walkowiak was a good, but not extraordinary, professional cyclist. At that time the Tour was contested by national and regional teams, rather than the garish commercial outfits we know today. France contributed both a prestigious national team and a number of, less prestigious, regional teams. 'Walko' was drafted, at the last minute, into the unfancied regional French team for Nord-Est-Centre.

The 1956 edition was a strange Tour. Many of the big beasts (Gino Bartali, Fausto Coppi, Ferdi Kübler, Louison Bobet, Hugo Koblet and Jean Robic) did not compete. The two favourites, Federico Bahamontes and Charly Gaul, were both specialist climbers - but the route that year was unusually flat.

Roger Walkowiak won the race using a combination of gaining huge time in breakaways on early nothing stages and then riding the rest of the race intelligently, and tenaciously, to avoid losing too much of this advantage. His victory in the General Classification came without winning a single stage. The French public, and, particularly, the French press were unimpressed. The concept of winning 'à la Walko' entered the French consciousness - and was widely used to describe anyone, in any field of endeavour, who unexpectedly, and undeservedly, won some accolade without putting in the hard yards.

Roger Walkowiak had started his working life as a machinist at Dunlop in his home town of Montluçon, and by 1960, disgusted by the attitude to his Tour victory, he had retired from cycling and was soon back at his lathe in the very same tyre factory. He remained bitter about his treatment until the end of his life.

I believe that he used a Campagnolo Gran Sport (1012) derailleur to win the the Tour in 1956. This photo shows him, in yellow, being hoisted aloft at the end of the final stage.

(Source nationaalarchief.nl Dutch National Archive)

Roger Walkowiak - photo 1956 main image