2 mars 2018
The 2018 Paris-Nice, setting off on Saturday March 4th, marks the start of the season of the major stage races on the professional circuit. Since 1997 and Laurent Jalabert’s victory, no French rider has excelled himself in this race, an event that affords from the beginning of spring an insight into the possible forces taking part. It’s an opportunity to recall Louison Bobet’s exceptional performance in1952, when he took command of the race’s ranking after dominating and crushing the competition.
At the end of the 1951 season, during which he had shone for the first time in the great classic races, taking Milan-San Remo and the national Critérium, and had claimed superb positions of honour in the Paris-Roubaix (second stage), the Flèche Wallonne (fourth) and the Liège-Bastogne-Liège (seventh), Louison Bobet opened the 1952 season wearing the Champion of France jersey and holding the title «Number one sportsman» of 1951 voted by readers of the magazine But et Jeu (Goal and Game) with over 42,000 votes. So he set off to take part in the Paris-Côte d’Azur (the name of the race from 1951 to 1954) with considerable ambition on March 25th 1952, with the other members of the Stella team, including his brother Jean, to support him.
For the first time, this tenth year of the race, divided into seven stages over 1,234 kilometres, included a race against the clock. Louison, who had already made his mark in the classics, now decided to do likewise in timed races. Following a first stage won by André Darrigade and marked by the withdrawal from the race of Ferdi Kübler, the World Champion, the Champion of France ramped up the pace from the second day onwards, operating on a basis of selection that put the pressure on his adversaries. He dominated the race, sharing it with none, on a route that was particularly difficult, and won four stages, three in the sprint and one against the clock. He left his opponents, the Italian, Donato Zampani, and the Belgian, Raymond Impanis, behind in the ranking by respectively 4 and 6 minutes. On March 30th, he received the winner’s orange-bordered yellow jersey on the arrival podium set up in Grasse.
In his book about Louison Bobet, published by Éditions Palantines in 2009, Jean-Paul Ollivier described the champion’s performance: «At the end of the race, it could rightly be said: Never had Louison Bobet’s superiority been so sensational.» The journalist emphasises the exceptional «class» that had set Louison apart during this race. 1952 marked a turning point in the French racer’s career, when he began to believe he could win the best of the stage races. He achieved that ambition when he won his first Tour de France in 1953.
In 2018, for the 76th Paris-Nice, many racers will be trying to defeat the domination of Team Sky, who have won the race for the past three years (Richie Porte in 2015, Geraint Thomas in 2016 and Sergio Henao in 2017). French riders such as Tony Gallopin, Alexis Vuillermoz, Warren Barguil, Julian Alaphilippe, Pierre Roland and Lilian Calmejane could justifiably set their sights on several victories, and even on the final accolade when they arrive on the famous Promenade des Anglais in Nice.
Bonne route Messieurs !
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