Death of oldest surviving Tour de France champion Roger Walkowiak at the age of 89
Roger Walkowiak, the oldest winner of the Tour de France since the death of Swiss Ferdi Kubler, at the end of December 2016, died near Vichy at the age of 89 years.
The family of Roger Walkowiak announced the sad news on 6 February 2017. In addition to the 1956 Tour, Walkowiak won two stages of the Vuelta in 1956 and 1957 and finished second in Paris-Nice 1953 and in the Critérium du Dauphiné in 1955. Spanish Federico Bahamontes, who won the Tour de France in 1959, is now the oldest winner alive.
Despite himself, he had his name attached to an expression “Winning à la Walkowiak” is a term still used today for an easy or an unexpected win. It was to neglect the qualities of this descendant of the Polish immigrant, born March 8, 1927 in Montluçon. Roger Walkowiak was a honest rider and a good climber to the point of having threatened Louison Bobet in the Dauphiné. This was confirmed by British contemporary Brian Robinson who explained that Roger Walkowiak was ‘a strong rider who was not in the class of the big names but had plenty of ability, especially as a climber,’
“Winning like Walkowiak” means a busy Tour, rich in attacks, without really a leader. The story was already written about a race with two exceptional climbers, Luxemburger Charly Gaul and Spain's Federico Bahamontès, Belgian Stan Ockers and Frenchman Raphaël Géminiani, in the absence of Bobet, the winner of the previous three years. But Roger Walkowiak after taking advantage of a long breakaway won, against all odds, the Tour de France in 1956.
"A strong rider who had plenty of ability, especially as a climber"
Roger Walkowiak’s childhood, which he spent in the neighbourhood of the Marais, was particularly rich. "I was having a good time. I was going to the square and I was playing marbles with my friends," he told the French press last year. Around 14-15 years, he began to take an interest in cycling races. Then he switches to practice. "During the war, I was off to the bicycle." He eventually joined the Dunlop Factory Club in 1944. "We went out 20 to 30 kms, on Sundays with friends."
The circuit of Guineberts and the coast of Marmignolles where he liked to "challenge" his partners was his favourite place. His bike, mostly artisanal, was made by himself. "I preferred to buy the parts one by one and ride my bike myself. It took time to get it all, but at least I felt like it really belonged to me," he said smilingly.
From Montluçon, he remembered a city that loved cycling. “There were not many cars at the time. Sometimes there were cyclists on the four rows, who were taking the whole road."
While taking his first steps in the race, Roger Walkowiak worked as a turner at Dunlop until his signature at Rivasport, in 1949, where he began his professional career. In addition to major international meetings such as the Tour de France, he also skims the regional races. "After my victory in 1956, I was invited to all the Criterias of the region. Every day I made one. It lasted two months (laughs). "
Once the bike returned to the garage, in 1960, Roger Walkowiak did not cut itself off from its Montluçon roots. He settled in La Chapelaude with his wife, before migrating to Vichy, where he was following the Tour de France. Even if he does not always find his happiness. "In my days, it was going in every direction. Today the race is so formatted; it seems that the runners do not even take pleasure”.
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