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Antonin Magne, René Vietto & the 1934 Tour de France

by Owen Mulholland

Tour de France: the Inside Story

Les Woodland's book Tour de France: The Inside Story - Making the World's Greatest Bicycle Race is available as an audiobook here. For the print and Kindle eBook versions, just click on the Amazon link on the right.

Owen Mulholland writes:

Not all rivalries need end in acrimony. Cycling has witnessed some epic demonstrations of altruism. Raymond Poulidor's sacrifice for Roger Pingeon in the 1967 Tour is one obvious example.

Even more dramatic was the Tour de France of 1934. Just four years before, Tour founder, Henri Desgrange, had changed the Tour from a competition between trade teams (as it is today) to one between national teams (like the world championships). He was sick of the intrigue and suspicious results. He even provided all riders with anonymous bikes painted in yellow.

France loved the change. They dominated these Tours of the early thirties. The 1931 winner, Antonin Magne, looked set for a repeat in 1934. When he donned the maillot jaune after the first week of pounding across the pave of northern France, no one paid much attention to his new 20 year old teammate from Cannes, René Vietto. The little guy had already lost 40 minutes.

Antonin Magne about to ride the stage 21b time trial in the 1934 Tour de France.

All this changed when René won three Alpine stages, the last into his home town where he had been a janitor until recently. Although he outwardly pretended to be glad, Magne was definitely looking over his shoulder at this phenomenon who was now in third on general classification. Everyone, riders and fans, held their breath for the Pyrenees.

On the descent of the Col de l'Hospitalet Magne crashed, smashing a wheel. No team car was in sight. Without a moment's hesitation René handed over his wheel.

The next day Magne punctured on the descent of the Col de Porte. This time Vietto was actually slightly ahead, but heard Magne's shout. René was forced to ride back up the hill to once again surrender his wheel.

The famous photo of René Vietto on a stone wall.

For 15 minutes René sat on the stone parapet, tears trickling down his face. His overall position slipped to fifth. He would never win the Tour.

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Monsieurs Levitan and Goddet, the Tour de France directors, invited René Vietto to leave his pig farm to join the Tour at the memorable Alpe d'Huez finish this year. There René was included in a televised roundtable discussion with Hinault and LeMond. Vietto made some pointed remarks about the meaning of sacrifice, but his countryman from Brittany remained unmoved. A few minutes later Hinault uttered his notorious statement that the "Tour isn't finished."


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