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Hobgoblins, Time Bonuses and the 1947 Tour de France

Love them or hate them, time bonuses can change a Grand Tour. A certain hobgoblin learned that in 1947.

I believe that this is on the way to Sestriere in 1952. Robic punctured, and in annoyance with his team, did not use the spare tyre around his shoulder, but instead just moaned that his team car wasn't there. Also, who is that facing away from him?
I believe that this is on the way to Sestriere in 1952. Robic punctured, and in annoyance with his team, did not use the spare tyre around his shoulder, but instead just moaned that his team car wasn't there. Also, who is that facing away from him?

Jean Robic won the Tour in 1947, a year in which the Tour de France is often, and not incorrectly put in the bracket of "post-war cycling." The field of that year's Tour de France wasn't stellar. Partly, this was because there was a slight problem with inviting an Italian team, as Italy was technically at war with France, no peace treaty had been signed. Yeah, sorry Fausto, you can't go. The only Italians that were sent were those who were part French and lived in France. There were five French teams, and Robic was riding for the Ouest-France team, being a Breton. (Or so he described himself, he spent the first seven years of his life in the Ardennes. )

In appearance, Robic was not attractive, described as having "ears large enough to be of help with a back wind blowing." He also acquired some unflattering nicknames, such as "Biquet," meaning "Little goat" for his small stature. He was 5'3", and weighed just 60kg, it is reported. Another was "Tête de Cuir" or "Leather head" for the leather crash helmet he liked to wear.  But I save the best and harshest for last. Another nickname that stuck with him was "La farfadet de la lande Bretonne" or "The hobgoblin of Brittany. We need more nicknames like this! Pick a mythical creature, pick a location and Robert's your mother's brother.

Anyway, with nicknames, crash hats, and a West-France jersey tucked into his suitcase, and a promise to his fiancée that he would bring back the yellow jersey for her, Robic set about the business of riding his first Tour de France, which as you can see from this map, followed this years in completely ignoring the middle part of the country.

Mapping Le Tour 1947

The Tour did not start well for Robic, he lost over two minutes on the very first stage (236 kilometres from Paris to Lille) but bounced back, winning stage four. Frenchman René Vietto, who once gave up a Tour de France win for his team mate held the yellow jersey, and Robic was a Tour winner in the minds of absolutely no one. When they entered the Alps, it began to snow, but Robic won his second stage. On stage 8, the Italians were putting on the pressure, with Fermo Camellini going over the Télégraphe, the Galibier and the Croix de Fer first, in a stage not dissimilar to this year's stage twenty, except no Alpe. Camellini's team mate Aldo Ronconi took the yellow jersey, but the day after, Vietto won the last Alpine stage, which contained the Col d'Izoard, Vars and also Allos, which is on stage 17 of this year's Tour de France, and retook yellow. Where was Robic at this stage? Getting mountain points, and the bonus seconds that came with them.

However, when the race reached the final two Pyrenean mountain stages, Robic was twenty minutes behind, and finishing with the main group on stage fourteen left him the same distance behind. He had stage fifteen, going over the Circle of Death, the Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet and Aubisque, all category one climbs. He attacked early, leading over all of them, taking five minutes in bonus seconds (I have no idea how that works) and winning the ten minutes, putting him in fifth place, only a couple of minutes behind Vietto, still in the lead.

The next stage of real import was a time trial. "Let's not be too hard on them, don't push it," as the route planner probably didn't say, as it was 139 (one hundred and thirty-nine) kilometres long. Not exactly a walk in the park. Vietto was the man who suffered most, and Pierre Brambilla, who hadn't won a stage in the Tour but was lying second, a minute and a half behind Vietto, was the main beneficiary. Vietto had a disastrous time-trial, it's debated why. Some say that it was because he was distracted after a friend had a motorcycle accident, but I prefer to believe a different theory, that he drank a bottle of cider during the ride. Anyway, Robic rode well, finishing best of the GC contenders, five(!) minutes down on winner Raymond Impanis in second place. All of this put Brambilla, an Italian(ish) into yellow, with his team made Aldo Ronconi in second, and Robic 2'58" behind in third.

It all looked settled. Brambilla would ride into the Parc des Princes on the flat final stage in yellow, but Robic had other plans. He attacked on a two kilometre climb, sprinting for the prime. His compatriot Edouard Fachleitner, who was seven minutes off the lead in fifth place followed him, and they were pursued by Brambilla, but he could not hold the pace and dropped back to the peloton. Fachleitner and Robic continued to ride, and built a big advantage, when Fachleitner attacked. And attacked. And attacked and attacked and attacked. Robic chased them all down and said "You will not get away, because I will chase you down. Ride with me. You'll come second, but I'll give you 100,000 francs." Fachleitner agreed to this, and worked. He always was told for the rest of his life that he should have asked for more. 100,000 was enough at the time however, and he worked. The pair got a huge gap, and crossed the line with 13 minutes in hand on the uncooperative peloton. Briek Schotte, a true Flandrien won the stage, but Robic won the Tour without riding one metre in the yellow jersey. Brambilla was furious. he was said to have chopped up his bike, and buried it in the ground. Fachleitner took second, but remember those bonus seconds? They won him the Tour. Fachleitner rode the race faster than Robic. People talk about Cobo in the 2011 Vuelta, but these bonuses were in minutes, and if it happened this year, there would be uproar.

Robic never rose to such heights again, his next best Tour finish was fourth in 1949. However, he rode excellently in cyclo-cross, becoming world champion in 1950. He denied doping, saying that the most he did was drinking a mixture of coffee and apple brandy.