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Pages of History: What News of the 1952 Tour Looked Like

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I get old newspapers. And they aren’t like new ones. But the sport... kinda is.

A year ago my good friend Joel brought me back some old French magazines from Europe, from another time, showing cycling in something of a golden age. Joel is a man of taste -- he once ditched a day of work in Amsterdam to stand with me atop the Koppenberg — so it’s no surprise that these old papers were something to behold. So clearly from another time in the presentation, information, and so forth, that I thought it might be fun to reproduce one of them here.

Part of what’s so cool about this for me is that, being American, I’m not too likely to come across French cycling newspapers from years gone by. I have a few I bought back in the 80s, which are also amazing treasures. But I’m sure if I were from Belgium or France I’d have seen stacks of them a million times at my grandparents’ house or something.

So to my Belgian and French and Dutch and other Euro friends, this might be old hat. But even old hats are fun on occasion. Let’s jump in.

Miroir Sprint Cover 1952

This is the cover art, Raphael Geminiani with inner tubes and a mild suffer-face, possibly heading into the Vosges. The date of the paper, if not the photo as well, is July 3, 1952, and this edition of Le Miroir du Tour sold for 35 francs (or 40 in North Africa). The parent mag is the weekly Miroir-Sprint, which itself is quite a piece of history. Started in 1946, Miroir-Sprint was allied with the French Communist Party and the Résistance through the Forces Unies de la Jeunesse Patriotique, and was actually a repackaging of the latter’s newsletter Jeune Combattant. So much of cycling traces its roots to the world wars. The country needed new sports mags, since L’Auto and Miroir des Sports were unwelcomed by the public after having continued through the occupation. [I’m translating from Wikipedia so feel free to correct any errors here.] The magazine also found itself advocating for a “Ronde de France,” ostensibly to take the place of the Tour and sweep away its L’Auto-based hierarchy, but however that battle played out we know that a decision was made not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. L’Auto went away but the Tour did not.

Miroir-Sprint and its goal of promoting charismatic French champions profited off the Tour and riders like Robic and Anquetil, and things were pretty good until French football hit the skids in the 1960s, reducing circulation, and television was there to finish off the publication in 1971, when it stopped altogether.

The 1952 Tour did not lack for charismatic champions. Let’s dive inside.

Stage six from Namur to Metz, in photos

This edition covered three stages of the 1952 Tour de France. It says “Prochain no. 7 Juillet,” which makes me wonder if they published twice a week during the Tour. In any event, the 16 pages cover stages six through eight only.

Stage six went from Namur, in Wallonia, to Metz, in northeastern France near the Luxembourg border. The Tour had begun in Brest, then headed slightly north an inland, including a stop after stage 4 in Roubaix. Nowadays a pavé stage would be big news but it didn’t rate much of a mention here. Though in the day’s early break from Namur you can see some nice stones:

Mirior Sprint st 6 escape

Here Miroir-Sprint looks at the early contenders for yellow, which included Rik Van Steenbergen for the first two stages, and he’s shown here in the Roubaix velodrome where he was a familiar face by then, having won his second Paris-Roubaix just a couple months earlier.

Rik Van Steenbergen in the Roubaix velodrome, among other luminaries

And here’s Van Steenbergen coming out of an ambulance as he DNF’d the next day.

Miroir Sprint st 6 more spread

In the bottom corner that gem of a photo is Gem — Geminiani — shadowing Il Campionissimo Fausto Coppi. But I digress...

Magni wins stage 6

Fiorenzo Magni was one of the major stars of week one, displacing overall leader Nello Lauredi (an Italian-born rider who was by now riding for France) with a solo win in stage six. Magni was already a double Giro winner and treble winner of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, so he was quite the figure in this race, though he wouldn’t last long in yellow.

Stage seven was a time trial into the Vosges region, from Metz to Nancy via 59km of road. The star of the day was Coppi...

Coppi in ITT mode

... and you can track his results along the various checkpoints with the Tableau de Marche:

Miroir Sprint ITT table

As you might also be able to detect, Magni suffered on the day and fell out of contention, while Lauredi climbed back into the overall lead.

The next day was a 252-km romp from Nancy to Mulhouse, over the Col de la Grosse Pierre, Col de Bussang, Ballon d’Alsace, Col du Hundsruck and Col d’Amic. Over all but the first it was Geminiani on a heroic escape, which also had the effect of putting Magni back in yellow.

Miroir Sprint st 8 spread

It’s a bit remarkable that this paper covered three days, all won by big-time heroes of cycling who live on in our imaginations to this day. For the record, stage five was won by the immortal Bim Diederich, and stage nine by the unforgettable Walter Diggelmann. So yeah, this was the edition of Miroir-Sprint to hang on to, as opposed to the next one or the prior edition.

The rest of the news centered around the fact that it was hotter than the surface of Venus all week in France. And much was made of the efforts of riders to stay cool.

enemi le soleil

I so love that last photo. This is fashion brilliance, 1952 French teenage girl style.

Miroir Girl

And what old-timey newspaper would be worth anything without a pretty silly cartoonist?

Miroir Cartoon Devil

... or a guy pouring beers down his back?

Blomme dousing himself with beer

Just a couple more bits here... next up was the editorial section, where the editors debated what they’d been watching all week. It was good, clean week one fun. Which is to say, it shouldn’t be taken all that seriously. But I’m sure it was.

Oh, and as a counterweight, here’s the point of view from the Italian side. Something about Coppi playing helper. Like I said, it’s week one. By Paris Coppi would go on to crush all opposition, winning five stages including the newly-invented mountaintop finish, in places like Alpe d’Huez and Sestriere. Magni would take another stage and finish a respectable sixth. Gem would also win two stages, but fall out of the top ten more than an hour behind. Stan Ockers was second at over 28 minutes back.

Italian view

And some very cool, very 1950s ads, featuring Magni (top) and Gem (below).

Last... a crossword puzzle. I bet a few of you could fill this one out. Challenge!

Anyway, I hope that was fun for you. Cycling has a unique connection to its past, as sports go, by retaining so much of the original character. We argue a lot about what’s changed, and of course much has changed, but being in the moment of a race from sixty years ago, as this edition of Miroir-Sprint allows us to do, helps us recognize so much of the familiar in a few early days of a star-studded Tour.

[In case these photos aren’t appearing large enough, check my Instagram account at https://www.instagram.com/chris_fontecchio/. I can make more available too if you want to be able to read the articles or agate type.]