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Classic jerseys: No.3 Peugeot

Giles Belbin
7 Nov 2018

The French team was a dominant force in the earliest days of the sport and witnessed more than its share of both success and scandal

This article was first published in Issue 76 of Cyclist magazine

Sporting a magnificent moustache and a thickly striped jersey, the splendidly named Hippolyte Aucouturier was a French racing cyclist in the early 1900s who bore more than a passing resemblance to the archetypal circus strongman.

He cut an imposing figure and had a nickname to match, with Henri Desgrange’s L’Auto newspaper dubbing him ‘Le Terrible’.

Aucouturier was a formidable bike rider. In 1903 he won Paris-Roubaix, Bordeaux-Paris and two stages at the inaugural Tour de France.

Fast-forward 12 months and Aucouturier, now riding for Peugeot, did even better. Of the six stages that made up the 1904 race, Aucouturier won four of them – the first Peugeot-sponsored rider to win a Tour stage.

To celebrate, Peugeot took out a large advert in L’Auto, hailing their quadruple stage winner.

Unfortunately, the wins wouldn’t stand the test of time. The 1904 Tour had been a disaster. Cheating was rife, with riders accused of taking trains while partisan fans blocked roads, allowing only favoured riders to pass and threatening others with rocks.

Four months later the French cycling union disqualified a number of riders, including Aucouturier.

With those wins wiped from the books, Peugeot would have to wait another 12 months for their ‘first’ Tour win when Louis Trousselier took the opening stage of the 1905 race.

In total Peugeot won eight of the 11 stages that year, with Trousselier claiming five on the way to overall victory.

Earlier in the season Trousselier, nicknamed ‘The Florist’ because of his family’s business, and who reportedly later lost all his Tour winnings in a night of gambling at the Buffalo velodrome, had won Paris-Roubaix while Aucouturier had claimed Bordeaux-Paris.

It was only Peugeot’s second full road season but already they were sweeping the biggest races in France thanks to their two superstar riders. 

From pepper grinders to bicycles

The Peugeot story starts back in the 1700s when Jean-Pierre Peugeot opened a grain mill in Montbéliard, eastern France.

When the mill passed into the hands of his sons, Jean-Pierre II and Jean-Frédéric, they transformed it into a foundry, manufacturing a diverse range of products including saws, springs and pepper grinders.

In 1882 Jean-Pierre II’s visionary grandson Armand – the man who would later lead Peugeot into car production – launched the high-wheeled Grand Bi, and by the 1890s the company was mass-producing bicycles.

Almost as soon as Peugeot started manufacturing bicycles, so riders began winning long-distance races on them.

In 1891 three of the top 10 riders in the first edition of Paris-Brest-Paris were riding Peugeots and the following year the company’s bikes filled the top five places in the 1,000km Paris-Nantes-Paris race – an ‘unprecedented success’, according to the advertising posters that followed.

But the marque was just getting started and in 1904 the Peugeot road team was founded. After Trousselier’s Tour win in 1905, Peugeot claimed the next three editions.

In 1908 the team was particularly dominant when Lucien Petit-Breton became the first rider to win back-to-back Tours as Peugeot riders won every stage and filled the top four places overall, offering ‘irrefutable proof of its overwhelming superiority over all others’.

By the outbreak of the First World War the company had claimed six Tour wins and no fewer than 13 major one-day races, including the inaugural Milan-San Remo and the 1907 edition of Paris-Roubaix, won by Georges Passerieu despite an over-zealous policeman stopping him on his way into the famous velodrome and asking to inspect his bike.

Later that same year Peugeot took their first Tour of Lombardy win.

At first it was credited to Maino’s Giovanni Gerbi, but the rider known as the Red Devil had been up to his old tricks, with his supporters first blocking a level crossing, allowing him to build a sizeable lead, and then scattering tacks over the route to further hinder his chasers.

Gerbi crossed the line first but was relegated the next day and the win was awarded to Peugeot’s Gustave Garrigou.

Despite such success it wasn’t all plain sailing. When Eugene Christophe famously broke his forks on the Tourmalet in 1913 and was forced to descend on foot to a local forge to repair his machine, it was a Peugeot that had folded beneath him.

Recounting the incident to La Sport et Vie in 1960 Christophe said, ‘I had time to see my fork bend before me. I am telling you now but back then, to avoid poor publicity for my sponsors, I did not want reveal it…’ 

In black and white

Peugeot’s now-famous black and white chequerboard jersey was introduced in 1963, the year in which Britain’s Tom Simpson joined the French team.

Simpson would claim Bordeaux-Paris, Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Lombardy Classics, the latter just five weeks after he had won the World Championships.

‘He wears the rainbow jersey,’ reported Italian daily La Stampa of Simpson’s arrival alone in Como. ‘He dangles on the bicycle demanding from himself extreme reserves of energy.

‘The public, for a moment, are quiet, in absolute silence. Then someone claps their hands. Others copy him.

‘Simpson crosses the finish line amid the din of a huge ovation… his face lit by a perpetual smile that seems to have fun with everything and everyone.’

Other famous names to have worn the black and white jersey include Rik Van Steenbergen, Eddy Merckx, Pino Cerami and Bernard Thévenet, who claimed the team’s final Tour de France title in 1977.

In the 1980s Peugeot became the first pro team for a number of English-speaking neo-pros – Robert Millar, Stephen Roche and Sean Yates among them.

Peugeot continued as a primary sponsor until 1986, its final win coming at Stage 5 of the Tour de l’Avenir.

After that, the company had a reduced involvement in cycling as co-sponsor of the Z team, before eventually bowing out of the sport altogether. 

• This jersey is part of Paul Van Bommel’s collection of cycling memorabilia, which is on display in the new Bike Experience Centre in Boom, Belgium. For details, visit deschorre.be/develodroom.html

Photography: Danny Bird

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