Tuesday shorts

What does the picture above remind you of? No, this isn’t a Rorschach test, it is a painting by British artist Chris Billington. Can you see anything that looks like a bike race?

It was commissioned by an anonymous collector who wanted a painting of the Euskaltel-Euskadi team. Billington explains more:

When my client finally saw “Euskaltel” for the first time she was absolutely stunned and delighted, and told me that it was the most beautiful painting that she had ever seen, in fact she went even further and told me that my colours were a reason to wake up in the morning. Going on to tell me that “Euskaltel” made her want to “Dive into the painting and swim around in my colours and get drunk on them” made me very happy indeed.

The reaction on Twitter was mixed, some liked the vivid image but many weren’t as delighted as Billington’s patron.

Stablinksi remembered
Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix finished on the old velodrome but next door is a brand new indoor velodrome is being built. France has some great sports facilities but it lacks decent indoor tracks. This one will be named after Jean Stablinksi, the 1962 World Champion.

“Stab” was the son of Polish immigrants but his father died in a mining accident. He was forced to start work as a child in the mines of Northern France to provide income for his family. A lucky break followed when he won an accordion music competition and the prize was a bicycle. With this he began racing and earned more than money. Things went full circle as it turns out actually worked in the Arenberg mine under the now infamous cobbled section of Paris-Roubaix. In fact it was Stablinksi who informed organisers about the cobbled track above ground and they incorporated it into the race route.

Winning “à la Walko”
Roger Walkowiak

Stablinksi wasn’t the only Frenchman with Polish origins succeed in France at the time. In 1956 Roger Walkowiak won the Tour de France but his was an unfortunate win. He gained so much time in an early breakaway that, so the story goes, he managed to hold on to the lead all the way to Paris and win by accident. So much so that winning à la Walkowiak became a term used when someone took a surprise win. It even applied outside sport, for example a politician winning an election after an opponent drops out has been described in this way.

In fact he won properly. Yes 31 riders got a move that took 18 minutes early on but he lost the yellow jersey and reclaimed it when the mountains came and fought hard to defend it despite being on one of the weakest teams in the race. There’s simply no easy to way to win the Tour de France. Indeed he was fifth on a mountain stage behind Charly Gaul, arguably the greatest climber of all time. And he won a stage in Montluçon in his home region, where he still lives today.

After my Tour I was criticised, so I decided to put a stop to things

Walkowiak walked away from the sport and has since made only rare appearances. Once in 1967, again in 1988 and then in 1990 where French newspaper L’Humanité met up with him.

Now Bicycling’s James Start has paid a visit. You can read the full interview online and I’d recommend it, he talks about his win, why he walked away from cycling and more.


Today’s race was won by Pierre-Luc Périchon of the small La Pomme Marseille team, trumping the bigger French squads. It’s the oldest continuing sponsorship deal in cycling, with cheesemaker Lepetit sponsoring the race in 1943, although today Lepetit is just a brand in the portfolio of Lactalis, the world’s third largest dairy products group.

Modern business aside there’s an old school theme to the race. Not the unhelpful race website, instead the winner gets a huge cheese as the prize. In the days of Stablinski winning food was a big prize but less so today. I doubt the riders will touch the prize but the team staff will get their share tonight. Otherwise the team car will stink if someone’s transporting it home.

Talking of changing corporate brands, French squad Saur-Sojasun will lose their main sponsor at the end of the year. In an interview with French site cyclismactu, team boss Stéphane Heulot hints that there’s already a replacement lined up. When asked if there’s a new partner for 2013, Heulot says “yes it’s happening. The future will go on without Saur” but obviously Saur will get their money’s worth this year since the team will ride the Tour de France.

21 thoughts on “Tuesday shorts”

  1. What a fantastic (and sad) tale Roger Walkowiak’s story is. Thanks for bringing that interview to my attention. Aside from Walkowiak’s story, I particularly enjoyed this gem:

    “In the years since you retired, which rider most impressed you?

    Hmm … the Belgian …

    Eddy Merckx?

    Yeah, him.”

    That absolutely cracked me up!

  2. Regarding the “Euskaltel” painting, “Art is in the eye of the beholder,” right?

    What my eye sees that represents the Spanish team are the almond-shaped strokes, the helmets of the riders riding off the canvas. But this matters not, because I didn’t commission this painting. What matters is that the woman who paid for it loves it. My interpretation of what I see in the painting tells me as much about the woman as it does about Chris Billington.

    That’s what’s so cool about art. There is a piece (or pieces) of art that will speak to each of us, bring us joy everyday that we look at it…it becomes priceless and leaves a lasting impression in the mind’s eye.

  3. On the painting of the Euskaltel-Euskadi team, I don’t see a race, but I do see a bunch of carrots without tops on a training ride. Oh yeah… it is the Euskaltel team.

  4. For all the French have idscredited Walkowiak’s win, they’d have snapped your hand off if you’d offered them a victory “à la Walko” by Thomas Voeckler last summer!

    Walko in fact didn’t win a stage in his victory year, but had the yellow jersey for about 8 days. I think I’d rather that (if I had to choose… :-)) than Jean Robic, who won the ’47 tour on the last day, and never wore yellow.
    Is Ferdi Kubler still alive? I believe so, and therefore Walkowiak is the second oldest tour winner still with us. Good on ‘im for that longevity too!

    About the painting: before I read the article, I wondered if it was another arty Giro poster, with the pink road heading up into the mountains…

  5. A fascinating one the 1956 TdF. Checking it on Mémoire du Cyclisme, it turns out there was way more than a lucky breakaway and a spirited defense in the Alps: Walkowiak finished 4 stages, before the mountains, minutes before the main peloton. On the 4th one, he got 15 minutes; on the 5th, another 3; on the 6th, another 11; and on the 7th, the famous 18 minutes. So a good three quarters of an hour on the strongest men of the time (Ockers, Nencini, Bahamontes, Gaul, Bauvin), all won in embuscades and escapades in first flat stages.

    Tell you what, Bruyneel might go nuts about this extreme lack of race control by the favourites, but to me it must have been excellent riding: complete determination to get in all the important breakaways, the flair to sense them, and the strength to be ahead almost all throughout the Tour. No sheer luck “à la Walko” to speak about.

  6. Personally I love the Euskaltel painting and wrote about it on my blog yesterday. Whoever commissioned it is a lucky person as I’d love to have that in my house to look at as I had breakfast and got ready for the ride to work.

  7. I like the red in the foreground representing the blood from the point some Basque dropped a bottle and caused a bunch of guys to crash on an innocuous stretch of road.

  8. Thanks for all the comments and extra info and Rooto, yes Kubler is still alive and I gather he’s very well.

    girona: good point, it can still happen. About time we saw this happen again, we came close with the 2010 Giro that saw Porte and Arroyo surprise until the last few days. Not that they had it easy in any way at all.

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