A Tribute to Roger Pingeon

Roger Pingeon died on 19 March 2017 aged 76. Famous for winning the Tour de France in that fateful year (1967) when Tom Simpson collapsed and died on the slopes of Mont Ventoux, he was prolific in the years 1965 to 1974.

Apart from the 1967 Tour win, he was fifth in 1968 and second in 1969 when he also won the Vuelta.  But every year he was a top five finisher in a multitude of stage, single day races and time trials.

He rode mainly for the Peugeot team, with Simpson and then Merckx, on the iconic PX10 (as pictured).

However, the 1967 Tour was run with national rather than trade teams, and he found himself surrounded by “a team of leaders” including Lucien Aimar (the 1966 winner), Raymond Poulidor and Jean Stablinski, and without any of his Peugeot team mates selected for the French national team. So how did he come to win? See later.

Tête de Cochon

But Pingeon was a difficult character, with a “tête de cochon” according to Raphaël Géminiani.  And he was a regular user of amphetamines: having tested positive on more than one occasion, in 1971 he decided to fight a suspension by taking the French Federation to court “for preventing my exercising my profession”. But he didn’t get far.

Times Obituary

His London Times obituary (23 March 2017) dwells on his eccentricity and his complex crotchety character.  Here is an extract:

Pingeon was a hypochondriac with a phobia of germs.  Every night during his winning Tour he bathed in a solution of salt and vinegar to fight off the bugs.  He was also obsessed with sleep, and would wear eyepads and block up keyholes and door-cracks with cotton wool to ensure total darkness… He was also riddled with anxiety and self-doubt, lacking faith in himself and his equipment.  He would abandon races because he thought he had no chance of winning, or because he could not stop himself brooding on what might happen if, say, he was on a fast descent and a previously undetected crack in his bike frame gave way…  Sore joints, bad weather – the sorts of afflictions that professional cyclists regard as inevitable, if tiresome – would for Pingeon constitute grounds for abandonment…  His eccentricities overshadowed his achievements, and he was seen as an oddball outsider, certainly not a team player…

 But Pingeon was a Savvy Racer

(The Times continues…)
The fifth stage of the Tour went into Belgium, and he calculated correctly that the Belgians in the field would want to make a good showing, so he attached himself to a breakaway group who planned to make a splash in their home country.  Then, as they slowed down at a feeding station to grab their musettes, he suddenly accelerated and left them behind.  It was not an illegal move, but it certainly went against the spirit of the race, and it gave him the leader’s yellow jersey.  He surrendered the maillot jaune briefly in the mountains [to team mate Raymond Riotte] before regaining it and wearing it to Paris…
After Ferdinand Kübler in December 2016 and Roger Walkowiak in February 2017, he was the third Tour de France champion to die in recent months; 23 survive, led by the 1959 winner, 88-year-old Federico Bahamontes…

About Tony Varey

Tony Varey took up cycling at school in the 1960s and became an avid follower of the sport. Struggling to understand the rapidfire RTL race commentaries on a transistor radio certainly helped his French! He then left it behind and followed a career in the oil business including time in Latin America and the Middle East before returning to cycling in his fifties. His enthusiasm has recently been invigorated by the rediscovery of the joys of riding vintage steel-framed bikes around the lanes of West Sussex.