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« NelsonVails | Main | Monday morning talk around the Coppi machine »
Thursday
Jan312008

Aldo Ross’s Pic of the Day

As a teenager in the 1950s one of the highlights of my year was during the Tour de France when I would order copies of a French sports paper called “Le Miroir des Sports.”

It would arrive in the mail, a newspaper size publication printed on glossy paper. All in French so I couldn’t understand the captions, but I didn’t need to, I could pick out the riders names and the photos themselves told the story.

Over the years my copies got lost, then some time ago I discovered bicycle history enthusiast Aldo Ross has a large collection of these papers. Most people with such a collection would keep them to themselves, but Aldo Ross generously shares these images by posting what he calls his “Pic of the day” on the Wool Jersey site.

I use the word “generously” because scanning and posting these pictures is a time consuming exercise. The pictures give me a great deal of pleasure, especially when occasionally I will remember a picture from my youth. Like the one below of Swiss rider Hugo Koblet on his way to his 1951 Tour win.


You can see from the picture, the road conditions were atrocious, and punctures were a frequent occurrence. Race regulations back then did not allow a wheel change and Koblet’s team is changing the tire. These are tubular tires, glued to the rim.

Often the riders changed their own tires if their mechanic was not close at hand. You can see the spare tire laying at Koblet’s feet; this was probably wrapped around his shoulders, which was a typical way to carry a spare back then.

A second spare tire is neatly folded and strapped under his saddle. Incidentally, that is probably a Brooks B17 leather saddle; I say that because almost the entire Tour de France field rode on a B17 during that era.

Koblet’s bike has a regular pump in front of the seat tube, and a CO2 pump behind it. (Yes, we had CO2 pumps back then.) The bike has steel cottered cranks with Simplex rings. It has early Campagnolo front and rear derailleurs, operated by bar end shifters. (Not shown in this picture.)

There is no derailleur hanger, the gear is clamped to the rear dropout, and there were no braze-on cable stops. The bike has a full length cable from the handlebar gear lever to the rear derailleur, held to the frame with clips. There are fender eyelets on the rear dropouts; this bike would be used for racing and training.

Koblet’s eyes are focused down the hill, looking to see who is coming up. He was probably leading when he punctured; tall and slender, he has the ultimate climber’s build. He is reaching in his pocket for food, it is almost impossible to eat on a climb like this, so a rider would use a forced stop like this the grab some nourishment. Note that the jersey has front pockets as well as rear, and these are also stuffed with food.

Another puncture in this next picture; (Right.) Koblet is now wearing the race leader’s Yellow Jersey. Even though the picture is not in color I know it is the Yellow Jersey because it has the initials HD embroidered on the chest, for Henri Desgrange, founder of the Tour de France who died in 1940.

Again, his face stuffed with food, Koblet checks his watch to see how much time he has lost.

In the final picture, Koblet has a spare tire crossed behind his back and looped around his shoulders. He has his goggles on his arm, as his pockets are no doubt full of food. Because he has a pump on his seat tube, a second water bottle is mounted on his handlebars.

Plastic water bottles have not yet arrived, these were made from spun aluminum, with a real cork for a stopper.

There are more pictures from Hugo Koblet's 1951 Tour victory on Aldo's page here.

Reader Comments (15)

Dave, thank you thank you thank you for this post.

I love this kind of detail.

Looking at riders of this period, I always note that their physique is different from their modern contemporaries. They look a bit older, and their muscles seem leaner. Maybe it is just the photography, or the postwar diet.

Another thing is that they just look tough.
January 31, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Rags
I love the old cycling photos, too. However, I cannot disect them at all, so all the detail that this blog provides is amazing to me.

Just yesterday, I received a book titled, "Cycling's Golden Age: Heroes of the Postwar Era, 1946-1967, The Horton Collection". I've managed only a brief look, but it looks really fantastic, with a little writeup of each rider plus lots of photos. Dave, have you seen this book?
January 31, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter db
Thanks, Dave.

I got into cycling through surfing and your photos and analysis remind me that cycling has a history as rich and rewarding as surfing. Having you describe the bikes and gear are as satisfying as having a shaper describe the evolution of a surfboard's tail block.
January 31, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Strayhorn
In looking at the photo's, my thoughts were exactly as Rags commented previously. The bodies of these riders, specifically their legs, do not look as chisled as the riders today. You don't seem to see any "baby faces" on those bikes, either. I think for all of the riders of that era, "tough" was their middle name. I simply cannot imagine riders today riding with the equipment of that bygone era, in those conditions, without complaining heavily.

Thanks for the information. I love these stories.
January 31, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter maltese falcon
Like rags I am inclined to repeat myself a bit: Great, great article! Together, your text and the pictures sketch an amazing story.
January 31, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter mander
Why aren't jerseys with front pockets made today. Beats me.
January 31, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Ron
Thanks for the post, Dave. It is really great to see the photographs and read your stories.

I'm kind of new to cycling, and a doubt came when you were describing the first picture. Having never ridden with a tubular tire, I'm told they need a rest of a couple of hours after gluing. Wasn't it a problem to continue racing with an unglued tire?

Keep up with the good posts!
February 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter frq
This is facinating stuff, Dave. It is amazing how much tecnological change has been made in high end bikes since those early days. But, basically, he who pedals fastest still wins.
February 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Moonlight Mark
Thanks for sharing Dave. Here I'm considering my '88 Fuso a 'classic'...
February 3, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter riddenwords
Lovely post. I'd love to find a jersey with front pockets. I've asked around and nobody seems to make them any more. It would be very handy. A small camera, some food and a brevet card would fit just perfectly.
February 3, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Surly Dave
Great stories, great pictures! Thanks Dave and to Aldo too.
Jack
February 3, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Anonymous
agreed, this is a wonderful, informative blog. However, I must note that in the second photo, to my eye, Koblet appears to have _just_ checked the time or _is about to_ check the time, as his watch is on his lowered (left) arm.

I imagine him having just wiped his face or mouth or forehead with the back of his glove or forearm. Such a hot and dusty ordeal!

Great photos, too.
February 4, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Anonymous
Anonymous 2:48

Good eye; you spotted my deliberate mistake.

(With tongue firmly in cheek as Koblet appears in the picture.)

Dave.
February 4, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Dave Moulton
I just wanted to say that I live for your posts on monday morning. I love the old cycling stories, keep it up!
February 4, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Evan
Were they using wooden rims back then?

Maybe a bit late, but check recumbent shops or websites for jerseys with front pockets.
February 22, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter jimmy livengood
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