The Pélotone story

Chapter 1

RACE PARIS - ROUBAIX 1896

It is a bleak misty spring morning in Paris and thick fog blankets the Place de la Porte Maillot. Several dozen riders nervously clench the handlebars of their velocipedes; a mix of determination and anxiety apparent in their faces. Everybody wants to reach the finish line first – a distant 280 kilometres away. Nobody speaks. The tension is rising.

Like a knife, the sound of the starting whistle cuts through the morning silence and the mass of riders moves away. It is April 1896 and the Paris - Roubaix bicycle race has just begun. History is in the making as the “Hell of the North” race is writing its first chapter.

The spectators have gone. The only people left are a group of road sweepers and a young journalist by the name of Thierry d’ Fourniere. Sitting on the curb he is hurriedly finishing his article about the start of the race for the morning’s issue of a well-known Parisian newspaper, when all of a sudden, a ghostlike figure of a cyclist emerges from the thick fog and crosses the starting line. Thierry reaches instinctively for his pocket watch and writes into his notepad: Yellow jersey, no starting number, twenty minutes late. “Lost hope” says the young man’s ironic smile while the latecomer whizzes past before disappearing into the fog again.

Meanwhile, at the front of the race a ferocious cycle battle is taking place amongst the favourites. German Pepi Fisher is showing great form and dictating the pace of the race.

Around noon, on the steep ascent past Compiegne, Dutch rider Helen de Croc's is having a problem with the chain on her Peugeot Grand Bi and is forced to pull over by the roadside. No outside help is allowed so she has to make the repair herself.

Dutch rider Helen de Croc's is having a problem with the chain on her Peugeot Grand Bi and is forced to pull over by the roadside. No outside help is allowed so she has to make the repair herself.

After a short while she is passed by a racer in a yellow pullover. “Some latecomer...” she thinks to herself, but admires the rider’s surprisingly swift pace, especially considering the steep gradient of the road.

Throughout the race, more riders notice the man in yellow as he fights his way forward through the field. Fisher has fended off all his opponents’ attempts to overtake him. Alone, way ahead of the pack and at machine-like pace, he counts down kilometre after kilometre. Looking back to check on his opponents, he sees a yellow pullover closing in dangerously. Pepi knows he has to push himself even harder. He increases his cadence, lifts himself off the saddle and presses ahead. Much to his surprise, he looks back again and sees his adversary right behind him. He curses quietly and pushes his body to the very limit. This is not enough. To Pepi’s dismay, the yellow rider is now right next to him!

And so they ride, side by side, racing each other at devilish speeds and leaving the others far behind.

"Fisher knows that Roubaix is getting nearer. He knows he cannot keep up this inhuman pace much longer, but his desire to take the lead is too strong. In one desperate attempt he gathers all his remaining strength and charges ahead. At that point he realizes the devastating truth. No way can he beat this man! And now, just before another sharp rise, the yellow devil rises off his saddle and pushes ahead. Fisher starts falling behind; breathless, he can only cry out “Who are you?” The stranger turns his head towards Fisher and replies with a smile on his handsome face, in a deep resonant voice, “Pélotone, François Pélotone!” By now, the distance between him and Pepi begins to grow irreparably...

And now, just before another sharp rise, the yellow devil rises off his saddle and pushes ahead.

Roubaix! Spectators line the streets to welcome the racers. First, a rider dressed in a yellow jersey with no number on it arrives. His speed is breath-taking as he pushes on towards the finish line. A desperate Pepi Fisher follows, but the day’s hard labour is taking its toll on him. He knows he cannot close the fifty metres that separates him from the first rider. He has to stay focused and keep going, but only for second place. His hopes for victory are lost.

Only three hundred metres to go; he can already see the finish line tape. The deafening roar of the spectators gets louder as they cannot believe the drama unfolding right before their eyes! But suddenly... Pepi Fisher becomes a witness to something beyond his understanding, something which will stay with him for the rest of his days, a legend in the making. Several metres before the finish line, the undisputable, invincible, merciless leader of the race, the yellow devil, the shining star of the “Hell of the North” slows down and quite unexpectedly turns into a narrow side street, disappearing from everyone’s sight instead of claiming his much deserved victory.

Peppi cannot understand what he is seeing. Exhausted, confused, and with tears in his eyes, he crosses the finish line in first place. He slows to a stop before closing his tired eyes and collapsing into the arms of the ecstatic crowd.

“I will find you!”

Pepi cannot understand what he is seeing...

Chapter 2

WHO IS THE MAN IN YELLOW JERSEY ?

A few hours later, the racers are in the “Gallic Cock” pub discussing excitedly all the thrilling adventures of the long day. Champion Pepi Fisher drinks a toast with each of them, but to his disappointment, he cannot see his greatest rival there.

Dutch woman racer de Croc's is just telling everybody in broken French how she was overtaken by the stranger in the hill near Compiegne. “I didn’t see him at the start,” she says. “A yellow pullover would have been noticeable even in the mist!” “So you don’t think that he was part of the peloton?” asks Frenchman Martin. “We can’t be sure. His pace was admirable though..” Swede Gustaffson adds to the debate. All the others also remember seeing the yellow pullover throughout the race. Young journalist d’Fourniere, who in the meantime arrives by train, joins in the discussion. “Gentlemen, I must confirm that I saw him crossing the starting line twenty minutes after the official start. He was taking part in the race.” Fisher also recounts his exhausting cycling battle with the unknown rider and describes the surprising moment when instead of claiming certain victory, the stranger turned into a narrow side street and into the abyss of history.”

Instead of claiming certain victory, the stranger turned into a narrow side street and into the abyss of history.

When he finishes, the other racers stand there quietly with a serious look in their eyes. “What a great sports performance!” exclaims one of them after a while. “Not only did he manage to recover a twenty minute loss, he could also have won the whole race if he had wanted! We should all respect such an achievement. Glory to the winner and honour and admiration to the unknown racer! Let’s drink to that!”

After they all drink to the absent racer, Fisher surprises everyone by adding one more piece to the puzzle. “He told me his name,” Fisher reveals slowly, “I have checked and it was not on the starting list. His name is Francois Pélotone.”

That night, Pepi Fisher could not sleep very well. His mind kept drifting back to the events of the day. Although declared champion, he knew he was not the real winner of the race. It was not before dusk when he finally fell asleep with the resolve to work twice as hard, to devote even more effort to his training and when the next race came, he would beat the yellow stranger and become the undisputed champion of the Hell of the North..

Unfortunately, the mysterious racer did not appear at the next year’s race, neither did he the year after or any other year..

It is six years later, summer 1902 and d’Fourniere and his wife are on their way back from their honeymoon, passing through the Pyrenees in their automobile. D’Fourniere has been promoted from a mere correspondent to the sports editor and he regularly attends all important sports events in France as well as abroad. To his colleagues, he has become a specialist on velocipede races.

While driving down the steep descend of Col du Tourmalet, they are passed by a cyclist in a yellow jersey. To meet a cyclist here is a very unusual thing to happen. The mountain is barely possible to drive over in an automobile, but to cycle it on a velocipede seems impossible, a superhuman task! A few moments passes before d’Fourniere realizes who they have just seen and he wants to turn back and follow the cyclist. Unfortunately the road is too narrow here and before he is able to carry out the manoeuvre, it is too late. It seems the man and his velocipede have just vanished into the mountain air...

It seems the man and his velocipede have just vanished into the mountain air...

Next spring, the eighth Paris- Roubaix race is taking place and d’Fourniere is there again, this time already the executive sports editor. Pepi Fisher, now a thirty nine year old cycling veteran, is partaking in the race too.

Traditionally, all the racers meet up at the “Gallic Cock”, sharing their recent adventures while drinking some lovely French wine. Fisher is retelling his now legendary story of his encounter with Francois Pélotone when he is interrupted by d’Fourniere: “Gentlemen, I saw him! It was last summer, I and my wife were just returning from our honeymoon when he passed us cycling up Tourmalet in Pyrenees! I couldn’t believe it!” “Impossible! Nobody can cycle over Tourmalet on a velocipede!” The racers cannot believe what they are hearing. “It’s too steep, too high and apparently the area is full of wolves too!”

It’s too steep, too high and apparently the area is full of wolves too!

“Believe me gentlemen, my wife saw him as well! Much to her disparagement, I turned the car back, but he had disappeared.”

Standing nearby, Monsieur Toulouse sees the excitement mounting up in the racers’ faces. Everybody wants to test their abilities, push them to the limit, and race with the mysterious Francois Pélotone. In Monsieur Toulouse’s mind, a great idea is born.

He will organize a race throughout France which will both start and finish in Paris. The tournament will be held in July and it will be the most demanding stage race of its time in the world! It will lead them through the long Pyrenean valleys and over the giant Alpine massifs, along the windy Atlantic Ocean shore and past the hot Mediterranean See sand beaches.

Chapter 3

PELOTONE - THE GREATEST RACE ON EARTH

With Mister d’Fourniere’s help, the organisers published an open letter addressed to the great François Pélotone himself, an appeal for him to take part in the race organised in honour of his legendary sports performance and carrying his name, the Francois Pélotone Race.

The organisers published an open letter addressed to the great François Pélotone

The winning price will be a yellow jersey and eight hundred francs, donated to the race by Baron Lichtenstein. Monsieur Toulouse was unanimously chosen the director and commissaire of the race while Mr Fourniere will take care of publicity.

Monsieur Toulouse was unanimously chosen the director and commissaire of the race

So the great adventure begins. Everybody can be part of it. Register for the race and it might be YOU, who will put on the yellow jersey! Overcome all hardships, defeat Alpine and Pyrenean mountain giants, ride your velocipede through early twentieth century France and race possibly with François Pélotone himself!

JOIN OUR HEROES AND TAKE PART IN
THE GREATEST RACE ON EARTH

JOIN OUR HEROES AND TAKE PART IN THE GREATEST RACE ON EARTH