Roger Walkowiak

Roger Walkowiak

Walkowiak in 2008
Personal information
Full name Roger Walkowiak
Nickname Walko
Born (1927-03-02) March 2, 1927
Montluçon, Allier, France
Team information
Current team Retired
Discipline Road
Role Rider
Rider type All-rounder
Professional team(s)
1951-1952 Gitane-Hutchinson
1953-1954 Peugeot-Dunlop
1955 Gitane-Hutchinson
1956 Saint-Raphael-Geminiani
1957-1959 Peugeot-BP
1960 Saint-Raphael-Geminiani
Major wins

Grand Tours

Tour de France
General classification (1956)
Vuelta a España
2 stages

Roger Walkowiak (pronounced: [ʁɔ.ʒe wal.kov.jak]; born March 2, 1927) is a French former road bicycle racer who won the 1956 Tour de France. He was a professional rider from 1950 until 1960.

The 1956 Tour de France

From 1930 the Tour de France had been contested by national and regional teams. Roger Walkowiak was recruited for the French regional Nord-Est-Centre team, representing the North-east and Centre of France, despite coming from Montluçon in the South-West. He was the only rider available at late notice to replace an original team member, Gilbert Bauvin, who had been promoted to France's main team.

Walkowiak escaped on the 7th stage from Lorient to Angers in a group of 31 riders that won that day by over 18 minutes. The advantage was enough to give him the yellow jersey of the overall race lead. At this stage the race's stars did not consider this 'insignificant' rider to be a risk.

Walkowiak lost the jersey to Gerrit Voorting at the end of stage 10 which took some of the pressure off his shoulders. In the Pyrenees Belgium's Jan Adriaensens took the lead. At Aix-en-Provence (stage 15) Dutchman Wout Wagtmans took the jersey, but Walkowiak was still well placed.

On the Alpine stage 18 (TorinoGrenoble), the climbing specialist Charly Gaul (Luxembourg), who had lost a lot of time in the flat stages, attacked to try and win the King of the Mountains competition (which he eventually did, beating Federico Bahamontes). Gaul's attack split the field; Wagtmans lost 16 minutes and Walkowiak took back the yellow jersey after losing only 8 minutes to Gaul on the day.

For the last four stages, Walkowiak defended his lead, reaching the finish at the Parc des Princes on July 28 just over a minute ahead of Gilbert Bauvin. The race was won in a then record speed of 36.268 km/h.

Walkowiak's win was poorly received by the professional peloton and the public. "The applause sounded like a lamentation", the organiser, Jacques Goddet, wrote in L'Équipe. The crowd was disappointed that the race had been won by an unknown and not by the rising star Jacques Anquetil, who had decided against riding. Walkowiak became the second rider to win the Tour without winning on any of the individual day's stages that make up the race, and is the only rider to ever win the Tour de France and never win an individual stage in any year.

Nevertheless, Jacques Goddet always considered Walkowiak his favourite winner, calling him an all-rounder who had used his legs to win and his head to secure his winning position. France, however, remained unimpressed and for many years, Walkowiak's name passed into the language, so that do something "à la Walko" meant to succeed unexpectedly or without panache.

That reaction depressed Walkowiak. He rode the Tour the following year, but slipped from top of the field to almost the bottom. He rode the Tour of Spain, the Vuelta a España, in 1957 and won a stage, raced a further two years and then retired to run a bar in the area from which he had left, as an unknown, to win the Tour de France. When even his customers teased him about winning the Tour, he lost confidence still more and went back to working on a lathe in the car factory in Montluçon that had employed him as a young man.

It took many years to persuade Walkowiak that there was merit in what he had done and, while he still lives quietly in south-west France, he does now talk about the day he became the unknown who won the world's greatest cycling race.

Career achievements

Major results

3rd Tour de Dordogne
57th Tour de France
2nd Tour de l'Ouest (1 stage win)
3rd G.P de Vals-les-Bains
2nd Paris-Côte d'Azur
47th Tour de France
3rd Tour de l'Ouest
2nd Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré
1st Tour de France
3rd Circuit du Cher
1st stage 13 Vuelta a España
1st stage 8 Vuelta a España
Abandoned Tour de France on stage 18
2nd Boucles du Bas-Limousin
3rd Tour du Sud-Est
75th Tour de France
3rd Tour de l'Aude
3rd Circuit d'Auvergne

Grand Tour results timeline

1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958
Stages won
Mountains classification
Points classification N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Tour 57 DNE 47 DNE DNF-11 1 DNF-18 75
Stages won 0 0 0 0 0 0
Mountains classification NR NR NR 6 NR NR
Points classification N/A N/A NR NR 16 NR NR
Stages won 1 1
Mountains classification N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Points classification N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1 Winner
2–3 Top three-finish
4–10 Top ten-finish
11– Other finish
DNE Did Not Enter
DNF-x Did Not Finish (retired on stage x)
DNS-x Did Not Start (no started on stage x)
DSQ Disqualified
N/A Race/classification not held
NR Not Ranked in this classification

Tour de France


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