CONTENTS Foreword by Roger St Pierre Introduction I The First Step II Budapest III Raymond IV France v.

Italy V The Remington Paris–Roubaix VI The Scene Le manager VII The Rainbow La volupté VIII The Ventoux IX The Gap X Loreto Doping XI Last Embers The first death XII Tomorrow, we ride XIII Chiberta viii 13 21 31 47 57 67 74 79 95 99 113 117 133 141 155 161 174 179 189

La volupté
People ask me whether I actually enjoy cycling. This question surprises me, since the answer is so obvious. Yes, cycling is enjoyable, and one can even give enjoyment to others, at times, but all in all it’s a rather banal question. The divine surprise comes when you discover that beyond enjoyment lies the thrill of la volupté. The voluptuous pleasure you get from cycling is something else. It does exist, because I have experienced it. Its magic lies in its unexpectedness, its value in its rarity. It is more than a sensation because one’s emotions are involved as well as one’s actions. At the risk of raising eyebrows, I would maintain that the delight of cycling is not to be found in the arena of competition. In racing the threat of failure or the excitement of success generates euphoria at best, which seems vulgar in comparison with la volupté. The voluptuous pleasure that cycling can give you is delicate, intimate and ephemeral. It arrives, it takes hold of you, sweeps you up and then leaves you again. It is for you alone. It is a combination of speed and ease, force and grace. It is pure happiness. That day – a clear, crisp February day – I was riding alone on the Côte d’Azur. Coming out of Lavandou, towards the Massif des Maures, the road leads uphill. The gradient was just right: not slowing me down too much, keeping me tuned into the hill and the chain tension in harmony with the correct gear, which selected itself automatically. My hands, resting on the handlebars, were in full control. I could see my front wheel taking on the road: black asphalt, white gravel. I felt the

strength flowing from my kidneys, transferring to my thighs and down to my pedals. Either I was part of the bike, or the bike was an extension of my body, but either way the bike and I were at one. I wound up the slope to the rhythm of my breathing and perspiration: softly and smoothly. I was making headway, advancing, progressing more than I had done before. So much so that the summit of the Col de Gratteloup took me by complete surprise. The descent is so gentle that you do not stop pedalling. The gradient was just right to keep me tuned into the long plateau. Then I unwound just as I took the bends: effortlessly and fluidly. The chestnut trees flickered past on either side; the speed whistled in my ears, on the way to the Col de Babaou and then the ancient village of Collobrières, places that set you dreaming. I had everything: the image, the sound and the imagination… And then I felt thirsty and stopped for a drink. That was it, the enchantment had been broken, but 30 minutes of volupté is not to be sneezed at. The proof was that when I got back and Louison asked me how it had gone, I replied quite naturally: ‘I was flying today.’ Another time I was with Louison, in the run-up to the Tour of Lombardy. Both of us were in shape, taut and receptive. We were feeling fed up with the rain which had been frustrating our training for two days when finally the weather brightened up late on that Friday afternoon. We decided to go for a ride. We were staying above Lake Como and, because of the humidity, we sensibly slipped down towards the lake and followed the shore for a while. Then we headed back up the narrow road which led to our hotel in Brunaute, less a village than a hamlet. Gradually the night enfolded us and, in the sweet mugginess of the air after the rain and of our perspiring bodies, we synchronised and settled into a faster tempo. Shoulder to shoulder, keeping pace exactly because we had automatically selected the same gear, we climbed the slope

at a speed that amplified the darkness. Images and sounds receded, apart from the lights of a few isolated houses and the barks of a few dogs, surprised by the passing of this yoked pair. United, side by side, we were at one with the rhythm of the perpetual motion we had engaged. It was magical. But the headlamps of an enraged car woke us with a start. It was over. The magic had evaporated, but it still comes back to me now, 50 years later. I remember: we were not touching the ground; we were flying. When I think about it, there is flight (vol) in volupté.


Jean leading the winning break in the 1955 Paris–Nice. Brian Robinson (2nd in line) was the last to be dropped. The third rider is Roger Chupin.


Louison and Jean on the finish line.


Paris–Nice 1955.


Signing an autograph before the start of the 1955 Tour in Le Havre.


The early slopes of Mont Ventoux. Louison in his rainbow jersey leads with Charly Gaul (on his right shoulder).


Louison, higher up Mont Ventoux.