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Communist former factory worker escaped from prisoner of war camp during WWII

Albert Bourlon, the oldest man to have ridden the Tour de France and who held the record for the longest solo break in the 100 editions that have been held of the race, has died at the age of 96.

In 1947, during the first Tour de France held since the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the Frenchman spent 253km – the longest stage of this year’s race came in at 242.5km – alone in front on a stage from Carcassonne to Bagnères-de-Luchon in the Pyrenees.

His winning margin was such that he had time to have a shower and freshen himself up before the rest of the peloton arrived.

It would be the sole Tour de France stage win of his career. It was also his second and final participation in the race, the previous one being in 1938. His other major victory, in Paris-Bourges, also came during 1947.

Prior to turning professional, Bourlon, a communist, worked in a Renault factory, where called fellow workers out on strike in 1936, according to a profile published earlier this year in the left-wing daily newspaper, Libération.

During the Second World War, he was captured by German forces and three times tried to escape from a prisoner of war camp; on the third occasion, he got lucky and escaped to Romania where, in 1944, he won the race Bucarest-Ploesti-Bucarest.

Inevitably, parallels would be drawn between Bourlon’s day-long breakaway, and his attempts to escape from prison camp during the war.

With the death in January at the age of 98 of Pierre Cogan, Bourlon, who died on Wednesday, became the doyen of the Tour – the oldest surviving man to have ridden it.

His day of glory came during the 34th edition and he would live long enough to see out the 100th.

According to Velowire.com, Stage 14 of the 2014 Tour de France will also start in Carcassone and finish in Bagnères-de-Luchon.

If that proves correct - we'll find out for sure when the full route of next year's race is unveiled by ASO in Paris on Wednesday - it would provide a fitting opportunity to commemorate Bourlon's memory and that historic day-long breakaway.

Bourlon's life is the subject of a book published earlier this year, Albert Bourlon. D'évasions en échappées, by Françoise Bezet (pub. La Bouinotte, €21)

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

2 comments

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GerardR [122 posts] 2 years ago
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Chapeau, M. Bourlon: what stories you must have had to tell.

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Roastie [27 posts] 2 years ago
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+1, that's the best I can think of.