Roger Walkowiak, winner of the 1956 Tour de France and briefly, the oldest survivor of those to have won the yellow jersey, has passed away at the age of 89.
His wife, Pierrette, said that her husband had died early today in a hospital near Vichy, reports the Associated Press.
The previous oldest living Tour de France champion, the Swiss rider Ferdy Kuebler, died aged 97 last December.
Walkowiak’s Tour de France win was a huge shock. He first took the leader’s jersey after getting into a big breakaway on the Stage 7 in Angers in the Loire Valley.
He lost it in Bayonne on Stage 10, but after again getting into breakaways and taking time from his rivals, got back into it at the end of Stage 17 to Turin and kept it to the finish at the Parc des Princes in Paris.
Born in the south west of France where his father, originally from Poland, worked in a factory, Walkowiak was a lost minute addition to the Nord-Est-Centre team for the 1956 Tour de France, which was then raced by regional and national teams.
His surprise victory was not popularly received either by the public or the press and he would retire from professional cycling in 1960, disappointed by the reaction to his win.
It would be sandwiched by victories of two greats of French cycling – Louison Bobet and Jacques Anquetil – neither of whom rode it in the year of Walkowiak’s unlikely victory.
His name was even borrowed for a French expression “a la Walko” – to do something unexpectedly, or without flair.
He returned to south west France to run a bar, but fed up with customers teasing him about his Tour de France win, he went back to working in the car factory he had left for the world of professional cycling.
Although he was a Grand Tour stage winner, with one stage victory each in the 1956 and 1957 editions of the Vuelta, he was the only overall winner of the Tour de France never to have won a stage of the race during his career.
Walkowiak’s wife said: ''He always did his job conscientiously and his Tour win was not so surprising after all. He was always well placed, and loved to ride at the front.''
Spain’s Federico Bahamontes, nicknamed the Eagle of Toledo and winner of the 1959 race, becomes the oldest surviving Tour de France champion at 88 years of age.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.