Skip to main content
Original Issue

An Immense Acceptance of Destiny

Mile-high mountain trails provide a margin between defeat and victory during the 24-day Tour de France, the world's most famous bicycle race

"Charley Gaul delivered his blow with a kind of lucid detachment and cruelty. In the space of a second he was away. The exterminating angel disappeared in a cloud of dust.... I caught the look in Bobet's eyes. I read there an immense acceptance of destiny." The fate which Louison Bobet accepted, as described by the lyrical French reporter, was his failure last week to win the 45th annual Tour de France, the 2,600-mile international bicycle race which circled around France for 24 days last month and brought one-quarter of the nation's population to the streets to cheer as their oak-thewed heroes pumped valiantly by. Three times winner of the Tour, easily France's greatest single sports attraction, Bobet was a sentimental favorite to win once more when the Tour began on June 26, but advancing years (33) and an ulcerated backside kept him off his oldtime pace. The pace of the professional European bike rider jolts anyone who regards the bicycle as a form of transportation suitable only for kids. As Artist John Groth illustrates on the following pages, riders pedal furiously down steep slopes at 40 miles an hour, gallantly risking smashed legs and fractured skulls in terrible tumbles. They are superbly conditioned athletes and every scrap of their physical equipment is put to the test when the Tour winds through the Pyrenees Mountains and later takes on the Alps. The 136-mile lap from Brian√ßon to Aix-les-Bains threads through five mountain passes, rising from 4,900 to 6,700 feet. This course was just made to order for Luxembourg's 26-year-old Charley Gaul, the "angel of the mountains." He took off from Brian√ßon at a punishing, altitude-eating clip, soon left Louison Bobet and other headliners far behind, won the lap with the astonishing average speed of 19.4 miles per hour—and went on to make his triumphal entry into Paris as the victor of the Tour of 1958.

Cooling showers often greet sweating riders as they speed through towns and villages in the south. Here even fireman joins in

Crackups are common in early stages of the race before the big field thins out. On this curve, rider after rider piles in

Downhill from the mountains riders pedal furiously past spectators lining the serpentine road. "Vas-y, Toto!" is the cry urging them on, and sometimes fans will break away to press drink on their favorites as they ride by

Quick break at village café is taken by two riders who have teamed up, relay fashion, to pursue leader. A swig, and they're off

Spilled cyclist is helped to his feet by his team manager while a fellow team member carefully loosens his foot from pedal harness

La poussette" (the little push), unsolicited assistance from a fan, is illegal, but tolerated