© Presse Sports
Far behind riders of the stature of Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Mark Cavendish, in the history of the Tour de France there have been almost three hundred men who only got a fleeting taste of glory. As the countdown to the start of the race on 7 July continues, letour.fr is retracing the steps of 10 champions who clinched a single stage win. Back in the 1956 Tour, Jean-Pierre Schmitz produced one of the most epic rides in the history of Luxembourgish cycling to win a Pyrenean stage that seemed to have fellow Luxembourger Charly Gaul’s name written all over it.
Everyone knows that the first non-French rider to win the Tour was a Luxembourger. François Faber opened the account in 1909, followed a couple of decades later by Nicolas Frantz. Fast-forward to 1956 and the two-time winner of the race (1927 and 1928) was serving as the director of a mixed Luxembourgish-British-Portuguese team for what was expected to be Charly Gaul’s triumphal parade in the Tour de France. The favourite had put his country back on the map the previous year by finishing third overall and winning the mountains classification. The Angel of the Mountains could count on the support of a brother-in-arms who was only slightly less talented. Going into his Tour debut, Jean-Pierre Schmitz already had a few impressive performances under his belt, including second place in the 1954 Critérium du Dauphiné and a nice silver medal won at the Worlds in Frascati, Italy in late summer 1955. Although no-one expected it to be necessary, “Jempy” was more than ready to step up to the plate if his leader and friend ran into trouble.
A prodigious jump
That is precisely what happened as the peloton rolled out of Pau for the second Pyrenean stage. Gaul showed signs of weakness and Nicolas Frantz gave the go-ahead for the rest of the team to attack. The time had come for Schmitz to shine. After catching the breakaway of the day, he kept his powder dry on the ascent to the Col de Aspin, only to attack on the descent, climb the Col de Peyresourde on his own and plunge to the finish in Luchon. This is how Pierre Chany described this monster performance in the next day’s edition of L’Équipe: “The way the ‘spare Luxembourger’ came back on the climbs was absolutely stunning. Just think of it: after trailing the breakaway by eight minutes while still in the peloton with 54 kilometres to, Mr J.-P. crossed the line in Luchon no less than 2′08″ ahead of runner-up Fernand Picot!” An opportunity to repeat this flash of brilliance never presented itself to Schmitz, who spent most of his career as a luxury domestique to Charly Gaul, particularly in the latter’s victorious Grande Boucle in 1958. Every man at his station!