Today in Transportation History – 1864: Vive Vienne! Vive Roubaix!

Théodore Vienne, a textile manufacturer and sports entrepreneur who made significant contributions to cycling, was born in the French city of Roubaix. A big proponent of sports events, Vienne coordinated a variety of bullfighting, Greco-Roman wrestling, boxing, and billiards competitions in his hometown.

Vienne also happened to be an avid cyclist, so he likewise invested a considerable amount of energy and money into promoting that physical activity. Along with his business associate Maurice Perez, Vienne organized cycling races on paths located within Barbieux Park in Roubaix. The rugged paths proved to be dangerous to the competing cyclists, however, and the races were similarly unsafe for people walking through the park. Consequently, Vienne and Perez built a velodrome elsewhere in Roubaix for these races.

The velodrome opened in 1895 with great fanfare and to enthusiastic shouts of “Vive Roubaix!” from the crowd in attendance. The races held there were highly popular and Vienne, building on this momentum, played a key role in 1896 in establishing the first one-day bicycle road race between his hometown and Paris. Vienne died in 1921 at the age of 56, but the Paris–Roubaix race he helped launch lives on today as one of the oldest major cycling competitions in the world.

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