June 10, 1921
Professional cyclist Jean Robic was born in the commune of Vouziers in northern France. Robic, whose father was a racing cyclist, moved to Paris in early 1940 and worked there as a bicycle mechanic for the Sausin company. Around the same time that Robic moved to Paris, his own career as a racing cyclist began in earnest.
The outbreak of World War II and Germany’s subsequent conquest of France during this time significantly shrank competitive cycling opportunities in Robic’s native county. A determined Robic, however, did his best to participate in as many still-intact French cycling races as he could throughout the war years. In 1943, he turned professional.
Robic was five feet and three inches (1.6 meters) in height and weighed only 132 pounds (60 kilograms), and his comparatively small stature led his fellow cyclists and others to routinely underestimate him. Along with possessing a wealth of tenacity, however, Robic found other ways to hold his own against competitors and catch them off guard.
In various races that involved pedaling down mountainous terrain, for example, he initially carried with him bottles that were filled with lead rather than anything for him to drink. Robic used these heavier-than-average bottles to offset his light weight and give himself even more gravitational power while speeding down inclines. When organizers of those races began prohibiting all cyclists from carrying bottles filled with solids, Robic started putting mercury instead in his bottles.
Over time, the diminutive Robic was given the nickname “Biquet” (the French word for “kid goat”). After he fell off his bicycle and broke his skull while participating in a one-day road race in northern France in 1944, Robic began wearing a leather crash helmet whenever he competed. This helmet eventually resulted in yet another nickname for him — “Téte de Cuir” (the French phrase for “leather head”).
The zenith of Robic’s cycling career took place a couple of years after the end of the war, when he competed in the 1947 Tour de France. This was 34th edition of that multiple-stage cycling race and the first one to be held since the onset of World War II. Robic won that Tour de France, which the international news agency Reuters characterized as “a grueling 26-day ride over 2,900 miles [4,667.1 kilometers] of every conceivable type of terrain.”
Reuters also highlighted Robic’s triumphant completion of the race by noting, “About 35,000 people greeted Robic as he swept into the Parc des Princes stadium [in Paris] for the final finishing lap.” Robic’s time for that race was 148 hours, 11 minutes, and 25 seconds.
Robic went on to win a major race between Rome and Naples in Italy in 1950. In 1952, he finished first in both the Tour de Haute-Savoie in southeastern France and – in the northwestern region of the country– a one-day race known at the time as Polymultipliée.
Robic’s cycling career subsequently declined, however. While racing in the 1953 Tour de France, he fell off his bicycle and broke several bones in his spine. Robic competed in the Tour de France again in 1954, 1955, and 1959, but did not finish any of those races. Robic’s last official race took place in 1967, when he rode in a competition in the Paris suburb of Puteax.
On October 6, 1980, Robic was killed in an automobile accident near the commune of Claye-Souilly in north-central France. He was 59. A monument to Robic can be seen today on a hill outside the city of Rouen in northern France. This monument depicts him riding a bicycle and wearing his trademark leather crash helmet.
(The above photo of Robic, who is in the foreground, was taken at the 1947 Tour de France.)
Photo Credit: Sagers, Harry / Anefo (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Netherlands license at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/nl/deed.en)
For more information on Jean Robic, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Robic