Roger Walkowiak, the winner of the 1956 Tour de France has passed away. At 89 years-old, Walkowiak was the oldest winner of the Tour still alive. His family confirmed the news today that he had died overnight near Vichy.
Walkowiak who raced as a professional from 1950 to 1960 was a surprise winner of the ’56 Tour. Racing for the regional French Nord-Est-Centre team, he had one of the members of a break which had gained eighteen minutes on many of the favourites during the 7th stage from Lorient to Angers.
Walkowiak took over the yellow jersey but his chances of winning the race overall by the race favourites as his best previous finish in the race had been 47th place in 1953.
He lost the jersey on Stage 10, but would regain it on Stage 18 from Turin to Grenoble. Despite the best efforts of the likes of Charly Gaul and Federico Bahamontes, they were unable to dislodge Walkowiak from the yellow jersey.
The French rider hung to the maillot jersey for the final four stages to the finish in Paris to finish just over a minute ahead of Gilbert Bauvin.
However, his win was poorly received by both his fellow racers and the public. The reaction at the finish in the Parc des Princes was muted. “The applause sounded like a lamentation”, the organiser, Jacques Goddet, wrote in L’Équipe.
The term “à la Walko” later started to be used for a surprise win or for a win achieved without panache. Walkowiak was incredibly disappointed by the reaction from the public and retired from the sport to run a bar. However, even the customers at the bar would give him a terrible time about his win and he started work in a car factory instead. In later years though, he did open up more about his win.
In addition to his Tour win, Walkowiak also won two stages of the Vuelta a Espana as well as a second placed finish in the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré in 1955.