By Graham Healy
Paris-Nice was established in 1933 by Albert Lejeune, Director of the Petit Journal. It was initially considered as a training race, but would later become one of the top stage races of the calendar.
Amongst the big names who took victory in those first decades of the race were René Vietto, Louison Bobet and Jacques Anquetil. It was a popular race with both cyclists and fans, but in 1959, the organisers decided to try something different. They extended the race by another four days and finished it in Rome. This added another 800 kilometres to the route.
The race would have three classifications, one from Paris to Nice, a second from Menton to Rome and a third overall. The race leader for the section to Rome would wear a green jersey. The overall length of the race was 1,955 kilometres. The winner of the race would be given the task of handing a message from the chairman of the Paris Municipal Council to his equivalent in Rome, and also another message to Pope John XXIII.
The race was expected to be a battle between the Helyett team of Jacques Anquetil (whose team included Jean Stablinski, Shay Elliott and Andre Darrigade) and the St. Raphael team of Roger Rivière, Gerard Saint and Raphael Géminiani.
Saint took the leader’s jersey after the time trial stage to from Saint Mamert to Vergèze, Anquetil had won the stage beating Rivière and Saint into second and third.
However, the race was blown apart two days later on the stage to Nice, and Anquetil’s team mate, Jean Graczyk took over the lead. Saint won the following day’s stage to Vintimille, and would win the classification to Rome. However, the Helyett team managed to successfully defend Graczyk’s overall lead who beat Saint by just 15 seconds.
Of the 96 starters in Paris, only 46 made it to the finish in Rome. Those that did survive would have an audience with the Pope in The Vatican.
The length of the race had not been popular, and the riders were particularly unhappy with the final stage of the race from Siena to Rome which was 254 kilometres long. The UCI issued a statement saying that the race had been too long, and it race reverted to a Nice finish the following year.