Paris-Nice can often be affected by inclement weather but the nature of the race means that it’s usually the early Northern stages that are colder.
In 1956 however, the riders faced bad weather throughout the race. That winter had been exceptionally bad in France with record temperatures being set. In Corrèze it dropped down to an incredible -35° C.
Even Antibes on the Mediterranean coast had 31cm of snow and people were struggling throughout the country. Pipes were bursting in houses everywhere and gravediggers were struggling to bury the dead.
Hundreds of people died due to the terrible weather that winter, and even by the time Paris-Nice started in March, there was still snow all over France.
The final stage of the race took the riders from Manosque in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence to Nice over a distance of 238 kilometres.
Going into the stage, the race leader was the Belgian Fred de Bruyne but one of his nearest challengers was the Irish neo-pro Shay Elliott. De Bruyne had taken over the lead on the penultimate stage, a time-trial to the summit of Mont Dore at Manosque with Elliott taking third behind Pierre Barbotin of Saint Raphael-Geminiani.
The Dubliner had taken three podium finishes that week and his great time-trial left him in third place overall as they started the final stage.
It would be an excellent performance if he could finish on the podium in one of his first ever professional races. However, the peloton had to negotiate snow covered mountains on that final stage. Unfortunately for Elliott he crashed that day in treacherous conditions.
He lost twenty minutes to the bunch and was denied a podium finish in Nice. Earlier that week, his Helyett-Potin team-mate Jacques Anquetil had also crashed out of the race.
It was the Italian rider Renato Ponzini of the Arbos-Bif-Clement team who took the win in a bunch sprint in Nice that day with De Bruyne hanging on to win overall.
The footage below shows the conditions the peloton faced on that final stage. Riders were forced to dismount on the snow-covered roads with cars and motorbikes also being forced to a standstill. Eventually they were able to get going as the race made it’s way out of the mountains with the riders regrouping which resulted in the bunch sprint in Nice.