Vietto’s Tears

I’ve been waiting for the mood to hit to share this picture and this story.

Maybe it’s the rain, or maybe it was reading yesterday about two cycling superstars in a posh Aspen restaurant getting into a spitty game of “my lawyer’s bigger than your lawyer”. Maybe I’m tired of reading about doping and needed to remind myself that cycling is a good and decent sport, one that you could bring home to meet your mom.

Here is the story about the picture:

In 1934, a 20 year-old named René Vietto was racing the Tour de France for the first time as a support rider for the legendary Antonin Magne. Easily the Tour’s best climber that year, Vietto won four stages, rivalling his leader and moving up to third place, in spite of suffering two flats in the first two stages.

On stage 16, Vietto led the charge up the largest climb of the day, followed by his team leader Magne and an Italian rider, Giuseppe Martano. On the descent, Magne hit a pothole and broke his front wheel. Being on the front, Vietto had no knowledge of the crash and kept riding. When a race official informed him of what happened, Vietto turned around and climbed back up the Puymorens to give Magne his front wheel. A photographer snapped a photo of Vietto sitting on a rock wall with his bike, weeping as the peloton raced past.

Vietto eventually got another wheel, finished the stage and ultimately came in 5th overall and won the Mountain Classification. Magne won the Tour. Vietto continued to race for years, his highest finish was 2nd in 1939.

I hope this year’s Tour is filled with stories like this, rather than stories about lawyers and steaks and drug testing. Sure, we want drama, and we want villains to hate, but we also want heros we can believe in again. And we don’t really care if they win.

Thanks to my friend Esther for sharing this great story and the picture that captured a tragic and beautiful beau geste.