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In the Frame: La Primavera 1951
Louison Bobet stares doggedly ahead, hands clenched in the drops, his thousand-yard stare willing the bike forward. His Bottechia teammate and compatriot, Pierrot Barbotin follows dutifully on his wheel. With no time to glance at the breathtaking coastal scenery, the duo increase their efforts and pass over the Capo Berta, dropping their final two breakaway companions who remained from an earlier larger escape group from a move upon Passo Turchino.
The move embodied a year of a fruitful leader-lieutenant friendship between the two men, with Barbotin, whose name translates rather befittingly as ‘sprocket’, also finishing behind Bobet at the annual national championship. On stage 17 of that year’s Tour de France, the peloton ascended Mont Ventoux for the first time, and, while Bobet was not the first man over (that honour fell to Lucien Lazaridès) Bobet won the stage, in no small part thanks to Barbotin. Had the domestique not assisted Bobet so much, and ridden a tad more selfishly, a podium place instead of his 6th overall in the GC would have been entirely possible… but such was his loyalty to the ‘BB Duo’ he was content to try to put Bobet in yellow (Bobet cracked in the mountains and could only manage 20th).
The 42nd edition of Milano-SanRemo saw a group of over a dozen men jump clear of the peloton on the Turchino – which was, in the years before the Poggio was introduced, often where the decisive break was made – as opposed to the 20km leg burners of the Cipressa and the Poggio in the final 20km. Working as a unit, the group was split by a nod from Bobet to Barbotin on the walls of Capo Cervo, indicating his desire to launch a move. Only two other riders would latch on, the Belgian Raymond Impanis and the tempestuous team-mate of an absent Coppi, Loretto Petrucci. Yet it would be the two Frenchman working together who would cross the line in first and second, 3’19” ahead of Petrucci.
Before Bobet, there hadn’t been a French winner of La Primavera for 39 years: Henri Pelissier being the last to do so back in the 1912 race. Bobet won the 42nd edition, followed by Barbotin in a time of just over seven-and-a-half hours, their average speed covering the 282km, 37.5km/h.
Such was the tifosi’s displeasure at the lack of an Italian success, the prize-giving was conducted with a bare minimum of ceremony: Bobet, on the podium, was handed a criminally small wreath, and was the only rider to be so honoured. In 2001, during a retrospective of his career, Barbotin was awarded a symbolic bouquet for his efforts in 1951.
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