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Legends of Roubaix: Hippolyte Aucouturier
The wonderfully named Hippolyte Aucouturier was an imposing and outspoken rider whom Henri Desgrange referred to as “Le Terrible”. The self-styled villain of the Peloton in black and white stripes (in fact red and blue) had the look of the silent-film nasty, yet this moustachio’d menace had a racing career spanning between only 1900 and 1908.
At the 1903 edition of Paris–Roubaix Le Terrible ordered a chase to bring back a group of escapees. Hippolyte hammered the group repeatedly by continuously upping the pace, swigging from a bottle of wine as he charged, so legend has it. As they entered the velodrome at Roubaix he passed his main rival who had somehow changed to the wrong track bike (as it was custom then to swap steeds once inside the track) and Aucouturier stole victory by over 100 metres - some claimed it was a pre-planned thwart…
The Paris–Roubaix of 1904 was the first to be run without pacers (since 1896 racers had followed motorcycles, cars and even tandems). Aucouturier was in the lead group of nine riders when the race reached the second checkpoint. The group hammered towards the control outside a café where a large crowd had gathered. They threw their machines to the floor and rushed to sign the register and get on the road again. Fights broke out between the riders but Aucouturier managed to slip away amongst the chaos and by early afternoon led the race alone.
The hardy César Garin, however, caught him with 45 km to go, Aucouturier doing a double-take to see Garin suddenly at his wheel. With 20km left Garin fell when a motorcar ran into him, remarkably he dusted himself off and recovered the distance, the pair entering the velodrome side by side. The duellers slowed to a tactical tête-à-tête, glaring at each other across the lanes. The crowd viewing this cat and mouse inside the track was only small - they had ridden so fast that only a few people had arrived in time to see them. Then Aucouturier used a mighty jump, akin to Buster Keaton astride a hobby-horse, to sprint away to victory.
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