The first entry of this list epitomizes the saying “quality over quantity”: Roger Lapébie won the 1937 Tour the France (in controversial fashion as we will see below), placed 3rd in the 1934 edition of the race, and won 9 stages in the Tour from 1932 to 1937. He won the 1937 Paris Nice and and was 2nd and 3rd in the 1935 Paris Tours and 1939 Paris Roubaix, respectively. In 1933 Lapébie also won the French National Road Championship. Unlike all honorable mentions, Lapébie actually won the Tour. It illustrates how difficult it is to feature on this list when an overall and multiple stage winner in the Tour is ranked number 100.
Overall, not a lengthy list of achievements, in part due to the advent of WWII which cut many cyclists’ careers short, but a high quality one. His success in the Tour de France, by far the biggest race on the calendar, with an overall win along with 9 stage wins (which still ranks him 35th all time) seal his 100th place on the list for me. This is even more impressive when you consider that his last recorded result is from 1939 (beginning of WWII), when he was just 28 years old. Remarkable how much the French rider was able to accomplish in such a short career.
Roger Lapébie was born in 1911 in Bayonne, a city in the French Basque country, near Biarritz. The family would eventually move to Pessac, in the suburbs of Bordeaux, a city where he currently has a cycle path named after himself. He would eventually die in Pessac in 1996, aged 85.
In 1932 he would achieve his first major result in world cycling by taking the 12th stage of the Tour, a stage that connected Gap to Grenoble. Two years later, he would compete in the Tour as part of the national team and he put forth his most successful performance in terms of stage wins with five. Unfortunately for him, this was not enough to take home the yellow jersey, and Lapébie had to accept the third place on the podium, 52 minutes and 15 seconds behind winner and fellow French legend of the time, Antonin Magne.
It is rumored that Lapébie and Henri Desgrange, the iconic (and first) Tour de France organizer, did not get along, so Lapébie was not selected to the French team in 1935 and had to compete in the Tour as an individual rider which did not go well for the Frenchman, who withdrew from the 1935 edition, without managing a stage win in the process. His best result was a 2nd place on stage 10 behind Belgian Jean Aerts, before abandoning the race on stage 12.
When Henri Desgrange retired in 1937, Lapébie was back in the Tour which gives credence to the dislike that both had for each other. He won 3 stages in the processing of taking the overall classification, 7 minutes and 17 seconds in front of Mario Vicini, an Italian competing individually at the Tour. As mentioned before, this victory wasn’t without controversy because Lapébie was the first rider to complete the race using a modern derailleur, the device that automatically changes the gears on a bike without having to stop and do it manually.
The French rider was also known to break the rules, a characteristic that even cost him the 1934 Paris Roubaix, where he was disqualified after winning the race for hopping on a woman’s bike after he had a flat tire. The rues required each rider to finish on his own bike and this cost Lapébie what would have been the defining one day race victory of his career.
In the 1937 this facet of the Frenchman was also in focus, having been penalized on 90 seconds by race officials for being pushed by spectators. His main foe Sylvère Maes of Belgium and his whole team protested that the penalty should have been much more severe and, as a response, the French team threatened to retire from the race if it was increased. Later in the 16th stage, a train crossing was closed after Lapébie passed it while Maes was still behind. This was the final straw for the Belgian who retired along with the whole Belgian team leaving Roger Lapébie to claim the crowning success of his career.