Georges Speicher was the first rider to ever win the Tour de France and the World Championship in the same year. He accomplished this almost 100 years ago, in 1933. He stands in illustrious company as one of only three French riders to win the Tour de France, the World Championship, the French National Championship, and the Paris Roubaix. Bernard Hinault and Louison Bobet are the only others to accomplish this.
Speicher is a contemporary of Roger Lapébie. In fact, they both debuted in the Tour de France on the same year, 1932. They were part of the French team that had André Leducq as a leader. Unsurprisingly, with such an all-star lineup, the latter would go on to win the Tour that year, more than 24 minutes in front of German Kurt Stopel. Georges was the best placed of the rest of the French team, finishing his first participation in 10th place.
His immediate success soon ceased to be a surprise. In 1933, he won the Tour de France and became world champion. Maurice Archambaud won the first stage of the Tour and took the yellow jersey. As a corollary, he was first placed rider within the French team. However, when the race got to the mountains Archambaud wasn’t able to hold on to the lead. At this point, Speicher took control of the yellow jersey on stage 12, after winning three stages himself . That jersey wouldn’t leave his body again, and he became a Tour de France winner at just 25 years of age. He beat Italian Learco Guerra by 4m01s. Guerra, like Ivan Basso, is an Italian Giro winner who never managed to win the Tour. As previously mentioned, the mountains proved too much for Archambaud, who finished 5th, over 21 minutes behind the yellow jersey winner.
As a side note, in stage 10 of that year’s Tour only 6 riders crossed the finish line within the time limit. Tour director Henri Desgrange opted to extend the cutoff time to allow 43 cyclists to stay in the race. Speicher can consider himself lucky because he did not make the cut initially.
Georges Speicher was not initially selected to represent France in the World Championship of 1933. However, when one of the French riders fell ill, he was called as his replacement. And what a replacement he was. He attacked with over 100km to go on the race and won the rainbow jersey, crossing the line over 5 minutes in front of fellow Frenchman Antonin Magne. Once again Speicher and Lapébie’s careers intertwined: at one point, in the 1933 World Championship race, the two Frenchmen were together in a 3-man breakaway. Georges proved to be the strongest that day, getting the better of his compatriot and the rest of the pack.
A year later, 1934, the French team once again dominated their home Grand Tour (GT). When I say dominated, I mean owned the race. Way more than US Postal or Sky ever did. They won 19/23 stages (Speicher won 5) and finished 1st and 3rd overall. Antonin Magne took home the yellow jersey, getting payback for finishing 2nd in the previous year’s World Championship. Georges was 11th.
The 1935 Tour was marred by controversy. After the leader of the French team, previous year’s winner, Antonin Magne, abandoned the race, Speicher became the leader of the team. He was in 2nd place, within reach of the yellow jersey and the French team were hoping to bring him to the race lead. Teammate René Vietto, however, had other plans. He attacked, taking two Belgian riders on his wheel – one of them was the yellow jersey, Romain Maes. The latter would take advantage of Vietto’s attack to gain more than 20 minutes on Speicher, effectively ending the French team’s hopes of winning the Tour. Romain Maes won the Tour, holding the yellow jersey from beginning to end. Speicher won a stage and was the best placed French rider, finishing in 6th place, though almost an hour behind the Belgian.
Despite that disappointment, 1935 wasn’t all bad for the French rider. That year he won his first of three French National Championships (the others in 1937 and 1939).
Georges would never finish a Tour de France again, despite entering the race every year, for the next three years. He went out of the race three times in a row on stage 7: in 1936 and 1937 he abandoned, and, in 1938, was disqualified for hanging on to a car.
Not everything would go wrong for the Frenchman though. In 1936, he got possibly the second most important win of his career: the Paris Roubaix. This was one of the most peculiar finishes to any major cycling race ever, and fortunately there’s footage. Georges Speicher, Romain Maes and Gaston Rebry arrived in a 3-man group at the velodrome in Roubaix. One Frenchman and two Belgians. Two Tour de France winners and a 3-time Paris Roubaix winner (Rebry). An all-star group. Maes would go on to beat Frenchman in the sprint to win the race. Wait, if Maes outsprinted Speicher and crossed the line first, how come the latter won the race? Exactly! Race commissaires gave the win to Georges despite the Belgian clearly (operative word: clearly) crossing the line first.
At this point I think it’s appropriate to remind the reader that Romain Maes was the Belgian rider that broke the French hegemony at the Tour just a year prior. The French had won the Tour 5 consecutive times (1930-1934) before the Belgian broke their hearts in 1935.
In the end, regardless of the controversy, Georges Speicher was a phenomenal rider in his own right. He was the first to win the Tour and the World Championship in the same year, something that has only been replicated three times since: Louison Bobet (1954), Eddy Merckx (1971), and Greg LeMond (1989). To this he added nine Tour de France stage wins and a Paris Roubaix that, regardless of circumstances, lies in the history books under his name. Regardless of controversy, he was one of the great French champions of all time.