Paris–Nice, episode 80: René Vietto
February 15 th 2022 - 12:00
Vietto puts the "French" in "French Riviera" (I/X)
Since 1933, Paris–Nice has been the first major event of the season for the stars gunning for glory in stage races. The balance of power on the Promenade des Anglais or the Col d'Èze, depending on the season, gives us our first glimpse of where each Tour de France favourite stands.
To mark the 80th edition, parisnice.fr is looking back on how the Race to the Sun shaped the careers of ten riders who shared a special bond with the event. In 1935, local hero René Vietto claimed his biggest victory ever while still at the dawn of his career. To this day, he remains the youngest winner of Paris–Nice.
The youngest ever winner of the Race to the Sun
René Vietto was French Riviera born and bred. He grew up in Le Cannet and started to turn heads on the roads of the region, shining in races such as the Grand Prix de Saint-Raphaël, the Prix de Vallauris, the Boucles de Sospel and the Grand Prix de Cannes. These performances soon convinced him to quit his job as a bellboy at Hôtel Majestic to focus on his career. In 1934 he overcame a series of punctures to finish sixth overall in his Paris–Nice debut. When July came around, he clinched three stage wins in the Tour de France: one in Grenoble, one in Digne and the most impressive one, the stage from Nice to Cannes. Just a few days later, the 20-year-old earned the respect of the entire peloton, nay, the entire nation when he twice sacrificed his dreams to help Antonin Magne in the Pyrenees. "Tonin" would go on to claim his second Tour de France thanks to his teammate from Provence rushing to his aid when mechanical disaster struck. Vietto started the 1935 season in spectacular form and moved into the lead of Paris–Nice in Saint-Étienne, tied with Benoît Faure at the top of the leader board. The next day was the only time in the history of the race that two riders donned azure and gold jerseys at the same time, although his rival dropped out at the finish of the stage in Avignon. Vietto's Helyett team sealed the deal with a victorious performance in the team time trial from Marseille to Toulon, making him the first French winner of the race in Nice and the youngest one to date, at the tender age of 21 years, 1 month and 14 days. Not even Egan Bernal was so precocious!
Riding the 1952 Paris–Nice on his own team —farewell to road racing
In 1936, a crash in the opening stage dashed his hopes of a successful title defence from the get-go. After helping teammate Jean Fontenay to second overall in Nice, the local hero abandoned the final stage —for good reason, as he was due to marry his fiancée Lisette the very next day! From then on, his results in Paris–Nice mirrored to a great extent his trials and tribulations in the Tour de France, which he never managed to win despite wearing the yellow jersey for 26 days. "Roi René" was one of the all-time greats when the road bent towards the sky, but he suffered numerous crashes and other crushing blows and had to withdraw from Paris–Nice no fewer than five times. After hanging up his wheels for the first time, he came out of retirement to set up his own team. The Race to the Sun was the natural choice for him to take his final bow in spring 1952. He was no match for the unstoppable Louison Bobet and finished twenty-sixth overall.