Paris-Nice, episode 80: Tom Simpson

February 21 st 2022 - 15:30

Simpson takes the Promenade for the "Anglais" (IV/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, 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 1967, Tom Simpson became the first Englishman to stand on top of the podium in Paris–Nice, long before Bradley Wiggins began his annus mirabilis in 2012 with his own win on the French Riviera. 

It all begins in Saint-Brieuc

In the early 1960s, the successes of British cycling were due to Brian Robinson, a trailblazer who was part of the first team to cross the English Channel to take part in the Tour in 1955 and, even more importantly, became the first British stage winner in 1958. The stage in question had departed from Saint-Brieuc, which also happened to be the starting point for Tom Simpson's big French adventure. The young rider, who had got his first taste of cycling on the track in Manchester, had settled down in this small Breton town, where he also met his wife, in 1959. Solid performances in regional races such as the Essor Breton and Circuit de l'Armel earned him a spot on the Saint-Raphaël roster. It was with its successor team, Rapha, that he made his Paris–Nice debut in 1961. Anquetil was a cut above the rest, but Simpson followed all the right moves and finished fifth in Nice. The Englishman carried his stellar form into the Tour of Flanders, which he won ten days later.

"Major Tom" really makes the grade with Merckx

Simpson's career was marked by flashes of brilliance in the classics, including wins in the 1964 Milan–San Remo and 1965 Giro di Lombardia, the latter coming right after his victorious World Championship campaign on Basque soil, but he was also an all-rounder who could go the distance in one-week races such as Paris–Nice. In 1962, he finished runner-up to another classics specialist, Joseph Planckaert. In 1967, "Major Tom" and Eddy Merckx, a man on a meteoric rise, shared ranks in the Peugeot–BP squad. The Englishman and the Belgian worked together to blow up the peloton and propel the former to the top of the general classification in stage 6 from Marignane to Hyères. Simpson showed his strength against the clock to defend his lead in the final time trial in Nice and take the only major stage race victory of his career. A few months later, he collapsed and died on the slopes of the Mont Ventoux during the Tour de France. 

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