Cyclocross in Paris during the 1940sJan Heine
Cyclocross has been on my mind lately – I’ve returned to the sport after a 16-year hiatus – and so it was with special interest that I watched some old newsreel footage of ‘cross races in Paris during the 1940s.
Sports were among the few pleasant distractions that Parisians had during the German occupation, and cyclocross races were organized in the city to make it easy for spectators to attend. The biggest race was held on the steep hill of Montmartre. The 280 steps leading up to the basilica of Sacré Coeur were a great runup (or, during other years, run-down), and the dirt roads around the famous windmills provided a nice off-pavement challenge. Click on the image to go to the web site where you can watch the video.
As I watched the video, the newsreel announcer exclaimed that Robert Oubron (in striped jersey above) was taking the lead. I knew of Oubron: He had his frames built by René Herse.
In fact, in the René Herse book, there is a photo of him after a cyclocross race in 1943 (above). The video is too grainy to say with certainty, but Oubron’s bike looks like the one shown in the book.
The web site of the French National Audiovisual Institute (INA) has other newsreel footage from 1940s cyclocross (click here to view), but unfortunately not of the 1942 race, which was won by René André on one of the very first bikes René Herse made after opening his shop in 1940. The photo above shows André as he jumps a step in front of the windmill on his superlight bike.
I also would have loved to see footage of the Cross the Clamart with its tandem category, which was won by René André and Lyli Herse (above after the race). We are fortunate to have the historic photos in the book that take us back in time.
The videos provide wonderful context to the photos. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. Please feel free to share other sources in the comments.