“Lapébie” is a name which is familiar to cyclists who use the velodrome in Bordeaux or travel along the 54-kilometre cycle path which run...

The Lapébie cycling dynasty, the velodrome of Bordeaux and the Entre-Deux-Mers bike path

“Lapébie” is a name which is familiar to cyclists who use the velodrome in Bordeaux or travel along the 54-kilometre cycle path which runs between the city and Sauveterre-de-Guyenne. But who were the Lapébies?

They were two brothers. Roger was born in Bayonne in 1911, Guy following suit in the Landes town of Saint-Geours-de-Maremne in 1916. Over the subsequent years, the family base shifted to Pessac, where their father managed the Médoquine freight station, although their mother reportedly soon moved to Neuilly-sur-Seine, in the suburbs of Paris.

Roger Lapébie.
Source: Wikipedia
Come the early 1930s, Roger was already big news as a cyclist and he went on to enjoy a short but illustrious career. In 1932, he celebrated his first stage win on the Tour de France (something he achieved nine times overall), ahead of becoming French road cycling champion the following year. In 1934, he was the first to cross the line in the gruelling Paris-Roubaix race. After initially being celebrated as the winner, he was disqualified when it emerged a flat tyre 12 kilometres before the end of the race had led to him illegally “borrowing” a spectator’s bike to complete the race. His finest hour came in 1937 though when he won the Tour, finishing first in three individual stages. But in 1939, he fell awkwardly at the end of the Bordeaux-Paris classic, and the resulting knee injury put an end to his career.

Guy Lapébie.
Source: Sud Ouest
While Roger was busy making early headlines, younger brother Guy was also cycling… to work. His job was at the telegraph station on the corner of Cours de l’Intendance and Rue Vital-Carles (now an Orange telecoms outlet). But he too was set to become a champion cyclist, winning two gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games held in Berlin: the team pursuit and the team road race. War put a stop to his rising star, and his stage wins in the Tour de France (in 1948, when he finished 3rd overall and in 1949) were late signs of what might have been if he had been able to compete to the full throughout the first half of the 1940s.

The Lapébie brothers both settled in Bordeaux, turning to more conventional day jobs. Guy took over a brasserie on Cours Clémenceau, possibly at number 8 in premises which have now become one of the city’s many Bistro Régent restaurants. As such he became a highly-respected figure among the Bordeaux establishment. He also went on to build a hotel-restaurant in the Pyrenean village of Mourtis which was run by his son Serge (also a professional cyclist) until the latter's accidental death aged just 43 in 1991.

The elder Lapébie, Roger, ran a bike shop on Cours Victor-Hugo before opening another shop in Paris in association with Guy. A quick Google search shows that bikes sporting the Lapébie name have now become desirable collectors’ items, but at the time it was more of a struggle; Roger ended up doing odd jobs to make ends meet and lived on a modest pension once he’d retired. Roger Lapébie died at a hospital in Pessac in October 1996 aged 85, Guy Lapébie died in March 2010 in Bagnères-de-Luchon at the grand old age of 94.

Their names live on in Bordeaux, most notably in the shape of the "Stadium de Bordeaux" velodrome track which was built in the Lac district of the city and opened in 1989, a few years after the cycle track around Parc Lescure (now Parc Chaban-Delmas) was removed to make way for extra seating. The impressive structure, conceived by architect Roger Taillibert, can hold up to 6,600 spectators (4,500 seated), and regularly holds top-level cycling events.

The Lapébie track itself is made from exotic wood shipped in from Cameroon, and is renowned for being particularly fast. A special board displayed in the lobby details the records which have been broken on the track, mainly hour records by cycling legends including Chris Boardman (whose name has been misspelt on the board), Miguel Indurain and Tony Rominger. But sadly, it looks as if the record books have been untroubled by the Piste Cycliste Roger et Guy Lapébie since 1999.

To the east of the city, Roger gets a magnificent cycle path all to himself. La piste Roger Lapébie, like so many cycle paths, is a converted railway line (this one was decommissioned in 1979), and runs from Latresne through Entre-Deux-Mers territory - between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers - to Sauveterre-de-Guyenne. On the way there are numerous converted railway stations, villages complete with picture-postcard church steeples, the charming market town of Créon, the renowned Abbaye de La Sauve-Majeure (within easy reach of the track), plenty of greenery and some impressive bridges… not to mention a long tunnel which adds a slightly eerie feel to that part of the ride.

After promising myself for many years that I’d cycle the Lapébie path, I finally got round to doing just that a few weeks ago and must say I found it to be a delightful track which I heartily recommend. It is an apt tribute to Roger Lapébie and, by proxy, to his younger brother Guy, the local cycling champions of the 1930s.

"Look, no hands!" Guy and Roger Lapébie at the grand opening of the velodrome in 1989. Source: Sud Ouest.
  • Find them on the Invisible Bordeaux map:
    • Stadium de Bordeaux velodrome, Bordeaux, Roger Lapébie cycle path, Latresne.
  • Chris Cooley over at the excellent Drinking It All In blog wrote a fine account of cycling along the Lapébie bike path from Bordeaux to Créon. You'll find it here.

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