January 19, 2010

Raphael Geminiani

This post concerns one of my favorite cycling personalities Raphael Geminiani. If you've ever seen the Merckx movie La Course en Tete, Geminaini steals the show.

Raphael Geminiani was born on June 12, 1925.
The French rider stood on the podium in every Grand Tour event, for a total of six times in the events.

Geminiani was 2nd in the 1951 Tour de France behind Hugo Koblet of Switzerland.

Geminiani won the Mountains Jersey in the 1951 Tour de France as well.

Geminiani was also 3rd in the 1958 Tour de France behind Charly Gaul of Luxembourg and Vito Favero of Italy.

Geminiani won the Mountains Jersey in the Giro d’Italia in 1952 and 1957.

In addition, Geminiani was 3rd in the 1955 Vuelta a Espana behind Jean Dotto of France and Antonio Jimenez of Spain.
bobet - gemi[1]

text below from Velorunner

This posting takes a brief look at the life of Raphael Geminiani, winner of the King of the Mountains competitions in 1951 for both the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia, as well 7 time stage winner of the Tour. After his retirement as a cyclist he became directeur sportif to legendary Jacques Anquetil and the St-Raphael Team. He also asked Ugo De Rosa to become mechanic of his first team back in 1958.

Born in Clermont-Ferrand, France in 1925, Raphael Geminiani aka 'Le Grand Fusil' (Top Gun) was the son of Italian immigrants who moved to France in 1920 to escape fascism in Italy. His father established a bike shop in Clermont-Ferrand where Geminiani worked from a young age, having left school at the age of 12. It was during this period Geminiani's gained an interest in racing bikes. At the age of 16 Geminiani won the Premier Pas Dunlop, a youth championship race. This race raised his profile among the cycling community and following a short period racing pro-am he was given his first professional contract for the Metropole team.

In 1947 he rode his first Tour de France.
Geminiani's first tour proved to be a steep learning curve for the young man and in truth it was a disaster. On the stage to Strasbourg, he finished 50 minutes down and was too exhausted to eat dinner.

"it was so hot that the tar was melting under our roads. I was completely dehydrated. I ended up stopping beside a farm and I lapped up the dirty water from a cattle trough. And that's how I got foot-and-mouth disease. It's actually only cows that get that!", he said.

Next morning feeling feverish and nearly blind he left the race for hospital. It took him over a week to recover from his ordeal.

It was at the 1952 where Geminiani built on his reputation for having a quick temper. Outraged at Bobet's impromptu press conference in his hotel bath where he stated he had played dead and made Geminiani do all the hard work, Geminiani is said to have pushed his way through the reporters where he held Bobet's head under water 3 times. The two were on the same team! The pair were told to work together instead of bitching all the time otherwise it would be the opposition that wins. This reasoning led to the pair working together over the next few years with Geminiani helping to guide Bobet to 3 Tour de france wins. Although that wasn't before another eruption between the pair.

In the 1953 Tour at the end of one of the stages Louisan Bobet's accusations at the dinner table that Geminiani had deprived Bobet of a time bonus that would have helped him win the stage got Geminiani in such a rage that he emptied his plate over Bobet's head! Apparently Bobet burst into tears and left the table.

To celebrate Burkina Faso's first year of independence in 1959 the president invited Fausto Coppi, Geminiani, Anquetil, Bobet and a few other star riders of the time to race against local riders before going hunting. It was during this trip where both Geminiani and Coppi fell seriously ill. Both caught Malaria and fell ill when they returned home. Geminiani said:

"My temperature got to 41.6... I was delirious and I couldn't stop talking. I imagined or maybe saw people all round but I didn't recognise anyone. The doctor treated me for hepatitis, then for yellow fever, finally for typhoid."
Geminiani was given his last rites by a priest and was finally diagnosed correctly with a usually fatal form of malaria. Geminiani managed to recover but Coppi wasn't so lucky. His doctor's were sure he was ill with a bronchial complaint. Coppi, Italy's greatest ever cyclist, died. Geminiani said of Coppi after his tragic death:
"...a day never passes without thinking of Coppi...my master - he taught me everything...he invented everything: diet, training, technique, he was 15 years ahead of everyone."

Following Geminiani's retirement from professional bike racing he took up a career in management. At it's height with St-Raphael and Ford-France teams his partnership with Jacques Anquetil won Anquetil 4 Tour de France and 2 Giro d'Italia plus the famous Dauphine-Libere and the next day Bordeaux-Paris 'double', a feat that has was never matched.

Like many prominent riders of the time Geminiani also licensed his name to a range of bicycles. It's uncertain whether the frames were made by Mercier or Cizeron. It is possible they were made by both at different times.

Long after Geminiani's retirement in 1977 he called doping checks the 'cancer of cycling'. he recognised his use of drugs during his career. Way back in 1962 an outspoken Geminiani said:

"I don't like the word 'doping'. Let's talk of stimulants. It's normal that a rider takes stimulants: it's the doctors who recommend them. There are products which, far from being dangerous, re-establish the body's equilibrium. I rode 12 Tours de France and a great number of other races. I took stimulants. With the guidance of a doctor, naturally."

Raphael Geminiani, Le Grand Fusil, was not only a champion cyclist and a successful entrepreneur. I would suggest he was also one of the early examples of a domestique de luxe. Andreas Kloden might be a similar comparison in today's peloton, a rider who is capable of winning the big stage races but who humbly sacrifices themselves for the good of the team.
Geminiani was a big character who wasn't afraid to voice his opinion. He was a rider who to this day continues to create interest in a golden era of cycling full of so many fantastic riders


Jason said...

Glad you liked my piece on the big man.

Jason AKA Velorunner


Tom said...

really benjoyed that- just picked up an old geminiani mixte and was looking to see if it was worth spending 10 hours getting it looking good again - I will based solely on the fact he was a top fella. Thanks fella.