Henri Desgrange, director of the famous French sports newspaper L'Auto, organised the first Tour de France in 1903. The aim was to increase the circulation of his newspaper by organising an extraordinary cycling race. This soon proved to be a success story. For the bookkeeping of his newspaper, he called on Victor Goddet, father of the later Tour Director. The 'treasurer' Victor Goddet sent his son Jacques to England at an early age to study at Oxford College. This education allowed Jacques to play an important role in sports journalism on his return to France.
In 1929 Jacques Goddet experienced his first Tour as a journalist. When Henri Desgrange had to leave the Tour a few years later, in 1936, due to a long lasting illness, he became the new patron of the Tour. This was a logical step since he already worked some years as Henri Desgrange's right-hand man. When Henri Desgrange died in 1940, he became not only director of the Tour but also director of L'Auto.
As the brand-new director of the sports newspaper "L'Auto", he lived through the difficult years of the Second World War. The newspaper continued to appear during the war years and, according to French law, this meant that after the war the newspaper was banned. There was nothing to do but to relaunch his newspaper under the name L'Equipe. Even more, Jacques Goddet was accused of collaboration for a while. In the interview with Thomas Brochut-Goddet, this accusation was emphatically denied and refuted. During the war, there was no Tour de France (to avoid that the Germans would use the Tour as war propaganda) and after the war Jacques Goddet received "La Médaille de la Résistance" from general and later president Charles de Gaulle.
Goddet managed to combine the two jobs. Even as Tour Director, Jacques Goddet remained a journalist: every day he wrote articles for his own sports newspaper. He did not shy away from expressing his vision on the course of the Tour. When some stages were rather boring, he criticized the lack of fighting spirit of the riders. Meanwhile, Goddet was not only Tour boss and journalist-director of L'Equipe, he was also in charge of sports temples like Parc des Princes and Parc Omnisports de Paris-Bercy. It is therefore not surprising that there was little time left for a family life. Yet he did his best not to lose sight of his family, grandson Thomas Brochut-Goddet recalled during the evening talk in KOERS.
Everyone knows the image of Jacques Goddet in the Tour as the man in a neat safari outfit, including a tropical helmet, with a megaphone at the ready. According to grandson Thomas Brochut-Goddet, this uniform has nothing to do with the colonial past of his grandfather, but he chose it for practical reasons. After all, the Second World War was followed by some scorching hot summers and so this loose-fitting khaki uniform offered some relief and the tropical helmet in the open car provided good protection against the leaden sun. Moreover, his exotic uniform had many pockets to store his pens and notepads... Behind this image hides a man who during fifty years, from 1936 to 1987, determined the ins and outs of the Tour de France. After the Second World War, he was assisted by Félix Lévitan, who took care of the business aspect of the Tour.
Despite his conservative image, Jacques Goddet was the driving force behind many innovations in the Tour. Some examples: permission to use a gearbox (1937), first arrival at the top of a col (Alpe d'Huez, 1952), introduction of the points classification, with green jersey (1953), first "Grand Départ" outside France (Amsterdam, 1954), start of the Tour with a prologue (1967),... Hence the statement: "Jacques Goddet, visionary of modern sport".
From the reactions of grandson Thomas Brochut-Goddet and riders such as Ferdinand Bracke we can also deduce that Jacques Goddet was a real father figure for the riders of the Tour. It was a matter of honour for him to know all participants by name. Before the start of a stage, he would often walk between the team cars to meet as many riders as possible in person. The most difficult moment as Tour Director, Jacques Goddet says, was in 1967 when the British rider Tom Simpson died on the flanks of Mont Ventoux. Then he even thought about ending the story of the Tour de France. A decision he fortunately - in hindsight - did not make ...
Read more about the rich history of the Tour de France and Jacques Goddet in the book La formidable aventure du fondateur de L'Équipe et directeur du Tour de France written by Thomas Brochut-Goddet.
The book is for sale in the KOERS museum shop.
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