René Vietto Made the Craziest Sacrifices in the History of Pro Cycling

By Tereza Antonova

Do you consider yourself loyal and determined? If so, stop for a while and think about the sacrifices you would be willing to make for a cause you deem important in your life. Now, let’s play a little game and compare your results with two Frenchmen: Apo Lazarides and René Vietto.

Jean-Apôtre Lazaridès (nicknamed Apo) was born in 1925. While finding joy in cycling, he also found its other benefits. During the German occupation of France, Apo became one of the two-wheeled suppliers of the French resistance. But let’s focus on his professional cycling career.

Young Apo became a protégé of a famous French champion René Vietto, a man already known for being devoted not only to victory but also to his team. In 1934, the then 20-year-old promising Vietto was climbing the Pyrenean slopes of the Tour with the yellow jersey within arm’s reach. That’s when the marshal on a motorcycle informed him that his team leader crashed, buckled his front wheel and could not continue the race. Vietto turned back, rode to his leader and gave him his front wheel. A picture of him sitting on a stone wall, watching the race and sobbing became notorious.

René Vietto in 1946. © Profimedia

While this made René a sweetheart of the French society, there was yet another ‘feat’ he’s remembered for. Twelve years later, during the 1947 Tour, René had sepsis in his toe, which meant one thing only: no racing this time. But nothing could stay in the way of Vietto’s attendance of the Tour; not even his own toe. That is why René went to see a doctor and had the toe removed. The next day, he wheeled onwards.

Here we circle back to the first name of the story, the brave Apo. As an apprentice of the famous Vietto, he had to follow his strict and often cruel training routine, which included not eating or eating grass when hungry and skipping sleep. Vietto considered sleep on par with dying. Apo complied. Still, there was yet another matter to comply with, in order to prove his dedication to the cycling cause. That matter turned out to be cutting off one of his toes.

Jean-Apôtre Lazaridès
Jean-Apôtre Lazarides during a race. © Profimedia

The reasoning behind the task went as follows: to understand the pain of professional cycling and the sacrifice Tour riders have to undergo, Apo shall match his master. Once again, he obeyed the grand Vietto’s order. Apo Lazaridès spent the rest of his life walking with a limp.

Let’s leave all the judgements up to you and get to the beginning of the story. Is this what you imagined when contemplating the sacrifices you would make? Could you match these two?

You can take into consideration that neither Vietto nor Apo ever won the Tour de France. Vietto’s best result was a second place in the 1939 Tour. Apo finished 9th in 1949.