Pierre Gachon: First Canuck in Le Tour

While searching for an interesting intro to my English class this morning, I decided to find out who the first Canadian to ride in the Tour de France might be. The answer is Pierre Gachon, but his Wiki page only appears in French.

Outraged, and with a little time on my hands, I translated, in my way, the French Wikipedia entry. Because I haven’t figured out how to actually publish it to Wiki, I’ll start with the blog.

Pierre Gachon


Pierre Gachon was born in Paris on March 9, 1909.  His father died in the First World War. His mother remarried with Henri Van der Auwera, a Belgian garage owner. The family emigrated to Montreal in 1923, where Van der Auwera opened his own garage.

Pierre Gachon began cycling after meeting Jules Matton, a former Belgian cyclist. He was an amateur from 1926 to 1929 and became a professional in 1930, obtaining his best results in the Six Days of Montreal: 4th in October 1930, April and October 1931, 5th in October 1933. In October 1936 he was 5th again, having teamed up with his brother, Louis, and Robert Walthour Junior. In 1934 he established a Canadian record by riding the 358 miles between Toronto and Montreal in 15 hours and 3 minutes. In 1935 he rode the 360 mile Montreal-Quebec-Montreal route in 13 hours and 17 minutes. In 1936 he won the 6th stage of the Trans-Canada.

In June 1937 Pierre Gachon departed Quebec and sailed across the Atlantic to race the Tour de France. In the 10 days he spent in France before the Tour began he discovered paved roads, as well as the derailleur, which was used for the first time this year in the Tour de France. Originally registered as an individual, he was put by the organizers with British riders Charles Holland and Bill Burl, to form a team. The first stage started in Paris, with a ‘real start’ in Vésinet, and a finish in Lille. Pierre Gachon was among the first riders to be dropped, after 5 kilometers, on the Côte du Pecq. He abandoned in the 2nd part of the stage. His teammate, Bill Burl, abandoned during the following stage, and Charles Holland followed during the stage between Ax-les-Thermes and Luchon, victim of a broken derailleur on the col de Portet-d’Aspet.

"Tour de France 1937" by France_blank.png: Stingderivative work: EdgeNavidad (talk) - France_blank.png. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tour_de_France_1937.png#/media/File:Tour_de_France_1937.png

“Tour de France 1937” by France_blank.png: Stingderivative work: EdgeNavidad (talk) Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Pierre Gachon’s participation, although brief, did not go unnoticed, and was reported by the Miroir des Sports et L’Auto.

“Buried immediately, poor Gachon, was the only victim of Stage One”. Right from the start, because he was already dropped pretty badly, we asked him in English what was wrong. But instead of answering us in the language of Shakespeare, the Canadian answered us in that of Molière, ‘everything is good, very good. I just can’t ride any faster!’ He was riding 25 kilometers an hour and the others at 35. All the same, Gachon and the Canadian officials who sponsored him must have known that he couldn’t ride more than 25 kilometers per hour. His place should have been taken by the American, Magnani, who is far better than him.”

“At the moment of going to press we understand that Mecherey Rex, timekeeper of the Tour, has sent a team of rescuers to look for the Canadian Gachon. However, a cyclist wearing shorts has been spotted heading towards Le Havre, at 18 km/h, inquiring in the large cities along the way the departure times of the first transatlantic crossing.”

Pierre Gachon was inducted into the Quebec Cycling Hall of Fame in 1988. The first Canadian to ride in the Tour de France, he remained the only rider from Quebec until 2013. It wasn’t until 1994 that a 2nd Quebec cyclist participated in a Grand Tour: Giovanni Vignaduzzi, 120th in the Tour of Spain. He was followed by Domique Rollin, in the Tour of Spain 2009, then the Tour of Italy 2012. In 2013, David Veilleux was the first rider born in Quebec to participate in the Tour de France.

7 thoughts on “Pierre Gachon: First Canuck in Le Tour

    • Wow, he was dropped just after the Seine. That’s pretty depressing. His speed will remain a mystery, I think. Can’t blame it on jetlag, at least…

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