Tour de France 2020

Tour de France retrospective: Jean Forestier on the hazards of drinking and riding

“Sometimes we would do that—mix a little champagne in our water bottles, because it could really give you a little boost,” recalls Forestier.

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The Alps always produces great stories in the Tour de France, stories of incredible highs and sometimes equally incredible lows. And as this year’s Tour enters the Alps in the final weeks, we look back on the unlikely adventure of a certain Jean Forestier.

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Forestier of course is no household name when it comes to the Tour de France. But as the oldest living winner of both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, he was one pretty good classics rider.

Nevertheless, he was a consistent member of the mighty French national team in the 1950s, and in 1957 he even had his own spell in the yellow jersey — albeit an ephemeral one.

Jean Forestier recalls a few excellent moments in his pro cycling career
Jean Forestier recalls a few excellent moments in his pro cycling career. Photo: James Startt

Forestier joined the French national team in 1954 and quickly became a fixture. And while he was known for his prowess in the classics, he proved to be much more versatile than a simple classics rider, and was a highly appreciated teammate to champions like Louison Bobet. But in 1957, Forestier himself proved to be one of the strongest riders, as he eventually finished fourth.

And in all likelihood, he could have done even better if it were not for making one crucial error.

Forestier grabbed the yellow jersey after making the key breakaway on stage eight to Besançon. And while he was not a climbing specialist, he handled the stage to Thonon-les-Bains well. But the next day finished Briançon with classic climbs like le Col de l’Izoard and le Col du Télégraphe on the menu.

“It was exceptionally hot,” Forestier recalled when VeloNews visited him before this year’s Tour. “And really I think I could have held the yellow jersey a lot longer. I think I would have finished at least second. But I made a really stupid mistake.”

How much champagne is too much, before descending in the Tour de France
How much champagne is too much, before descending in the Tour de France. Photo: James Startt

The mistake came as the peloton attacked the Izoard climb. “I told my brother-in-law to pass me a cold bottle of champagne,” Forestier recalled. “Sometimes we would do that, mix a little champagne in our water bottles, because it could really give you a little boost. But we always cut it with water a bit. And my brother-in-law didn’t do that!”

And according to the 89-year old, the champagne went down a little to fast. “It was so hot out there and the champagne was so cold. I drank it right up. But then I was drunk! Don’t ask me what got into my head. I just wasn’t thinking. But let me tell you, I lost four minutes in the descent!”

Forestier ceded four minutes after downing a bottle of champagne on the descent
“It was so hot out there and the champagne was so cold. I drank it right up. But then I was drunk!” Forestier said. Photo: James Startt

Forestier lost the jersey that day to a certain Jacques Anquetil, who would go on to win his first Tour de France. And Forestier would go on to win the green points jersey and finish fourth, he also learned a lesson. It’s best to drink champagne after the race is won.