Back in the 1963 Tour, the Saint-Raphaël team conquered the stage to Roubaix with an Irishman who had put down roots in France. The velodrome gave Séamus ‘Shay’ Elliott his greatest victory … and a sense of closure.
Everyone called him a friend. Shay Elliott, always wearing a grin on his plump face, spoke fluent French with just a hint of an accent from the Emerald Isle. Even more importantly, he rode his heart out for leaders such as Jean Stablinski and Jacques Anquetil, happy to sweep his own ambitions under the rug without a word of complaint.
Although Elliott and his friend “Stab” had been racing for different teams in the 1962 Worlds, he had done everything he could to slow down the chase in the small group fighting for victory, resulting in the rider from northern France winning gold and the Irishman having to settle for silver.
In 1963, the stage from Jambes to Roubaix was well-suited to Shay, who had narrowly missed a victory in the ‘Hell of the North’ due to a broken saddle.
The Irishman’s tactics dovetailed with the plans of his leader at Saint-Raphaël. “Maître Jacques” urged his teammates to control the breakaway, which had good odds of making it to the finish.
Stablinski and Elliott — the team’s best assets on this sort of terrain — slipped in to the leading group. Elliott was forced to dig deep after suffering two punctures on the cobblestones, the last one just 20 km before the line.
Fortunately for the Irishman, the world champion shepherded him back to the escape group on both occasions. Once again, smart tactics and powerful feelings all pointed towards the need to work together in such a tricky finish, particularly with Stablinski seeing an opportunity to return the favour.
Stablinski was godfather to Elliott’s young son. The Irishman took a leaf out of little Pascal’s book to hang on alone at the front for the final six kilometres before the velodrome.
Elliott finished 33″ ahead of a small group of chasers led by none other than Stablinski —good enough to pull on the yellow jersey.
Antoine Blondin hailed this double whammy, which no other Irish rider had accomplished, in a piece in L’Équipe titled ‘Ça fait Dublin par où ça passe’, where he outlined his vision of an international peloton ahead of his time:
“He belongs to a migratory species of cyclists who feel at home anywhere as long as there is bread and a saddle. He is a citizen of the roads, and a race number is his passport”
Decades before Seán Kelly and Stephen Roche pulled off even greater victories in the 1980s, Elliott kept the yellow jersey for four days, until Angers. Once in Paris, the jersey was safely on Anquetil’s shoulders. Mission accomplished.