The Hill of Neauphle-le-Château

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In the René Herse book, there is a chapter on the 1945 Omnium des Cyclotouristes, which included a climb up the steep cobblestone hill at Neauphle-le-Château near Paris. One of the riders, Paulette Porthault, remembered: “Oh it was awful, all those rough cobblestones which dated from the time of Louis XIV.”

Recently, Ivan Souverain visited the hill on his 1938 “Sans Peur” (Without Fear) 650B camping bicycle. He reports that it’s still as steep and difficult as it was in 1945.

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In 1945, René André and Joël Simon were riding toward another victory for the René Herse team (top). The cobbles, the houses and the ancient wall all are still there 68 years later (above).

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In 1945, many of the riders took to the side of the road, where the gravel and grass were smoother than the cobbles themselves. Above is the tandem of the Le Chevalliers, followed by Raymond Valance and his wife.

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The sidepath now has been paved and is used for parking.

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Ivan made it to the top, but his comment was: “The cobblestone hill is just not made for average rider like me.”

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At least there is a Café nearby to celebrate his success. I have to ask Mme. Porthault whether they went that same cafe after the ride in 1945!

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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19 Responses to The Hill of Neauphle-le-Château

  1. Steve H says:

    Jan, thanks for an inspiring post. It is fascinating to compare the photographs, then and now.
    Newark, DE

  2. Max Sievers says:

    In the first picture I see a broad street. But the second picture shows a narrow road. What a difference cars make!

  3. Johan Larsson says:

    For those interested in a closer look at the camping bike, I found a thread at a French forum – http://forum.tontonvelo.com/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=8243&sid=0cac85c9d97e64d8b09774ebed84c49f

    Nice that it still looks quite the same. I like cobblestones – they last a long time and promote use of comfortable, practical bikes…

    • Ivan says:

      It’s the same bike, I have just replaced the crank set for a lighter post war type (D49+TA), the weight saved is 985gr, still looking for rear Bell Wing nut to save further weight.

  4. What a charming photo-vignette. I am left suspicious that Ivan is not at all ‘average’ as his humility claims.

    • marmotte27 says:

      He is average probably in the same way as Jan describes himself and his friends as just a bunch of ordinary middle aged guys… ;-)

  5. Jeff says:

    Great little article. I enjoy seeing the now-and-then photos like Ivan was able to share. Thank you both.

  6. Paul Glassen says:

    The immediate impression of the modern photograph is how the growth of auto use is displayed. Even the path has had to be paved for the ubiquitous, all consuming motorcar. It is certainly a lesson about sustainable and non-sustainable forms of transportation.

  7. Christophs says:

    It is strange to discover this on an American blog… I live about 60km from this hill, and did not know about it. I will probably try to go there one of these days. Thanks for this.
    By the way, when do you think the French version of the René Herse book will arrive on this side of the ocean ?

  8. Steve Palincsar says:

    What is the grade on this climb, and how long is it?

    • Ivan says:

      I don’t now about grade, it’s around 500m long, but hard enough. You need to climb for 3 km to reach Grand Rue. Neuphle le chateau is at maximum of 172m for sea level.

  9. Bill Lucas says:

    Please list a more exact address for this type of article, so we can all find the road.
    Thanks,

  10. Bill Lucas says:

    Stevy,
    Thanks. We can view most of the rue at street level with Google maps. They don’t have roads like this where I have rode.
    Regards,
    Bill

  11. Tom Howard says:

    When you think of what year it was, it’s fascinating to see how the French apparently rebounded from the war and quickly resumed a more normal life. Thanks for sharing those fantastic photos. I especially liked the goggles.

    • Paris was in a special situation, because of the German occupation. Life went on with many restrictions, but there was no war effort and no draft that removed all male adults. The Germans didn’t want discontent, and in many ways, life in Paris was more normal than that in Germany or Britain at the time, where everything was dedicated to the war effort. For the majority of people, the biggest problem was procuring food, since Germany confiscated most of the agricultural production.

      The cycling clubs became support networks, and instead of individual trips to distant locations (which were out of the question due to curfews), cyclotourists met for organized competitions like the one shown in the photos.

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