Mlle Serpolette's cycle racing pedigree, 1894 - 1898

When Mlle Serpolette's visit to Adelaide was announced in the South Australian Cyclist of 22 April 1898, she was described as a French racing cycliste who had "acquired great fame on French and English tracks". Elsewhere, particularly in the "Wheeling Matters" column in the Critic, her racing pedigree was treated with overt scepticism: "This paper still doubts whether Mdlle is anything out of the ordinary except for an advertiser for _______’s cycles.”

Mlle Serpolette's claimed racing pedigree is worth recounting here, for, if verified, it is most impressive. The results are compiled from interviews (or perhaps from publicity material that was dressed up by the reporters to look like interviews - more than once she was described as not speaking a word of English!) with Mlle Serpolette that appeared in the West Australian, the South Australian Cyclist and the Town and Country Journal during her Australian visit.

  • Debut in an amateur event at Aix les Bains, France, c1894. (There is some confusion about Serpolette's age, and hence this date. An interview published in the S.A. Cyclist on May 20, 1898 contains the following exchange: "It's about 4 years since I first took to the wheel. I was then only 14 years of age." "Then I presume you are 20 years of age?" "Yes, I was twenty last birthday." In contradiction, the Sydney press reported "Serpolette is not yet 20 years of age, is glad of the fact, and does not mean to get any older for some years to come.")

  • A week or two later, "repeated the performance at Avignon"

    It was not, it seems, 1894, but more likely August 1895 that a young Serpolette made her debut at Aix les Bains and went on to race at Avignon and with some minor places rather than wins

  • In December 1895 raced on the Olympia Track (or "Olympian Track" in another report) in London, "... defeated most of the English and French ladies who were competing there, amongst whom were Misses Marcel Vautreux, Maria Paule, Lond, Patterson, Henrietti Louisette and other prominent cyclistes". Mlle Serpolette told one interviewer that she had had a bad fall at Olympia, breaking two ribs.

  • Specifically at Olympia teamed with Fournier (presumably champion French cyclist Henri Fournier, who went on to introduce motor pacing vehicles in the United States) to defeat C.F. Barden and Miss Grace who were "regarded as the best mixed tandem pair in England"

  • "I have raced with gentlemen as well, and have defeated many noted cyclists"

  • Stayed in England for six weeks - until say February 1896

    After a fair amount of chasing around, I have been able to verify the claims for Mlle Serpolette's participation at Olympia in December 1895 and January 1896

  • On returning to Paris, won the 1896 French 1 km Championship for Ladies in 1 m 32 s, defeating Louise Roger, Marie Paul and "other well-known lady riders".

  • With Jacquelin (French champion Edmond Jacquelin), defeated all comers in a tandem race at the Velodrome d'Hiver in Paris

    Well, yes, she did defeat all comers at the Vel d'Hiv, but not with Jacquelin...

  • Won Championships at Strausberg (sic) Germany, defeating the German Champion,

  • At Rouen won the two-kilometre Championship (Australian papers said that she held the "world record" for 2 km?)

    Well I can find reference to Serpolette riding at Strasbourg and Rouen, in September 1896 and May 1897, respectively, again we find second and third places rather than wins...

  • Abandoned racing for nearly a year

  • Around August 1897 "she once again entered the ranks of competition, this time with a motor tricycle, with which she was more than ordinarily successful"

Her promoter, M. Ullmo, added that Mlle Serpolette particularly liked scratch events, as she was a good tactician and sprinter.

I've spent many, many enjoyable hours so far trying to verify these results, with mixed success. I have found references for her early days at Aix les Bains and Avignon,  her days as a professional cyclist at Olympia in London over the Christmas and New Year period 1895-1896, at the Velodrome d'Hiver in Paris in 1896, and at Strasbourg and Rouen in 1896 and 1897.

My findings, from primary references of the period, support at least in part Serpolette's stated pedigree. What is clear is that Serpolette did participate in most of the places reported, but there seems to be a uniform over-statement of her success. Are things any different today?

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