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
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
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
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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