Mlle Serpolette at Strasbourg and Rouen

It would seem that Mlle Serpolette began her cycling career as an amateur in Aix les Bain and Avignon in country France in August 1895. Although her success there was modest, by the end of the year she was part of a professional cycling troupe, riding nightly at the Olympia Velodrome in London. About six weeks into her stint in London, she was injured in a bad fall and returned to France, where she later rode at the renowned Velodrome d'Hiver in Paris.

When Serpolette and her tour manager Monsieur Ullmo arrived in Australian in April 1898, no time was wasted in spruiking Serpolette's racing pedigree to the hungry colonial media. The following extract is from an April 1898 column by the West Australian's cycling correspondent "Pedal":

"At Strausberg (sic), in Germany, she defeated the German champion, and at Rouen won the two-kilometre championship. Returning to France she retired from the racing path after a time, but eight months ago [August 1897] she once again entered the ranks of competition, this time with a motor tricycle, with which she was more than ordinarily successful."

Indeed she did ride at both Strasbourg and Rouen, in September 1896 and May 1897, respectively.

The French cycling paper La Bicyclette records the result of the 2,000 metre race "pour dames" at Strasbourg in May 1896: the winner was Mlle Etéogolla in a time of 3 m. 51 s., followed home by Serpolette in second place. The format of the event is not recorded, but typically events such as this would involve some heats and a final, in which case Serpolette may well have beaten the German champion on the way to her second place. However without an entry list and intermediate results, we can't yet subtantiate this part of Serpolette's claimed record. The search continues.

Although Mlle Serpolette may not have dominated women's cycling in France and England in 1895 and 1896, she was clearly a well-known cyclist as evidenced by her appearance in a set of "portrait cards" issued at the end of 1896. These small-format cards - 18 x 24 mm - were issued in four sets of 18, each of the 72 cards featuring the portrait of a famous male or female racing cyclist. Serpolette featured in Set No. 4 with seventeen other women cyclists.

The claim for Rouen is more clear cut: a win in the two-kilometre championship. (Indeed some Australian reports hailed Serpolette as the 2,000 m champion of the world!) To date I've found no report of a win for Serpolette at Rouen, although she did ride there in May 1897 - confusingly during the period of her "retirement" from racing. On this occasion, she finished third in the women's race at the Rouen Velodrome behind Mlle Reillo (1st) and Mlle Aboukaïa (2nd). I particularly like the (brief) description of the results of this event written by "Reporter" in La Bicyclette in May 1897, in which the names of the riders are preceded by rather interesting adjectives. Reillo is "l'aimable", Aboukaïa is "la brune" and Serpolette? "La déliceuse". La déliceuse Serpolette. Maybe she didn't need to win.

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