In sports, consistency is what separates the wheat from the chaff. That’s why a World Series or an NBA Finals runs to seven games. But for one magical year in 1956, France’s very own (if unknown) Roger Walkowiak won the Tour de France and pretty much surprised everyone by doing so. Barely a household name in his own household, “Walko” earned a ticket to that year’s Tour mainly because he was the only rider available at late notice to replace Gilbert Bauvin, who had been promoted to France’s main team, Saint-Raphael.
On the 7th stage, from Lorient to Angers, Walkowiak was part of a group of riders who broke from the pack, thus giving him the overall lead at a relatively early point in the race. And while the Tour’s main stars didn’t consider this “insignificant” rider to be any sort of threat, Walko valiantly defied expectations and fended off challengers just long enough to win the race — pushing Bauvin into second place. To rub it in the face of his numerous detractors (“The applause sounded like a lamentation,” said organizer Jacques Goddet), he never actually won a single stage. Since then, the phrase à la Walko has passed into the French vernacular to mean succeeding unexpectedly or without panache.