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Louise Garbett – the First Ever Tour Féminin White Jersey Winner

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Our chum, Paul Kilbourne whose excellent pieces about the legendary ANC team you’ll have read if you’re a VeloVeritas regular has brought to our attention a little known piece of British cycling history…

A just turned 19 years-old cyclist, finishing the biggest race in the world on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, and being escorted to a podium along with Laurent Fignon and Greg Lemond.

That’s got to be very many teenage cyclists’ dream – but it actually happened.

On 17 July 1984, after 18 Stages of Le Grand Boucle Féminin Great Britain rider, Louise Garbett, mounted the podium to receive the overall White Jersey for the first Tour de France Feminin.

The first ever female cyclist in the world to win that jersey.

With a new Women’s Tour de France announced for 2022, Paul felt that this part of the history of international women’s racing was a story that ought to be told, and caught up with Louise, now Louise Moore.

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By Paul Kilbourne

Louise Garbett
Louise Garbett (2nd left, behind Laurent Fignon) on the Tour de France podium. Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

Tell us about that day you mounted the Tour podium please.

“It was the final stage of the 18 which made up the race that year. 

“The Tour Féminin (La Grand Boucle Féminin Internationale) preceded the men’s race every day, but starting further along the course. 

“We had to make sure that we got to the finish in time, before the men’s race arrived. 

“We pulled onto the Champs-Élysées strung out, feeling a mixture of excitement and relief.

“Pat Liggett, [Famous commentator Phil’s wife, ed.] who’d done a fabulous job of looking after us; massages, washing, an ear to talk to – everything, came straight up to me after the final sprint where I was seventh on the stage – I was fourth in the bunch sprint behind a break of three – and told me to go with her straight away to get cleaned up for the podium. I have to say, I didn’t really know what was happening.

“Thinking about it, there had been something going on for a day or two; extra encouragement to finish each stage, and especially to finish the last stage. 

“I was determined to finish anyway, we’d been told that if we abandoned we had to find our own way back to GB!

“It became clear quickly though, that I had won something – in fact the White Jersey! 

“I think that the management team didn’t want to put me under additional pressure, so had kept it under their hats for a couple of days.”

Louise Garbett
Louise Garbett is just visible behind Laurent Fignon.

There you are, on the podium, next to Fignon and Lemond, the American had won the men’s White Jersey.

“Yes! 

“It was all a bit of a blur, presentations, photos, speeches, it was a unique feeling, luckily I have some pictures to remind me that it was all real.”

Tell us how you came to be at the first ever Tour Féminin.

“That year, 1984, I’d had some invitations from the British Cycling Federation (BCF) to represent Great Britain.

“In particular, I rode Paris-Nice early season for the GB squad, and performed really well, achieving a second place. I guess that got the attention of the selectors.

“In May I got notification that I was short-listed for either the Olympics, or maybe the Tour. 

“At the time it was indicated that the Olympics was more likely; so I trained for a one day, probably very fast, race. I was a sprinter, so I was keen to maximise my sprinting fitness.

“Then, a couple of weeks before the Tour I was told that it would be the Tour, not the Olympics. 

“Apparently the BCF felt that I was too young for the Olympics – so they sent me to an 18 day stage race! 

“I never did really understand the logic in that.”

Louise Garbett
Louise Garbett was part of the amateur GB Tour de France Féminin team. Photo©supplied

Did you have any special training camps, or get-togethers before travelling to the Tour?

“No, in those days it was just meet the minibus at a set point, bring your bike, you’ll get a woolly jersey, a skinsuit and a hat. Bring everything else you need. 

“The Manager was Alec Taylor, and as I’ve said, Pat Liggett was the masseur and carer. 

“Luckily a friend lent me some nice wheels.”

Louise Garbett
Along with Linda Gornall (l) and Maria Blower (c), Louise Garbett (2nd l) was part of a very ‘homespun’ Team GB. Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

That sounds very “homespun” in contrast with what we might expect these days.

“It was really. 

“There were no development plans or BCF coaching as such. 

“You either sunk or swam; luckily I swam. 

“To be fair, there was no money for anything but the very basics within BCF in those days; it was before the Lottery Funding came along. 

“It was pretty much make do with what there is.” 

[A quote from a magazine cutting at the time said that one journalist had a bigger expenses budget for one week on the Tour than the whole GB women’s team had for three weeks, Paul.]

Who else was in the Team?

“We had Clare Greenwood, Pauline Strong, Helen Edwards, Judith Painter and Helen Parritt – who unfortunately brok