Emile Masson's final escape

Jeez, I feel like I'm at an Irish wake this week.  Another grand old man of cycling was sadly lost to wielerfanatics over the weekend.

Emile Masson Jr., the Belgian winner of the 1939 Paris Roubaix passed away Sunday.  He was 95.

Masson was the son of a professional cyclist who followed in his father's footsteps.   Both had careers interrupted by wars:  Emile Sr. the Great War, Emile Jr. WWII which saw him spend 4 years in a German prisoner of war camp.  Both rode great Tours de France, Emile Jr. notably winning a stage in the 1938 race won by Gino Bartali.

Fathers and Sons.  Cycling is a sport whose blood tends to run in families.   Sons - and sometimes daughters - often follow in cycling parent footsteps.   The examples go on and on and on.  Axel and Eddy Merckx.  Patrick and Berten Sercu.   The Schleck clan.   Stephen and Nicolas Roche.   Willy and Jo Planckaert.  The Mosers.  Brad and Garry Wiggins.   Les Duclos Lasalles et les Bernadeaus.    Joop Zoetemelks son Karl became a renner.  Adri VanderPoels son is a current terror.  Ditto Jean Paul Van Poppels son, Boy.   The late Gerrie Knetemann's daughter was a top rider in the Nederland national team.  Those are just off the top of my head, I'm sure there are many, many more.  

When I started racing back in the seventies here in New England, a good percentage of my fellow juniors were introduced to the bike by their fathers.   My old roommate, the very rapid Neil Hall, was a third generation American cyclist - his grandfather was a professional six-day racer back in the roaring twenties.   My good friend Jeff Slack - a silver medalist in the 1981 Junior National Road Championships and winner of dozens of races in both US and France (including Fitchburg Longsjo and Maine International) had a racer dad who owned one of the most successful bicycle dealerships in the Boston area.    This family business tendency is still prevalent today.  Bobby Lea's mom and dad were both top riders in the Boston area.   Dale Stetina's son Peter is a Garmin pro. And we all know Taylor Phinney's pedigree.   US cycling has plenty of family dynasties.  Walthour, Young, Vande Velde.

The old adage says, "if you want to be a champion, pick your parents well."

But I submit it might be as much about environment and nurture as it is about genetics.   Cycling is more than just 'a sport'... to do it well, to do it successfully, it needs to become a way of life.   If you grow up in a household that 'gets' the metier, where you don't need to explain it, or justify it...well, quite simply it's a massive advantage.  A calm environment.  The right food.  Not having to fret over equipment and transportation.  Understanding of the need for training, and rest.  The right encouragement during those dangerously demoralizing times this sport dishes out regularly.  Environmental aspects that sound simple, but in reality are very difficult to achieve, and to maintain.  Nurture or nature?  Yes.  Both.

Emile Masson Sr. (left) and Junior.  Paris Roubaix, 1939.
OK, time for the Irish wake songs: "Emile we hardly knew ye...."   

I don't know a lot about Emile Masson, but one thing I do recall is a great quote by his ex-pro father after his son won the 1939 Paris-Roubaix.   Masson senior's best had been 3rd in that race in 1922, and his dream was for his son to finish the business and win "la Pascale."   Overcome with joy at his sons solo victory at Roubaix velodrome, he was quoted as saying, "I really wanted to see you win Paris-Roubaix and die two hours later.  I could go in peace, saying: I have made a champion of my son.   Now, he no longer needs me."

A little like the Roger Daltry line: "I hope I die before I get old."  Stated for dramatic impact, but not really wished for.  No, Emile senior was not taken that day in 1939, but I think he soon might of wished that he had been, for he lived through four years of anguish not knowing whether his son was dead or alive during the war.  Happily reunited, he got to relive that Roubaix joy again after his son returned home safe after the war, and quickly won the Belgian Championships and Bordeaux-Paris.  Like his son, Masson senior lived a long life, only passing away in 1973.

Emile went on after his racing career to be a journalist, and for several years was president of the Pesant Club Liegeois - the organizers of the oldest classic in cycling, La Doyenne, Liege Bastogne Liege.  He was a respected elder statesman of Walloon cycling.

In that April 9, 1939 battle to Roubaix, Emile Masson defeated another favorite Belgian, Marcel Kint - a man nicknamed the 'Black Eagle.'  The French speaking press lauded how the Walloon Masson 'killed' the Black Eagle that day on a pursuit across the broken pave of northern France.

This past Sunday, on the same day Emile Masson passed away, thousands of black birds mysteriously fell dead from the sky in a few square mile area in Arkansas.  As of today, the scientists still couldn't fully explain exactly what caused this bizarre event.

I think I know what it was.  It was Emile Masson, going out in fighting style, slaying black birds again.


  1. The very rapid Neil Hall? Name one race he won?

  2. Ted - Neil was the 'King of Wompatuck'...(I remember he even got Eddy Merckx to call him that during a hotly contested game of darts in Atlantic City many years ago!)

  3. Thank you for this piece. I too knew the name Emile Masson, but not much about him. Thank you for doing the research.

    Another dynasty to be noted is the Simes family. Jackie Simes is a 4th Generation pro, now with Jamis-Sutter Home. His father Jack the 3rd, is the Grand Poobah of US Pro cycling, and cousin Ryan Oelkers is the only modern US pro to have won a pro 6 Day (paired with Marty Nothstein).

  4. Wompatuck was a Tues night training race with no corners and he probably stayed on Mike Rounds wheel the whole time - lol - the good ole days!

  5. Are you just bitter that I beat you to the line at Allentown back in 1980. Maybe it was your hairy legs or your bell helmet that slowed you to the line. I think I remember you being in the field when I lapped the field in Concord NH to put up the goal post for yet another win all before my 18th birthday. Or was it what I won the race in race in Hartford Ct. and you didnt even make the top 10. Maybe it was you had long given up on cycling when I won the Tour of Milbury. I was the king of wampatuck long after mike rounds has hung up the wheels. and yes i did ride fast mike rounds wheel one you could never hang with in a finish. Lets face it Ted your racing days were short and not so sweet. When was the last time you rode a bike anyway?? The last time I saw you the only thing you were riding was a yellow taxi cab that you were driving. is that FX trading?? who's car in the picture?? Anytime you'd like to sit and talk trash about how many wins I have I'd love to. If you can find the time away from that yellow cab you ride in daily.Must be a polish slang word for "cab Driver" , Bring it on Teddy.
    The King of Wampatuck

  6. Shot in the dark here, but saw your reference to Mike Rounds. Anyone know how to get in touch with him? I have an old bike of his...i'd like to reunite him with it.

    1. GIVE Me a call at NBX bikes 401-274-5300 he works for us and im a good friend of his

  7. I was there when Neil hall won the millbury crit. I also have the issue of New England cycling with Neil on the cover easily winning the sprint. Not only was Neil hall an incredibly gifted sprinter and athlete, he was an even better coach and mentor. I was a raw cyclist with a lot of talent and power, but it wasn't till I had Neil as a teammate and coach did I reach my full potential. I lead mikie rounds in a sprint in Marlboro as a cat 3 and almost dropped him. My one and only visit to wampatuck, I won in a solo sneak attack in a 4 man break away with my teammate Wally bixby. Mark McCormack came in second to me in the field sprint behind. My very first day on a beat up, second hand 20 year old Schwinn Madison, Neil coached me to my first of 3 consecutive"fastest man in New England" championships. I lapped the field in the points race with teammate Rick Koch and the legendary billy rounds in tow. I also won the field sprint for good measure against Tom Stevens to solidify my day and name in New England cycling. I went on to win 2 more consecutive track titles and take silver in the pro 12 road race championships after a 90 mile break away where I was the only survivor and one man bridged up to me and beat me on the final climb. I was lucky enough to race with Neil in nutley and sommerville which was the fastest 50 mile crit in u s history in 1993. I can attest to Neil's speed, passion, and dedication to the sport of cycling. I owe all of my achievements to Neil. A great coach, cyclist, strategist, friend, and mentor. Thank you Neil for everything, rob Rinkel. Ebcc cycling club. Persona cycling club. Srp/Merlin cycling team.

    1. Neil deserves all your kudos Rob, thanks for weighing in. I go way back to 1977 racing with him, first as deadly adversary, later as friend and teammate. Many great memories. Some involving bikes, many more with beer and shenanigans. Thanks for reading!


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