Cycling Sociability and Sport in Belle Époque France: the Véloce-club bordelais (1878–92)

Hugh Dauncey

Dauncey H. Cycling Sociability and Sport in Belle Époque France: the Véloce-club bordelais (1878–92). STADION. International Journal of the History of Sport 2020, 44(2), 231-254.

Abstract

The short-lived Véloce-club bordelais (1878-92) was one of France’s leading Belle époque cycling clubs. Although provincial, it was influential in developing cycle-sport nationally, including creating Bordeaux-Paris (1891), one of the founding races of cycling as a developing sport. Study of the internal life of the club shows how its social and sporting identity negotiated centrifugual and centripital forces within the institutional framework of associationism. Searching for the best organisational model for cycling sport and associativity in a period of rapid change in French sport and society, the club was refounded on a number of occasions but, despite many achievements, ultimately collapsed. As an early pioneer club, the Véloce-club bordelais (VCB) was partly a victim of its own success: having struggled to create a new ecosystem of cycling as sport and sociability, changing interests of Bordeaux’s social elite in new, motorised pursuits, or to cycle-touring rather than racing, removed the raison d’être of the club. The club’s demise subsequently created space in the sports-scape for new cycling clubs and other sports associations. Detailed analysis of club activities, internal organisation and management, membership and finances is enabled by its symbiotic relationship with the Véloce-Sport newspaper, which published and discussed much of the club’s sporting, social and administrative life. Close interpretation of the VCB’s brief but intense history shows how sporting sociability intersected with local government, politics and society and how the internal functioning of sports associations in France’s Belle époque demonstrates the significance of sports clubs as part of civil society.


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