Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Light & Legendary: Vitus 979





The 1980s transformed cycle racing-- a new generation of international riders, new materials and methods for cycle frame manufacture, lighter and more efficient components, aero designs and specialised time trial machines-- and was a fascinating and dynamic period because of it. Debuting in autumn 1979, France's Vitus 979 Duralinox frame introduced many of the innovations which characterised the decade which it outlasted to become one of the most successful and best selling professional racing bicycles ever built. 


Conceived amidst the growing globalisation of the cycle industry, the Vitus 979 was a proud nationalistic expression of French design and engineering prowess, bred and built in Saint-Étienne, the historic fount of the Gallic bicycle.  Yet, its palmares in the professional peloton were the first truly international in cycling. This was the era of the "Foreign Legion" invasion of Continental cycling. Australia's Phil Anderson and Allan Peiper, Ireland's Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche, Britain's Graham Jones, Colombia's Luis Herrera and America's Marianne Martin all made their early reputations riding the Vitus 979 to victories at the very top of Continental cycle sport. Moreover, it proved itself in time trialing, stage races, the longest single day competitions and the toughest Spring Classics as one of the most versatile, rugged and reliable professional racing cycles ever built.   

Today, the Vitus name is back on top quality racing frames (with none other than Sean Kelly as their spokesman) and vintage 979s are finding newfound appreciation among collectors for their enduring elegant lines, superb ride and handling as well as being an icon of the 1980's peloton. On its 40th anniversary this year, the Vitus 979 deserves a second look and this article attempts to detail its origins, design, manufacture, professional team use and commercial market models.

So pop-in a cassette of Kraftwerk's Tour de France in your Walkman, and rediscover the 1980s  when the Neuf Sept Neuf  and the Foreign Legion ruled pavé and and peloton


Sean Kelly. Vitus 979. Credit: Photo Sport



STEERING AWAY FROM STEEL


Light enough for a mademoiselle to lift but not yet tough enough for a coureur. Even one wearing a monocle. 

The history and development of aluminium as an alternate to steel in the making of bicycle frames and components goes back almost as far as the safety bicycle itself.  In many ways, aluminium with its remarkable strength to weight ratio and its corrosion resistance made it an ideal material. And one that was readily embraced even before the turn of the last century.  In 1893 the St. Louis Refrigerator and Wooden Gutter Co manufactured the LuMiNum cycle. And there were other comparable manufacturers and models in France which came to lead the way in adoption of aluminium in cycle making. But the reality was that early pure aluminium simply lacked the tensile strength and the resilience of steel and the means of manufacturing it into a cycle frame were few, inadequate and labor intensive.

Credit: http://classicvintagecycling.tumblr.com
It wasn't until the 1930s with the development of alloys which combined aluminium with magnesium and other materials to form duralumin that it gave real practical promise. By the mid 1930s, cast alloy cycle components were common. Employing the material in a frame remained harder to achieve as the means of joining the frame tubes had not caught up with the material innovations.   Monark of the United States reintroduced the aluminium frame in 1935  with its Silver King, but the top tube was heavy and flexy compared to similar steel bicycles.

Pierre Caminade took out a patent on 14 October 1935 for fabrication of an all aluminium cycle frame that employed an all-bolted design of octagonal shaped duraluminium tubes. The bolted on method lessened the very expensive and labour intensive welding of the tubes and materially reduced the cost of the frame. The first "Caminargent" frames were introduced in 1936 in both touring and racing (for road and track) versions, but while an interesting experiment and commercially somewhat success, as a racing frame it still lacked the essential rigidity and strength that traditional lugged steel offered.  Credit: V-CC on-line library.

The Second World War saw enormous advances in the development of stronger alloys and bonding methods in aviation and the adoption of the technology to many other applications after the war. Specially, De Havilland pioneered bonded alloy construction in the development of its Hornet long-range fighter in 1945 building on its huge success with the all-bonded wooden Mosquito light bomber. Alloy cycle components, already in widespread used in the mid to late 1930s using the new Hiduminium alloys, became dominate after the war especially in racing cycles.  

After Britain’s TI Reynolds wrung the last ounce out of the traditional lugged steel racing frame in the mid 1970s with its 753 tubing, Italy and France turned at the decade's end to developing new materials and technology for the bicycle by adopting new advances from the aerospace field in the bonding of alloys, thus continuing the historical relationship between cycling and aircraft that began when bike mechanics Wilbur and Orville Wright pioneered powered flight.

As it was, the French efforts were preceded by a few years by the Italians, notably Falconi Lodovico, an engineer who had worked for Torpado who in 1972 started the Alan brand (after the names of his children Alberto (AL) and Annamaria (AN) and became one of  the most successful makers of aluminium bicycles, virtually dominating the top ranks of cyclocross for 20 years and providing pro road cyclists as well. Alan also supplied frames for other labels including Guerciotti, Fabo, Colnago and others.   The "screwed and glued" Alan frames were the really first successful alloy racing frames ever built and the first to prove themselves in competition.  


An early catalogue listing for the Alan Super Record frameset c. 1973, the first really successful (both in the marketplace and in competition, especially cyclecross) bonded aluminium racing frame. Credit: Bulgier catalogue archives. 



LÉGÈRE ET STÉPHANOISE



French efforts at producing a bonded aluminium racing frame in the 1970s proceeded concurrently with those of the Italians and, like so much of French cycling production, innovation and engineering,  was centered on Saint-Étienne.  It was perhaps fitting that among the last technical, commercial and competitive triumphs of French bicycles should have been centered on the Loire industrial city, about 60 miles southwest of Lyon. For it was here, in 1886, that the Gauthier brothers built the first French bicycle.  By the early 20th century, Saint-Étienne was the home of the component and cycle brands that defined the French cycling industry and ethos: Manufrance, Simplex, Stronglight, Lyotard, Cyclo, Automoto, Mercier and others.  Saint-Étienne was to French bicycles as Nottingham and Birmingham were to English ones. The city was also a major manufacturing center for steel and alloy products.  There, too, Ateliers de la Rive made its Vitus cycling tubing, the French rival of Britain's Reynolds and Italy's Columbus in lightweight cycle tubing development, design and production.




By the 1970s, however, Saint-Étienne's  fortunes, especially in the cycle trade, were on the wane due to reduced domestic sales, high labor costs and unrest and especially the explosion in cycle and component imports from Japan and Taiwan. In 1923-25, 15,000 Stéphanoise were employed in more than 250 cycle firms in the city, by 1973 this had been reduced to 3,000 working for fewer than 50 companies.


Far from the cycle world saw the founding in 1912 by Paul Bador, also in Saint-Étienne, of the company that bore his name centered on the manufacture of industrial packing and handling materials and equipment including banding, straps, fasteners, clamps, seals, sack trolleys and hand trucks.  In 1970 Bador acquired 58% of the shares of Ateliers de la Rive (the remaining shares were owned by the Rollin Dupret family) under a new President, Antoine Dumas. Although this was mainly to increase the production capability of Bador's existing business of steel tubed hand trucks and carts, Dumas took an active interest in Vitus cycle tube business as well as capitalize on its good name in the cycle trade.  Under his aegis, the new Super Vitus 971 (introduced in 1971) and 980 (1980) tubing was developed which was comparable to Reynolds 753 and represented the last word in steel tubing in terms of lightness and strength.

Antoine Dumas was the unlikely father of the one of the most successful French racing bikes of the post-war era. Credit: Le Cycle

Advertisements for Duralinox (an alloy combining aluminium and magnesium (5-12%)) in the French press c. 1968-70.  It was in widespread use already for many applications including automobile bodies, ship structural elements, yachts and household uses.

Ateliers de la Rive/Bador joined forces with another French cycle component firm, Angenieux-CLB, founded in 1946 and well-known for its brakesets, including ultra lightweight alloy ones, the National School of Saint-Étienne, University of Compiègne, CETIM, Cegedur Péchiney (France's leading manufacturer of alloy products and tubing) and America's 3M Company (leaders in adhesive technologies and products) to develop a new process of bonding alloy tubes to precast alloy components was developed. Unlike the Italian Alan, the French aimed for a completely bonded alloy frame with no screws or pins.

Daniel Rebour's meticulous drawings of the Duralinox frames Italian framebuilder Mario Miosotti developed in 1972 in cooperation with Cegedur-Péchiney. This employed traditional lugs, although made of alloy, bonded with Araldite adhesive to the Duralinox tubes.  The concept failed owing to the labor intensive hand-fitting of the lugs around the tubes and uneven adhesion properties.  

In 1972 Cegedur-Péchiney had engaged Italian framebuilder Mario Miosotti to design and build racing frames using its Duralinox 5083 tubing. These were made with special cast alloy lugs, bottom bracket shell and fork crowns to which the tubes were glued with Araldite adhesive. Later examples used steel lugs and bottom brackets in an effort to reduce the production time, but only about 25 were manufactured. Antoine Dumas acquired the patent held by Miosotti and seriously considered adoption of the method for Vitus but after some two years, gave up the idea as there was no efficient or profitable means to manufacture the frames owing to the extensive hand fitting required to achieve a tight fit and  achieve an even adhesive bond.

In 1975-76 Vitus together with Péchiney began work on the first prototypes of alloy tubed racing frames bonded with a new 3M heat activated epoxy.  The well respected Saint-Étienne frame builder Roger Roche was hired to design and build the initial models. It was Roche who hit on the idea of reversing the Miosotti method which had been rooted in conventional steel lugged frame building. So instead of laborously fitting the alloy tubing into the alloy lugs, Roche instead developed the idea of fitting the lugs or frame ends into the tubing as a male-female joining socket. This was the genius solution that not only drastically reduced the hand fitting and labour of construction, but permitted the even flow of adhesive on the entire male-female joint.  Here was a cycle frame not only built of novel materials, but constructed in a wholly new fashion.  At the same time, Angenieux-CLB was developing the alloy bottom bracket and rear triangle castings that Roche had conceived.


On the eve of a New Era in French cycle design and manufacture, indeed its last heyday, Bador SA acquired 100% of the shares of Vitus in 1978. Bador itself had now branched out into the aerospace component manufacture business using many of the same alloy and carbon bonding principles and processes it would apply to the making of its new line of cycle frames.

On 31 July 1978 Paule Defour (CLB) and Antoine Dumas (Bador) were awarded a French patent for a new method of dry heat activated epoxy bonding 5086 aluminium-magnesium alloy tubing to slip-fit cast alloy lugs, drop-outs, bottom bracket and brake bridge made by CLB. This would give a much stiffer and more durable frame than the earlier "screwed and glued" construction of the pioneering Italian Alan dural frames. Vitus brochures outlined some of the other benefits of the concept:
  • jointing by adhesives is a technique widely used in aerospace and
  • aeronautics for the following reasons :
  • it has no influence or effect on the properties of the alloys forming the joint, contrary to jointing by welding or brazing,
  • it affords an even distribution of stress.
  • joints are sealed and protected,
  • there is a degree of elasticity which reduces shock,
  • mechanical properties are excellent,
  • there is a high degree of resistance to corrosion and to ageing.
  • Bonded constructions give excellent results provided that the surface to be joined are scrupulously prepared before the adhesive is applied recommended procedure is carefully followed and time is allowed for hardening, weight bearing suaces and jointing surfaces are adequate and so designed that the amount of adhesive within the lugs can be precisely controlled.


The drawings of the unique Vitus frame assembly concept as presented for its US patent employing cast alloy head tube, bottom bracket, fork, rear triangle, internal slip-fit male-female socket type lugs and drop-outs epoxy bonded to duraluminium tubing forming the main triangle. Credit: http://vitus979.com

The CLB castings for the Vitus 979 drop-outs. Credit: eBay seller Sub954

The component parts of a Vitus 979 ready for assembly: the duraluminium tubing, cast dural stays, fork ends and head tube. Credit: Lyon Municipal Library collection. 

Just as important, Bador conceived and patented (on 3 December 1979) a jig-based production process for the assembly of the frames which was both efficient and economic unlike the Miosotti designs.

The drawings for the patent application (held by Antoine Bador, François Breat and René Lauzier) for the jig-based production method for the new frames.

The bonded construction method was mirrored in a unique co-operative bond of numerous French manufacturers in the production process. The 5086 Duralinox tube sets, fork blades, head tube and stays were manufactured and andodised by Aviatube, Nantes. For Angenieux-CLB, the aluminium foundry Lauzier S.A. produced the cast alloy internal slip-fit lugs, bottom bracket, fork crown, drop-outs and rear brake bridges.  Because of the specialised construction processes which were completely different from conventional steel frame manufacture, it was decided to assign assembly to Bador which already had the experience in bonding alloys and carbon fibre from its aerospace business. Bador adapted its aerospace methods of heat-activated epoxy bonding to joining the Vitus' alloy frame tubes and the CLB cast alloy components.


The Lyon Figaro photographed in 1989 the unique assembly process of the bonded Vitus frames at the Bador factory in Saint-Étienne. Note the special patented jig for assembling the frames and the component parts and the precut tubes and cast CLB components ready for fitting. Credit: Lyon Municipal Library collection. 

VIDEO SHOWING FABRICATION AND ASSEMBLY OF BADOR VITUS 979 FRAMES

https://videotheque.cnrs.fr/doc=55

From: CNRS video library

"Practical measure of adhesion of a glued system", 1983 by the University of Lyon

The performance of a glued system is evaluated here using a mechanical test (three-point bending test) by requesting the center of the specimens until delamination occurs. These samples have the advantage of having only one substrate-adhesive interface. 

The results presented relate to aluminum-epoxy resin and titanium-epoxy resin systems. The series of tests highlights the influence of surface treatments (pickling, anodizing, aging) on ​​the mechanical characteristics (stress-displacement curves, modulus of elasticity, breaking load). The stress distribution is visualized by photoelasticimetry. 

The advantage of bonded assemblies is illustrated by an industrial example: the manufacture of fully bonded bicycle frames. All the manufacturing steps are presented: surface treatment, coloring bath, pore clogging, visual inspection, cleaning before bonding, bonding, thermal cycling to accelerate the polymerization and finally fatigue tests.


In June 1979 Le Cycle listed all of the companies, institutes, organisations and individuals who participated in the conception, design and manufacture of the new frame:

Cegedur-Pechiney, Paris/Lyon (Studies and Technology)
Lauzier S.A., Bourgoin (Aluminium Foundry)
Bador S.A., Saint-Étienne (Production of the frame)
Aviatube, Nantes (Duralinox precision tubing)
C.T.A.L. (Centre Technique de l'Aluminium) Paris (Laboratory bonding tests)
C.E.T.I.M (Centre d'Etudes Techniques des Industries Mecaniques), Saint-Étienne (Techincal advise and tests)
A.R.I.S.T. (Agence Regionale Lyon d'Information Scientifique et Technique), Lyon (Studies on bicycle frames)
U.T.A.C. (Union Technique Paris de l'Automobile, du Motocycle et du Cycle), Paris (Tests of conformity to standards)
3M Minnesota, Paris (Structural adhesive)
Cabinet Charras, Saint-Étienne (Patent research)
Roger Roche, Saint-Étienne (Artisan-Framebuilder, Geometry and design of frame)
SOFOMEC, Saint-Étienne (Tools and models)
Joël Bernard, Saint-Étienne (Professional Cyclist, road trials)
Marc Maleysson, Saint-Étienne (Cyclist, road trials)

At first, Antoine Dumas conceived the idea of supplying established cycle builders and artisans with complete "kits" to assemble the frames, but the constraints of this market as well as ensuring consistency and reliability in the finished product resulted in the then bold idea of Bador building the frames themselves and selling them under the established Vitus name or "badged" for cycle shops and companies.  Hitherto, tubing companies had resisted branding cycles under their own name lest it impact sales to rivals, but the concept of the frame was novel enough to distinguish it from Vitus' existing steel tubing range.

Bador produced no complete bicycles and supplied the finished frames to cycle companies and shops as well as selling its own Vitus branded frames. It is believed these were shipped without any decals (except the Vitus 979 ones), stickers or headbadges which were affixed to the frame by the companies themselves.  It did, however, sell frames with Bador branded headsets and bottom brackets which were, in fact, manufactured by Stronglight. It also sold the special sized 25mm seatposts (believed to have been actually made by JPR) branded as Rubis.

The name Bador appeared nowhere on the frames that it assembled with the exception of the Bador branded versions of the Stronglight Competition D6 (left) and later on Stronglight A9 headsets that normally were supplied with the frames. There was also a Bador branded version of the Stronglight 103 bottom bracket in French, English and Italian threading.  

Bador produced a standardised range of frames which, otherwise identical, were "badged" and "decalled" for most of the principal French cycle firms including Motobecane, Gitane, Liberia, Bertin, Mercier and Peugeot as well as under the Vitus name as framesets or complete machines, in the later case the final assembly was done at the cycle firms own premises. Thus, cycle companies could offer the latest word in racing bicycles without incurring the risks and costs of independent design and development. The Vitus concept was a tremendous boast for the entire French cycle industry in production, market presence both at home and abroad and re-established it tète de la course in the pro peloton.


Joël Bernard of Saint-Étienne of the Gan-Mercier cycling team did the road tests of the new Vitus 979 frameset along with another Stéphanoise cyclist, Marc Maleysson

Joël Bernard (left) with Bador's Antoine Dumas, the originator of the Vitus 979 frame.







THE VITUS 979 RACING FRAME 1979-1997

Légèreté  exceptionnelle
Rigidité et souplesse étonnantes
Design raffiné
Excellente résistence à  la corrosion et au vieillissement
TOUT ES NOUVEAU DANS CE CADRE!

1979 Vitus introductory announcement, September 1979


Saint-Étienne based frame builder Roger Roche shown with one of the first Vitus 979 machines, was responsible for the design of the frame and its unique aesthetic and technical qualities. Few frame builders created a cycle design that was used in more models, in such quantities and over such a span of time as well as one that ranks as among the most beautiful ever conceived.  Credit: Le Cycle, 1979, courtesy http://veloretrocourse.proboards.com

In an era when the quality racing bike was still defined by bespoke, handmade traditionally lugged frames, the brazing skill of individual artisans and the exquisite cut and finish of the lug work, bonded or screwed together alloy frames often assumed aesthetic qualities more associated with pipe fitting. Or, as the early Miosotti design, recall the pre-war alloy frames with their combination of traditional lugs and alloy tubing. Nor did most of them offer the stiffness and responsiveness of lugged steel frames or the practicality and durability demanded of competitive racing frames.  The performance, proven racing success and the timeless aesthetic of the Vitus 979 frame owes much, if not all, to the genius of Roger Roche.

Roger Roche, the designer of the Vitus 979 frame. Credit: Le Cycle, Nov 1979

An exquisite fillet-brazed Reynolds 753 by Roger Roche, 1981. Credit: Flickr, member Jack Brown aka Willy Lee.

October 1979 listing for Roger Roche showing his Competition Super Leger model, entirely chrome-plated. Credit: http://veloretrocourse.proboards.com

French frame builder Roger Roche, who first learned frame building as an apprentice at Automoto in 1947, had since the mid 1970s his own well-regarded workshop in Saint-Étienne producing bespoke racing frames of the highest quality. Roche had already collaborated with Vitus and the French aluminium producer Pechiney on experimental concepts when he was engaged by Antoine Dumas to design the frame and the dural castings. It was Roche who turned the unique concept and materials into one of the most attractive and best handling racing bicycles of the era, a perfect combination of traditional frame design and artisan craftsmanship and modern methods and materials.  Moreover, it proved one of the most timeless designs ever created for lightweight bicycles being in production for nearly two decades and forming the basis for frames for road and track cycling, cyclecross, time trialling and touring. Moreover, the design and construction processes proved readily adaptable to different shaped dural tubing as well as carbon fibre tubes.


A very early Roche Vitus 979 bicycle and perhaps a prototype (note the concealed rear brake cable; initial production machines 1979-80 had conventional exposed cable in top tube clips). Credit: https://forum.tontonvelo.com

Build details from the same machine showing the "RR" engravings characteristic of a Roger Roche frame. Credit: https://forum.tontonvelo.com

A rare Vitus 979 machine built by Roger Roche, the small artisan builder who designed the Vitus frame. This features beautiful custom engaving of his "RR" logo on the fork crowns, seat stay caps and head tube. Note also the engraved "Vitus 979" on the fork blades which the earlier frames had instead of a decal and also the early Vitus 979 decal. credit: http://veloretrocourse.proboards.com

The principal advantage of aluminium, its extraordinary light weight, was fully realised in the new Vitus 979 frame.  This was the lightest competitive cycle frame of its day, weighing about 30% less than a top-end Reynolds or Columbus steel one. A 59 cm  (c-c) Vitus 979 frame and fork tipped the scales at just 1.8 kg or just under 4 lbs.  Moreover, this was when lightness in components was valued (compared to the ensuing "aero" craze when adding mass and thus weight and "streamlining" it was considered an improvement) and nowhere else more than France whose Huret Jubilee derailleur, CLB brakes, Mavic Argent/Or 7 rims, Stronglight Hinault headsets and Stronglight titanium spindle bottom brackets were the lightest in the world. Even without going to extremes, it was possible (and nearly impossible not to) achieve a top-class racing bike built around a Vitus 979 frame set that weighed no more than 18 lbs and with a little effort, half a pound less.

Frame specifications for the Vitus 979 from the introductory brochure. 

Designed to true racing standards, the Vitus 979 featured an aggressive geometry with steep angles (74° head/74° seat), a very resilient short rake (1 9/16") fork, short 16" chainstays and vertical drop-outs giving a wheelbase of just 38.5" and making for an exceptionally nimble, light handling machine. Provision was made for Allen recessed bolt short reach (38-47) brakes. This was all exceptionally up-to-date, indeed very forward thinking in 1979. Indeed, it enabled Vitus to use many of the same alloy castings on later, ensuing carbon fibre tubed models years later.

Provision was made for English, French or Italian bb and headset threading although the overwhelming percent of early models had French threading. While early models did not, the bb shell was soon chamfered to take the Mavic and Stronglight cartridge style bottom bracket.

Like most of the great classic French racing bikes of the post-war era, the new Vitus 979 was the object of the meticulous artwork of Daniel Rebour. His illustration of the frame, the last new French design he would depict, appeared in another "end of an era", the final Milremo (Ron Kitching) catalogue in 1983. In addition to the UK market, the Vitus frame was also sold in Germany by Brügelmann.

The Vitus 979 frame was one of most pleasing and attractive ever made, refreshingly new and distinctive yet not freakish or modish. The retention of conventionally sized tubes gave it a traditional appearance offset by the quietly contemporary shaping of the cast alloy stays and fork, all rendered in a pleasing polished natural satin finish and contrasting with the vivid anodised coloured main tubes. The fork was possibly the most attractive feature with its oversized ovalised (33x8) blades designed specifically to blend harmoniously with the head tube as well as providing an exceptionally resilient ride and quick handling. This was available separately for installation on conventional frames and came in two rake sizes.

On a practical note, the complete lack of painted finishes made the frame both cheaper to manufacture and maintain as well as more durable. Here was a cycle frame where function dominated, but the inherent aesthetics were sublime and very effective. The cast head tube, forks, bottom bracket and rear triangle were satin finished duralinox, the three main tubes were, in addition to natural satin finished duralinox, available in a range of anodised colours: light blue, dark blue, red, pink, violet, gold and unique to Peugeot, a copper bronze colour. Cycle brand decals and head badges were added.






The first Vitus 979 brochure c. 1979 introducing the frameset, construction techniques and the fork. Credit: V-CC on-line library. 

The one deficiency of the Vitus frame was the inherent flex of the duralinox tubing which was conventional metric size and less laterally strong than steel tubing. The was especially apparent in the bottom bracket and, of course, more apparent in larger frame sizes so much so that although offered in as large as a 64 cm (to the British and US markets), it is generally not found in anything larger than a 59 cm and was not recommended for riders over 180 lbs. Such was the bottom bracket flex for strong riders that longer crank spindles were often used to prevent the inevitable chain ring rub on the stays when riding out of the saddle. This was certainly not a machine for "mashers" and it was little wonder that the French coined the term souplesse for the ideal pedal stroke for the rider of any machine and especially beneficial for the rider of a Vitus 979 frame.

Yet, all this also gave the Vitus 979 superb road dampening qualities on the worst road surfaces and conditions making it popular on grueling day events like the Paris-Roubaix and the spring classics as well as proving the great inherent strength of the frame. What proved remarkably effective was the glue bonding of the essential joints in normal use although in hard competitive cycling, most teams replaced the frames each season. And it was said that powerful sprinters like Sean Kelly swapped out his Vitus frames every month or so before they "got soft". It was even said that Kelly deliberately rode a slightly undersized frame to obtain a stiffer ride. In this, the Vitus was the opposite of the custom-crafted "bespoke" steel frame, one that became an old friend and used for years by riders who trusted nothing else. It was the beginning of a new era of the racing cycle as a piece of superbly engineered sports equipment no different from a golf club or tennis racket in its essentials and perception.

Even so, the flexibility of the frame led to the adaptation of much stiffer carbon fibre tubes in the main triangle, the Vitus Plus Carbone, in October 1983 and, as covered in a separate article, the even stiffer larger diameter carbon tubing used on the Peugeot PY-10FC (Fibre du Carbone) 1983-86.  Although it is hoped to devote a separate article on the Vitus Plus Composite frames in the future, it's worth noting here that the bonding process was completely different for these frames as non thermal activated epoxy had to be employed with the carbon tubes and there was no added strength imparted by the press fit quality of the original duralinox tubes into the alloy castings. All of which made these frames more prone to frame failures or "bebonding" than the 979s. Frame failures with 979s are very very rare and often confused with the later carbon variants.

The standard Vitus 979 frames, though were a huge success, and sold through 1997 (and indeed later than that when the large US mail order firm Nashbar) sold a large lot of leftover stock as late as 2003. They were indeed the last French built frames to really have a market impact as well as presence in the pro peloton and coupled with the hugely popular Mavic group, were a final French pro cycling icon.

1980 Vitus 979 Duralinox «Tout Mavic» 1ère série
serial no. A007199  (199th frame built in July 1980)
author's collection







The initial production run of Vitus 979 frames (beginning in June 1979) had conventional top tube brake cable guides rather than the Roche designed internal cabling. This was finally incorporated in late 1980.

Frames dating from 1979-early 1980 had the "Vitus 979" feather logo engraved on the fork blades rather than a decal. As the forks were produced independently from the frames, it is not uncommon to see the older stamped forks on newer frames.  Initially the steerer tube was alloy, but this was found to induce vibration and shuddering under hard braking and was replaced by a steel steerer by the early 1980s. This added about 300 g. to the weight of a 59 cm frame (1808 g. to 2100 g.)

With frame no. 500, mounting holes for a water bottle cage were fitted on the down tube. A second pair of bosses on the seat tube was introduced in mid 1985.

Very early (c. 1979) Vitus 979 frames had fork blades engraved as above. Later examples had Vitus 979 decals. 

Early Vitus 979 forks came with mudguard eyes on the fork ends. This example dates as late as 1982 but earlier examples have no eyelets.  Credit: Thierry Favreau, Flickr

Early 979 frames (c.1979-80) had this CLB cast bottom bracket under shell with an extrusion cable guide rather than the later twin cable plastic guide. Note also the sequential numeric serial number also indicating an early machine. As well as the non chamfered bb shell.  Credit: Steel-Vintage.com

The CLB bottom bracket undershell from late July 1980 onwards production models showing the press fit plastic cable guide and the new serial number convention pre-fixed by a letter ("A" starting with 1980) and numerals.  In this case, F068314 indicates 1986 (6) August (8) and the number of frame completed that month (314). There are examples of frames with the older style bb and the new serial numbering dating from mid 1980. Credit: Steel-Vintage.com

The bottom bracket shell as modified c. 1984 with a 45° chamfer on the leading edge to accommodate the new Mavic and Stronglight cartridge bottom bracket assemblies.  Credit: eBay seller productionpro

One weakness of the original design, the cracking of the alloy "ears" for the seat post binder bolt, led to redesign of the seat post lug in 1986 to incorporate an internal grub screw to hold a newly designed 25 mm Rubis pattern style seat pillar. 

The original CLB casting for the seat tube with the conventional "ears" for the seat post binder bolt. This was used on c. 1979-86 frames but had a weakness for cracking at the ears.  Credit: Steel-Vintage.com


In 1985 Vitus introduced an entirely new seat tube cap casting incorporating a new grub-screw fixing for the seat post. Credit: Steel-Vintage.com

Drawing of the new grub-screw fixing seat post introduced to Vitus 979 frames c. 1985


VITUS 979 WARRANTY CARD AND INSTRUCTIONS
















A Bador ad from early 1982 which promotes the traditional round tubed 979 and new "Arcor" and "Losange" aero designs.


The 1983 Vitus catalogue introducing the two new aero versions of 979 tubing. Credit: Paul Gittins


The new "Losange" aero frameset, available only in Royal Blue. Credit: Paul Gittins


The Arcor Goutte d'Eau or waterdrop shaped tubed 979 frameset. This was the first produced and while not in production for more than a year or so, is the more commonly seen today. Credit: Paul Gittins


The conventional round tube 979 frameset. Credit: Paul Gittins



The colour selection for 979 tubing for 1983 showing the Grey-Blue normally associated with Motobecane badged models. The unique Bronze colour reserved for Peugeot badged PX-10DUs is not shown. Credit: Paul Gittins


Showing the unique aero profiled seat stays of the Losange and Arcor models. Credit: Paul Gittins


Frame details from the 1983 catalogue showing the internal rear brake cabling, the nylon bottom bracket cable guide and the unique reference to the threaded holes for possible mudguard fixing on the bb shell casting.  Also shown are the Bador stamped headset and bottom bracket, both made by Stronglight. Note, too, the shell is not chamfered yet to take the new cartridge bb assemblies made by Mavic and Stronglight. Credit: Paul Gittins


The fork as depicted in 1983 by which time the provision of front fork ends without mudguard eyelets was offered as an option.  Credit: Paul Gittins


VITUS 979  «LOSANGE»  & «ARCOR»  AERO FRAMES

Perfection Mekanik
Aero Dynamik
Materiel et Technik
Aero Dynamik
Condition et Physik
Aero Dynamik
Position et Taktik
Aero Dynamik
Carbone Aluminium
Cadre (vélo) Titanium
Aéro dynamik
Aéro dynamik

lyrics from "Aero Dynamik" from "Tour de France" by Kraftwerk, 1983

Further enshrining the Vitus 979 into the pantheon of most everything 1980s racing bike was its stylish figuring in one of the great fads and fancies of the period: The Aero Craze.  Like so much of cycling then, it was originally promulgated by relative newcomers as the first big market and product innovation of the Japanese, specifically Shimano's development of the revolutionary aerodynamic Dura Ace 7300 and 600 AX series of components which were introduced in autumn 1980. This was preceded by Araya in 1979 with its first aero pattern rims and bladed aerodynamic spokes. Around these novel components, Tsunoda designed and built innovative aero cycle frames employing a new Tange aero profile oval tubing set which, like the Bador Vitus frames, were "badged" for a variety of cycle firms.

The French were in no way behind the Japanese and in late 1981 Vitus introduced a version of their 980 Super Vitus tubing, the "Profil  Arcor", an "aero" shaped set  and a Vitus 888 series in aero shapes, "Vitus Profil". That year Gitane introduced a special aero time trial machine for time trials that was used by Bernard Hinault and the Renault-ELF team although this was made of special Reynolds tubing. In many respects, it was similar to the Tsunoda machines.  A commercial model appeared as early as 1981, the Gitane Profil RS.

All of these steel-tubed aero machines shared one thing in common in addition to their Shimano components: weight. And lots of it. To provide the extra lateral strength to the ovalised steel tubing, the gauge had to be increased and that, plus the added mass of the streamlined components, made these tip at the scales at 22-22.5 lbs, a good two pounds more than a top end conventional steel tubed racing bike and as much as four pounds more than a Vitus 979.  But it was the look and novelty that drove the passion for aero everything and anything and most cycle companies introduced aero machines including the French Mercier, Motobecane, Peugeot and the aforementioned Gitane.



It was Vitus who managed to produce the aero effect and the aero look whilst still retaining light weight by tweaking its 979 tubing to create two aero models in 1982.  In both, the seat and down tubes were shaped to achieve an aerodynamic profile with an oval ("Arcor") or lozenge ("Losange") contour in mid section whilst retaining the round shape at the ends to use the existing cast allow lugs and bottom bracket shell as well as still take a bolt on front derailleur. The seat stays, too, were flattened in mid section to give an aero profile. All this gave significant improvement in the aerodynamic efficiency of the frame and the market driven "aero look" whilst retaining the same weight of a conventional 979 frame.


The prototype of the new Vitus 979 Arcor aero frame. From Le Cycle October 1981. Credit: http://veloretrocourse.proboards.com

The  "Arcor", like the same named aero version of Super Vitus 980 steel tubing,  featured a classic "water drop" oval shape. The name was derived from the popular hard candy whose shape resembled the overalised tubing. This model was only available in one colour, natural anodised duralinox.

With the "Losange" Aero model. The seat and down tubes were flattened to achieve an aerodynamic profile with a lozenge shape in mid section. This model was available only in Royal Blue anodised duralinox.

The aesthetics of the "Arcor" and "Losange" were mixed, from some angles looking like a conventional 979 that had been run over by a bus, but mostly it was a striking visual effect made more appealing rendered in modern bonded duralinox rather than steel tubing and lugs. Here was an aero bicycle modern in method, materials and mode and, uniquely, a light one.

By 1982, French firms like Simplex, Stronglight, Wolber, Maillard, Atax and Philippe had introduced their own take on "aero" component designs so that it was possible to achieve a Tout Française aero machine with the Vitus 979 aero frame.

The aero craze dominated much of the racing bike industry from 1980-84, but its impact on the professional peloton was more circumspect. Indeed, only the French managed to introduce pure aero  machines into racing at the top levels with Gitane leading the way and the Vitus "Arcor" was used, at minimum, by the Swiss team Cilo in time trialling.


From Le Cycle, October 1982. Credit: http://veloretrocourse.proboards.com


The shortlived "aero" version of the 979 introduced in mid 1982 during the height of the equally shortlived aero craze featured flattened or lozenge seat and down tubes. From the c. 1984 Vitus catalogue by which time the "Arcor" model had already been withdrawn. 

Judging from the number of surviving examples and its short production life, both the "Arcor" and the "Losange", like so many of the aero machines of the period, were not a success, their sales a victim of the fad quality of the aero craze and the diminished lateral strength of the frames, exacerbated by the inherent flex of the duralinox tubes. If anything, the "Losange" was the more successful of the two as the tubing shape imparted superior lateral strength compared to the ovalised "Arcor".  The "Arcor" appears to have only been in production in 1982 while the "Losange" was made 1982-85.

A Vitus "Arcor" frameset, no. F027648, as offered on eBay in October 2018. The fork may be a later replacement as it has a 1990s pattern decal. 

Details from the same frame showing the unique details of the ovalised seat stays, down tube and seat tube.

Another Vitus "Arcor" as offered on eBay January 2019 badged as a Ruegger (Zurich). The frame pump, however, rather defeats the aero profile of the seat tube!

A Vitus 979 "Losange" frameset, serial no. F027496 (496th frame built in July 1982). These were made only in Royal Blue. Credit: Thierry Favreau, Flickr
Frame details showing the unique flattened or lozenge profiled seat and down tubes. Credit: Thierry Favreau, Flickr

Details of the rear stays of this model which were flattened to provide an aero profile. Credit: Thierry Favreau, Flickr


VITUS LADIES & LO-PRO FRAMES

Under the new leadership of Gérard Dumas who took assumed Directorship of Bador from his father in early 1986, Vitus dramatically widened its range to suit new markets and trends in cycling.  And while most of this was directed towards the increasingly popular and race proved Carbone 3 and Carbone 9 models, new concepts like the Futural monostay and new versions of the 979 ensured that the bonded duralinox frame remained at the core of the company's product line.  By 1987, more than 100,000 Vitus 979 frames of all types had been sold and there were new colours and model variants to keep the line fresh and au currant. These included a ladies frame model and "lo-pro" or low profile types for both track and road.


The Vitus 979 as shown in the c. 1987 catalogue showing one of the new colours, anodised violet and the new seat stay cap taking the grub screw seat post fixing. Credit: V-CC on-line library.

The ladies frame variant of the 979 is rare enough today to suggest it was not a big seller, but certainly was the lightest of its type on the market. It also had clearance for mudguards and the cast alloy fork ends had mudguard eyelets. From the c. 1987 catalogue. Credit: V-CC on line library.

The ladies frame Vitus 979. Credit: https://www.velosaloon.com

Details from the same frame showing the unique alloy castings for this model. Credit: https://www.velosaloon.com

A ladies frame Vitus 979 c. 1987 built-up. Despite all of these examples, Vitus did offer other colour choices instead of violet although it appears the "default" or most popular colour.  From an eBay auction, January 2019. 

Details from the same bicycle showing the new castings and brake arrangement for the ladies model. This was quite the lightest and most sophisticated traditional ladies framed racing bicycle on the market at the time.  

Rarer still are the low-profile variants of the 979 (the carbon fibre tubes ones being more common) which were a special order option. From the c. 1987 catalogue. Credit: V-CC on line library.

The track version of the low-profile 979 showing the special track ends. This, too, was only available by special order. From the c. 1987 catalogue. Credit: V-CC on line library.

Among the rarer varieties of Vitus 979s are the low-pro track frames of which the above is an exceptional example. Credit: Flickr, member benjth

The same frame built-up. Credit: Flickr, member benith

By 1987, the colour range had been expanded to include an epoxy white finish in addition to the other anodised colours. Credit: V-CC on-line library.

The timeless beauty of the Vitus 979 frame perfectly captured in a January 2019 eBay auction for a NOS 60 cm frameset, serial no. E105384 (384th frame built in May 1990), French threading. Credit: eBay seller productionpro

Showing the head tube pump peg added c. 1989. Credit: eBay seller productionpro

The beautiful visual cohesion of the alloy head tube and fork blades which was a hallmark of Roger Roche's design. Credit: eBay seller productionpro

The rear triangle with the unique narrowing of the stays above the brake bridge. And yes, the original Vitus warranty card, too! Credit: eBay sellerproductionpro

Showing the Vitus 979 tubing sticker, the 4th variation of this and not quite the last and the gear lever bosses. Credit: eBay seller productionpro

The rear drop-outs, original CLB castings dating from 1979.  Credit: eBay seller productionpro

Bottom bracket undershell. Credit: eBay seller productionpro


The Vitus 979 in the c. 1992 catalogue. Credit: author's collection.

The  979 in the 1996 Vitus brochure. By then, the fork was the new aero "Evolution" design. 

The 979 in the 1997 (and final) Vitus catalogue. Credit: http://www.retrobike.co.uk

Introduced in 1980, the new Mavic 1000 SSC component ensemble went together with the new Vitus 979 like Gruyere cheese on onion soup. Together, they represent the acme of French racing bicycles and a final heyday. Credit: Velopages.com




The Vitus 979 frame is still associated today with Tout Mavic components. This was the winning combination made famous by Sean Kelly, the Colombian National team and others which created an iconic 1980s peloton image. And fittingly, too, since the development of an all Mavic component group began at about the same as work commenced on the bonded Duralinox frame. Both, too, were French (although admittedly elements of the Mavic ensemble were of foreign manufacture) and provided the Tricolour with its final market and peloton reputation, sale impact and status.  The Mavic group together with the off the shelf standard 979 frame fulfilled the long desired need for a "neutral" racing bicycle, itself derived from Mavic's famed neutral peloton support service that started in 1973.  Gradually introduced from late 1975, Mavic finally released its full (the headset being the final addition) Mavic 1000 SSC  Ensemble in late 1979 for the 1980 model year, the "SSC" standing for its well known "Speciale Service  des Courses" race support and coinciding with the introduction of the Vitus 979.




The updated Mavic SSC 1000 ensemble dating from 1985 which is most associated with  Mavic sponsored teams of the era including Kas and the Vitus 979.

Rouler 'facile et sûr'.... Credit: eBay seller productionpro


INTRODUCTION & EARLY PRODUCTION


The first advertisement by Bador in Le Cycle August-September 1979. credit: http://veloretrocourse.proboards.com

The Vitus 979 was introduced at the Salon du Cycle in September 1979 with machines badged as Bertin (left) and Liberia (right). credit: http://veloretrocourse.proboards.com

Another early (c. November 1979) show exhibit of the new Vitus 979 frame showing the different anodised finishes available. Credit: www.delcampe.net

Developed throughout 1978, the Vitus 979 racing bike was introduced to the public in September 1979 at the Salon du Cycle, Paris, winning the Prix du President de la Republique.  So that, with little coincidence, the 979 came out in 9.79 although actual production had begun that June.


The December 1979 cover of  Le Cycle featured the new Vitus 979 frame.

The new frame was an unqualified success and enjoyed sustained demand both in France and abroad that was reflected in ever rising production figures and export share. On 10 December 1980 the 10,000th Vitus frame was completed (since June 1979) and 20 per cent of the production was exported. By the end of 1981, 20,000 frames had been built and export was up to 25 per cent and by then end of 1982, it rose to 34 per cent. 1983 was a break-out year for the model with substantial exports to the United States, Japan and Italy and overall, exports accounted for 45 per cent of production. In 1984, annual production hit a high of 17,000 frames a year or 80 per day and half the output was exported. Even Italy, that bastion of nationalism when it came to racing cycles, was importing 125 frames a month.


Antoine Dumas (extreme right) and Paule Defour (head of CLB Angenieux) see off the dispatch of the Bador exhibit for the New York Cycle Show in February 1982 at the Lyon-Satolas Airport.  A complete Vitus 979 was also exhibited at the famous Librairie française at New York's Rockefeller Center during the fair.  By this time, exports made up 34% of Bador's annual sales with an ever increasing number being sold in the U.S. Credit: Aviation Francaise

On 16 May 1984 the 50,000th Vitus 979 frame left the Bador factory. This coincided a few days later with a stage in Saint-Étienne of the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré and a special celebration was organised at the beginning of the race attended by Lucien Neuwith, Counsel General of the Loire Region, Paule Defour, President-General Director of CLB-Angenieux, Jean Rollin, Director of Ateliers de la Rive and  Antoine Dumas of Bador.

Article in Le Cycle heralding the 50,000 Vitus frame built to date (1984) and showing the new Carbone 3 frame. Credit:  http://veloretrocourse.proboards.com

At this time, Bador employed as many as 196 workers, and the Vitus 979 and its variants was one of the most successful cycle frames of the post-war era as well being in production in its essential original form for almost two decades. In all, over 130,000 were manufactured by 1992 with an estimated 145,000 reached by the time production finally ended five years later.

The 979 paved the way for an entire generation of bonded Vitus frames made of both all alloy and also incorporating carbon fibre, first in the main triangle (Vitus Plus Carbone in autumn 1983), then all nine tubes (Vitus Plus+9 in 1986) which used many of the same cast alloy components of the 979. A new design, the 992, which featured an integral headset and ovalised aero Duralinox tubing, was introduced in September 1991.

By the time this photo was taken in 1989 of Gérard Dumas (who took over as Chief Executive Officer of Bador from his father, Antoine Dumas in 1986), the company had a ₣85 mn. annual turnover of which 60% was exported and only ₣17 mn. came from Bador's original packing material trade.  The company was then the world's largest manufacturer of aluminium bicycles. Credit: Lyon Municipal Library collection. 






979 TÊTE DE LA COURSE 1980-1988

Sean Kelly, Sem France-Loire Vitus 979. Spring 1982. Credit: Flickr, member Nelson 1.2.3

Commercial market success for a racing bike or frame depends very much on its success and bona fides in that far more more select slice of the trade: the professional peloton. Here, non steel frames hitherto had little or no presence or success prior to the 1970s and the Alan was the first alloy frame to be used professionally. But it was the Vitus 979 that was the first really dominate non steel frame on the pro road circuit. It and its later carbon tubed variants figured prominently in road racing throughout the 1980s and into the 90s, proving the ruggedness and the reliability of the bonded frame under the most exacting conditions and erasing all doubts as to its qualities. In a wider sense, the Vitus 979 also re-established the French in racing cycle design and performance with French teams the first to place the new model tete de la course almost as soon as it was introduced.

On account of its lightness as well as initial caution as to its durability, the Vitus 979 was initially reserved for time trials and mountain stages, but as Antoine Dumas recalled in connection with Sem/France-Loire's initial experience with the frame, most riders came to prefer to use it on all stages instead of their alternate steel machines.  This included Paris-Roubaix where its notorious pavé was a test of ruggedness unsurpassed in the pro circuit and where it excelled both in reliability and in its unique road dampening quality. But the Vitus 979 was the beginning of a trend towards specialty machines especially on time trial stages that would burgeon in the 1980s-90s. For some teams, like Peugeot, the Vitus 979 marked the first time that it had two distinct and different racing machines as team issue.

The Vitus 979 was very much an "off the shelf" racing bicycle, indeed it was produced in an assembly line factory that in itself was entirely different from the usual small artisan frame builders who usually custom made frames for individual riders.  Antoine Dumas claimed that 95% of professional riders could indeed use off the shelf models in their size and be quite content once they got over the idea of accepting a non custom made frame. In an interview, he recalled that the first custom made 979 frame, for Sem/France-Loire star Joaquim Agostinho, was not to his liking but not on account of any error on Bador's part. Eager to get his bicycle, team manager de Gribaldy instead gave Agostinho a stock model in his size and he was perfectly happy with it.  Indeed, there was little scope for true customisation given the stock alloy frame castings which were prohibitively expensive to retool for "one-offs".  It was, common, however, for professional team machines to be built with shorter (10 mm) chain stays to give improve handling.

For a racing bicycle that represented the acme and indeed the last triumph of French cycle design, engineering, innovation and aesthetics, the Vitus 979 ironically helped usher in a new era when French and Continental coureurs were challenged by a new generation of upstart foreigners. This was indeed the mount  that Phil Anderson (Australia), Allan Peiper (Australia), Stephen Roche (Ireland), Sean Yates (Great Britain), Sean Kelly (Ireland) and Luis Herrera (Colombia) rode to their first important and head turning wins. The greatest Irish cyclist, Sean Kelly, won no fewer than 80% of his victories riding the Vitus 979 and its later carbone variants up to his 1992 Milan-San Remo win on a Vitus 992. The Tout Française racing bike garnered palmares that were among the most international in racing history to date.

Detail from 1982 Vitus poster. Credit: https://de.todocoleccion.net

Its first year in the professional peloton in 1980, the Vitus 979 was ridden to six victories by one team and one rider from another team. The following year the number of teams rose to two and in 1983, to six with 46 professional wins and 250 amateur wins. By May 1984, 10 teams using the machine had already tallied 30 wins so far that year.


Bador advertisement April 1983 showing the tally of victories achieved on 979s in the early racing season that year alone. Credit: http://veloretrocourse.proboards.com/

What follows is a resumé of professional teams that used the Vitus 979 frame in racing competition from 1980-1988 and in rough order of introduction. Towards the end, it was largely supplanted by the newer Vitus Plus Carbone 3 and 9 variants and there was a lot of mixing of the types among Vitus equipped teams and the below concentrates only on the 979 in competition.


SAFIR-LUDO 1980
SAFIR-LUDO-GALLI 1981


The new Vitus 979 was ridden to its first professional victory by one of cycling's true "Iron Men", the Belgian cyclist Herman Van Springel on 18 May 1980 on one of the sport's toughest (and oldest) races: the Paris-Bordeaux which he won no fewer than seven times between 1970-81. On this, his sixth victory, he did the 558.5 km in 12 h. 46 m. 20. s. on a gold-coloured Vitus 979.  Riding for the Belgian team, Safir-Ludo, it was his personal choice of mount for the race as the team otherwise rode steel framed machines that year.

Van Springel riding behind a derny  during the 1980 Paris-Bordeaux on his Vitus 979.
Credit: http://montour1959lasuite.blogspot.com

At the Finish Line, Van Springel gains his sixth Paris-Bordeaux win astride his gold Vitus 979, the first professional win for the marque.

The End of an Era: Van Springel on his last Paris-Bordeaux race in 1981 and his record breaking 7th win. Note that year his Vitus 979 is shod with gold  Galli rims. In 1981 the Safir-Ludo team was part sponsored by Galli and the machines fitted with their components that year.  

1981 Paris-Bordeaux. Credit: http://montour1959lasuite.blogspot.com


SEM-FRANCE LOIRE-CAMPAGNOLO 1981-82
SEM–FRANCE LOIRE–MAVIC January–May 1983
SEM-REYDEL-MAVIC May–December 1983


Jean de Gribaldy, the veteran manager of the new Sem/France-Loire Team, was one of the early champions of the new Vitus 979 frame in the pro peloton and it came to be associated with his most famous protege, Irish rider Sean Kelly, who joined the team in 1982.

The Vitus racing frame is indelibly associated with two remarkable figures in cycling: Jean de Gribaldy (1922-1997) and Sean Kelly. They, more than anyone else, established it in the pantheon of greatest and most winning racing machines of all time. de Gribaldy, one of the most successful Directeur Sportifs in the cycling, made his reputation developing new talent and giving experienced but star-crossed riders new starts and was the first team manager to wholeheartedly embrace the new Vitus frame. Indeed, the last and most successful years of his career as a Team Manager, 1980-87, coincided with the heyday of the 979 frame.

de Gribaldy, known as the le Vicomte (Viscount) on account of his aristocratic ancestry, was a professional racing cyclist for decade (with Peugeot and Terrot) starting just after the War and took up team managing in 1964. In 1979, he was managing the Flandria team and when that disbanded at the end of the year, he took French section of the squad and formed Puch-Sem-Campagnolo team in 1980. Portuguese rider Joaquim Agostinho, formerly with Flandria, was the captain of the new team. As the squad's name suggests, the Austrian Puch firm supplied the team's bicycles that first year during which Agostinho finished fifth in the 1980 Tour de France.

Cycles France-Loire was started in 1960 by Ateliers de la Loire. Although much of its production was popular priced and mid-range bicycles, it introduced a special range of quality lightweights including two homage models to the great rivals Anquetil and Poulidor in 1978. In 1981 the company assumed co-sponsorship of the Puch-Sem team and its name became world famous as a result.

In 1981, Sem assumed primary sponsorship of the team now shared with the Saint-Étienne cycle company France-Loire which was renamed Sem-France Loire. de Gribaldy remained Directeur Sportif and Agostinho, Team Captain. With the Puch association ended, the Vitus 979 was adopted as the primary team machine (with Campagnolo components) although that year alternated with Super Vitus conventional steel frames. It was entirely fitting that a team partly sponsored by a Saint-Étienne cycle company should be the first to be equipped with the new Vitus 979.

The new Sem-France Loire team of 1981. On the left, the team is credited with being equipped with "Super Vitus" France-Loire machines, but in fact it would almost exclusively use France-Loire badged Vitus 979s and be the first professional team to do so. Credit: www. jeandegribaldy.com


The highlight of the year for the team was when Serge Bucherie, riding a Vitus 979, became road race champion of France on 21 June 1981. Joaquim Agostinho placed second in that year's Critérium du Daupine Libéré.

The veteran Portuguese champion, Joaquim Fernandes Agostinho (1943-1984), was the star rider around which de Gribaldy built the new Sem-France/Loire team in 1980-81 and the first prominent rider to compete on the new Vitus 979.  Credit: jeandegribaldy.com

The Sem-France Loire Team was the first to introduce the new Vitus 979 frame to the professional peloton and win the team first victories on the frame.  Here, Sem-France Loire riders on a team time trial in 1981 riding 979s and also (far left) conventional steel frame machines. Credit: Cycling Archive, Erik Van Herck

Serge Beucherie won the Road Champion of France title in 1981 riding a Vitus 979 for Sem-France Loire. Credit: Eric Van Taas. 

Serge Beucherie poses with his Vitus 979 machine in this poster offered by Le Cycle to commemorate his winning of the Road Champion of France title.  The Sem-France Loire machines had full Campagnolo components and Cinelli stem and 'bars.  Note the  top tube mounted rear brake cable of these early models.  Credit: eBay auction

At the end of June 1981, in the gardens of the Besançon Casino, presentation of the Sem France-Loire Team before the start of that year’s Tour de France. Jean de Gribaldy is holding Serge Beucherie's tricolor jersey which he won as Champion of France on the 21st. Credit: www.jeandegribaldy.com

The biggest event of 1981 for the team happened behind the scenes when that summer, Sean Kelly got in touch with his former directeur sportif about joining the team. de Gribaldy eagerly got the sponsorship and contract organized in time for the 1982 season with Kelly designated as team leader. It marked the beginning of a remarkable five years of success for the duo as well as for the Vitus 979.

The Dynamic Duo in 1980s professional cycle sport: Directeur Sportif Jean de Garibaldy and Sean Kelly who were the winning combination for Sem-France Loire, Skil and Kas from 1982-1985. No two were as loyal to the Vitus 979 and its later Carbone versions.  

Jean-François Chaurin (above) winning the first stage of the 1982 Paris-Nice on his Vitus 979. Credit: www.lanouvellerepublique.fr

Ushering in the heyday of the Vitus 979 in the peloton, the 40th Paris-Nice race of 1982 (8-11 March) saw a see-saw battle between Sean Kelly and Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle (Peugeot-Shell) both riding Vitus 979s that Kelly won by 40 seconds. He placed first in the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 8th stages and teammate Jean-François Chaurin won the 1st. For Kelly, it was his first win with Sem/France-Loire and the first of a remarkable seven victories on the course. And his first of many on a Vitus 979.

Nice, 18 March 1982: A Legend is Born: Sean Kelly, Paris-Nice (his first of a record seven wins) on a Vitus 979. Credir: CorVos/PEZ Cycle News

On 22 May 1982, Sem/France-Loire's Marcel Tinazzi's won that year's Paris-Bordeaux race, marking the third successive victory by Vitus 979 machines on the event and further proving its ideal qualities on very long day events and stages.

Marcel Tinazzi en route to his win in the Paris-Bordeaux race on 22 May 1982, the third in a row for the Vitus 979 on the event. Credit: Fan de Marcel Tinzazzi Facebook page. 

Vitus poster heralding Tinazzi's win as well detailing the palmares of the 979 so far that season.

Detail of the above poster showing the victories won so far that season on Vitus 979 machines through 8 June 1982.

Before his first year with Sem-France Loire was over, Kelly won the points classification of the Tour de France, scoring five second places on flat stages before winning a reduced bunch sprint on Stage 12 in Pau after climbing the Col d'Aubisque. In doing to, he just beat Phil Anderson (Peugeot-Shell) riding also riding a Vitus 979 (Peugeot PX-10DU). In all, his points were almost three times those accrued by winner Bernard Hinault. He finished third in the world championship in Goodwood, England.

Sean Kelly flat out on the Prologue of the 1982 Tour de France on his Vitus 979.

Sean Kelly in the green jersey winning Stage 12 in a classic sprint finish in the 1982 Tour de France.

For 1983, the team was renamed Sem–France Loire–Mavic and its Vitus 979 machines were fitted "Tout Mavic".


A superb photo of Sean Kelly on Het Volk, 5 March 1983, the first race of the season (and oddly one of the few spring classics he never won) showing the 979s that with year with Tout Mavic components including the new anthracite anodised Mavic/Modolo brakeset. Credit: Cor Vos/Pez Cycling News

Sean Kelly winning Stage 3 of the 1983 Paris-Nice. He went on to his second win of the race and the first for Sem-France Loire of the season. Credit: https://twitter.com/javigoros61

Four days after he signed with Sem-France Loire, 22-year-old Dutchman Steven Rook won the Liége-Bastogne-Liége race on 17 April 1983 on a Vitus 979. Credit: http://catinus.blogspot.com

Rook's Liége win was the last for the Sem-France Loire team when, upon the bankruptcy of France Loire, the team was renamed Sem-Reydel-Mavic.  

A further change came that May when France-Loire went bankrupt and Reydel, the French cycle saddle and automotive interior fitments firm, co-sponsored what was now known as  Sem–Reydel–Mavic. During that year's Tour de France (which Sean Kelly again was points winner), the team introduced the new Vitus Carbone 3 during the time trial stages and henceforth, had both this and the Vitus 979 as team machines.

Presentation of the newly renamed Sem-Mavic team for the 1983 Tour de France. Credit: Cycling Archives, Erik Van Herck.

Joaquim Agostinho during what proved to be last Tour de France, July 1983 (in which finished 11th). He tragically died in an accident the following spring during the Tour of the Algarve.   Credit: www.veloluso.blogspot.com

15 October 1983: Sean Kelly in one of the great sprint finishes of all time, crosses the finish line ahead of Van Der Poel, Lemond and Kuiper, to win the Tour of Lombardy. Credit: http://www.muse-ette.com/2011/11/kellys-classics.html

Vitus released two posters highlighting Sean Kelly and Phil Anderson riding Vitus 979s to victories in the 1982 Tour de France. In the first poster, both are actually riding the machine with Anderson just behind on his Peugeot PX-10DU.

By the end of the 1983 season, Sem-Reydel-Mavic had risen to fourth place in overall win rankings of professional teams (it had been 19th in 1981 and 10th in 1982) and the best for Sean Kelly, de Gribaldy and the Vitus 979 was yet to come.



ACBB 1981-82
PEUGEOT-ESSO-MICHELIN 1981
PEUGEOT-SHELL-MICHELIN 1982

The new PX-10DU figured in one of the biggest stories of the 1981 Tour de France: Australian Phil Anderson becoming the first Australian to wear the Yellow Jersey. One of the rising stars of Peugeot's so-called "Foreign Legion" of British, Australian and Irish riders, Anderson is shown astride his PX-10DU on Stage 6 on 7 July, the individual time trial. From the 1982 Peugeot British brochure.

France's largest cycle company, Peugeot, had first built an alloy cycle in 1941 in the unlikely setting of wartime occupied France, but it proved little more than a stylish distraction during those grim years during which, at least, the bicycle assumed absolute dominance in personal transport and cycle racing continued, both road and track.  Although it readily adopted alloy components in its post-war cycle range and its professional team rose to new heights, Peugeot didn't take up the all-alloy cycle concept again. It did, however, make overtures to Bador/CLB to assume exclusive rights to its new Vitus 979 frame which were rejected.  The success of the frame, both in the professional peloton and commercial market, made it impossible to resist and for the first time in its long history, the rampant Lion of France was to be affixed to something not made by Peugeot.

Stylish but developmentally and commercially a deadend was Peugeot's elegant pressed aluminium cycle of 1941.  Credit: Peugeot.com
For Peugeot, adoption of a non proprietary frameset not made and design "in house" marked a big departure both in terms of offering to the commercial market as a "badge branded" machine, but also to the Peugeot professional cycling team. But in large measure, the future of French racing cycle manufacture lay with the Vitus concept and co-operative necessities lessened the old rivalries.

If the Vitus 979 was "foreign" to Peugeot, it was fitting that so were many of the team who rode it to some of their first important victories. For this was heyday of the famous "Foreign Legion" of Anglo riders who rode for Peugeot after proving themselves on the Continental circuit with the associated amateur club ACBB.  Graham Jones (UK), Sean Yates (UK), Robert Millar (UK), Phil Anderson (Australia), Allan Peiper (Australia) and Stephen Roche (Ireland) all rode the Vitus 979 for both ACBB and Peugeot and many captured public interest for first time crossing the finish line or wearing the winners jersey on them in 1981-82.

Duclos Lassalle time trialling on a PX-10DU in 1981. Credit: Twitter

Peugeot-Esso introduced the Vitus 979 frame to the team's stable in 1981 as well as to its associated ACBB amateur team in France. Designated PX-10DU (for dural), the basic Vitus 979 frame was outfitted for team use by the Prestige Peugeot division. For the 1981 season, the natural anodised dural finish of the stock frameset was used with the decals (in this case actually "stickers") for Peugeot applied and otherwise identical to those used on the main team machine, the Peugeot Pro-10 made of Reynolds 531SL. The Vitus, too, shared the same components and fitted with the specialised Spidel/Simplex team issue front and rear derailleurs which featured extensive custom drilling and Cinelli 1R stem and 'bars. Unique to the new PX-10DUs were black anodised Mafac/Spidel LS2 brakes. In 1982, the team became Peugeot-Shell and different decals were featured with a red/white/blue Peugeot lion on the head and "go faster" blue and red stripes on the top tube and upper peak head. The dural was also mirror polished and looks in many photos almost chrome-like. The brakes calipers were polished alloy LS2s.

A superb close up of Jean-Rene Bernadeau on his Peugeot PX-10DU in 1981. Credit: www.rennrad-news.de

A detail from the same photo showing the Simplex team issue rear derailleur and black Mafac LS2 brakes. Credit: www.rennrad-news.de

Under Directeur Sportif Maurice de Mauer, the PX-10DU was generally used on individual and team time trials and the team alternated between this and "real" Peugeots (Reynolds 531 Extra Legere Pro 10s). This was, in fact, the first time Peugeot had two different team bicycles and an harbinger of the increased specialisation in racing cycles in coming years especially for time trials.

The 1982 Peugeot UK brochure featured two of the "Foreign Legion" of the Peugeot-Esso Team riding PX-10DUs during the 1981 Tour de France: left Graham Jones (England) and right Stephen Roche (Ireland). Roche rode the model to its first victory in that year's Paris-Nice. 

The Peugeot PX-10DU was ridden to its first big win on the final stage of the 1981 Paris-Nice race on 18 March, the climb time trial between Nice and Col d' Eze, by Irish rider Stephen Roche who won the overall race by 72 seconds. For Roche, who just turned professional (yet another Foreign Legion graduate of the ACBB team) that year, it was already his second win and he could go on to fewer than ten victories his first season.

Even on a time trial (1982), Peugeot riders could and did mix equipment between the PX-10DU (left, Frederic Brun and right, Robert Millar) and the Pro-10 (Sean Yates, Jacques Bossis (behind Yates) and Jean-Paul Dalibard). This is one of the few photos showing Millar riding a PX-10DU. Credit: The Foreign Legion, Rubert Guinness, 1993

On his Peugeot PX-10DU, Phil Anderson on Bernard Hinault's wheel on Stage Six of the 1981 Your de France. Although Lucien Van Impe won the stage, Anderson's performance won him the first ever Yellow Jersey for an Australian. Credit: http://oli-roadworks.blogspot.com (photo originally from Miroir Du Cyclisme

Another view of the classic Stage 6 duel between Anderson on his PX-10DU and Hinault.

Phil Anderson, Individual Time Trial, Tour de France, 1981 on his PX-10DU. Credit: Pez Cycle News. 

One of the great cycling photos (by Graham Watson) and probably the best of a Vitus 979 ridden "full out": Phil Anderson defending his Yellow Jersey, on the individual Time Trial, Nay to Pau, 27.7 km. 7 July 1981.   Credit: Kings of the Road, Robin Magowan and Graham Watson, 1988.

The PX-10DU came to fore during the 1981 Tour de France on 26 June 1981, the team time trial, between Nice and Antibes on 26 June . But it was truly showcased on 7 July Stage 7, the individual time trial between Nay-Pau ridden by Phil Anderson wearing the Yellow Jersey, the first time ever an Australian had done so. Anderson used the PX-10DU in this and the '82 Tour. The amateur ACBB Team, long affiliated with Peugeot, also rode the type and Australian Allan Peiper won the 1982 Grand Prix des Nations individual time trial on one.

One of Pascal Simon's greatest performances was the 1981 Tour de 'Avenir 8-21 September which he won in commanding fashion including as shown here, on the final stage, the climbing time trial on the 21st on his PX-10DU. Close examination reveals this has, unusually, both the Vitus 979 stamping and the decal on the fork blade and no down tube decals.

Stephen Roche with his PX-10DU at the Grand Prix des Nations time trial, Cannes, 27 September 1981. Credit: Pez Cycle News. 

Phil Anderson on his PX-10DU during the 1982 Tour de France (about to commence the individual time trial on Bastille Day 14 July), the second and last year the type was used by the Peugeot team. The wheel set features 28-hole Mavic rims and Maillard high-flange hubs. Anderson finished overall 5th in the Tour, 1st place in the young rider classification and Peugeot-Shell 3rd in the team classification. 

Two more views of Phil Anderson's PX-10DU during the '82 Tour de France. The brakeset appears to be Mafac or Spidel LS2s and, as on all Peugeot team bikes of the era, Cinelli 1R stem and Campione del Mondo 'bars. The striking highly polished Vitus 979 tubing was unique to these machines.

No caption needed! Credit: Graham Watson photo

Credit: Velonews.com


1982 Tour de France: a study in jerseys (left, Hinault in yellow for overall leader, middle, Kelly in the green sprinter's jersey and just behind, Phil Anderson attacking in white (junior rider).  Kelly and Anderson both riding Vitus 979s. 

26 September 1982: Australian Allan Peiper (ACBB) rides a Peugeot PX-10DU (a 1981 model) to its final important victory and also the triumphant cap to his ACBB career, winning the prestigious Grand Prix des Nations time trial as an amateur.  Credit: The Foreign Legion, Rubert Guinness, 1993

The PX-10DU lasted but two seasons with the Peugeot Team, but was sufficiently successful and well-regarded that it prompted Peugeot to develop its own version of the Vitus Carbone 3, the PY-10FC, for the '83 season which became a mainstay of the team for the final three years of its existence as well as the first year of the Z Team which replaced it.

see https://on-the-drops.blogspot.com/2016/12/the-space-ace-racing-bike-peugeot-py.html


CILO-AUFINA 1982

Sponsored by Cilo cycles of Switzerland, this team normally used the superbly crafted and finished Reynolds 531 Professional models made by the firm.

Its use of the Vitus 979 seems fleeting at best although it was heralded in Vitus publicity. The only photographic evidence of it actually being used in competition is that below showing its ace rider, Beat Breu, on what appears to be an individual time trial and taken in 1982, possibly during year's Tour de France when he won a stage just before the individual time trial.

What's remarkable is that this rare example of use by the team is of the even rarer Vitus 979 "Arcor" model frame with its ovalised tubes and flattened seat stays and just as it was being introduced that summer.

Beat Breu on a Vitus 979 "Arcor", possibly during the 1982 Tour de France individual time trial. This appears to be fitted with Shimano Dura Ace AX components with the exception of the pedals and brake calipers.  Credit: Photo by John Pierce/Photosport/Shutterstock


LA REDOUTE-MOTOBÉCANE 1981-84

One of France's great teams of the 1980s and one that always had Motobécane as supplier of its machines, its use of the Vitus 979 seems more circumspect than Peugeot or Sem-France-Loire. Odder still given the enthusiastic embrace of the model for the commercial market.  Precedence was given to its superb Motobécane C5 Team Champions and when the Vitus 979 was used it appears to be limited to mountain stages, prologues and time trials. Even so, photos showing it in actual use are scarce and this section is rather vague because of it.

A winter training run: left: Bernard Vallet, middle: Robert Alban (on a Vitus 979) and right, Pierre Bazzo also on a Vitus 979.

From the 1984 Motobécane U.S. catalogue.  Credit: http://www.equusbicycle.com

Jean-Luc Vandenbrouke, one of the masters of the Prologue, at speed on a Motobécane Vitus 979. Credit: www.rennrad-news.de

Alain Bondue ready to start a time trial on his Vitus 979 c. 1984. Note the aero brakes. Credit: Cycling Archives, Willem Dingemanse. 


COLOMBIAN NATIONAL TEAM  (LA GRAN VÍA) 1984

The Vitus 979 had already proved its mettle in time trials and the spring classics, ridden to glories by Australians and Irishmen, and next it would show its abilities on the toughest mountain climbs in Continental cycling ridden by Colombians.

Colombian riders had already surprised the Continental cycling circuit with their astonishing win of the Tour de l'Avenir in 1980 and Colombia's two principal teams, Varta (dominated by its star Luis Herrera) and La Gran Vía were poised for bigger things.  In 1983, Felix Levitan and Jacques Goddet, the organisers of the Tour de France opened it to amateurs and while this was principally to attract Eastern Bloc competitors, it was the Colombians who first took advantage of the opportunity. After Varta (see below) fielded a team in that year's Tour de France, it was La Gran Via's turn.  It entered 1984's Critérium du Daupine Libéré which was traditionally the prelude race for the Tour de France. With little planning or notice, La Gran Vía sent six of its best riders to form a Colombian National Team: Armando Aristizabal, Alirio Chizabas, Reynel Montoya, Martin Ramirez, Francisco Rodriguez and Pablo Wilches.

Two of the legends of 1980s professional cycling, the Colombian riders and the Vitus 979 "Tout Mavic", came suddenly to the fore in the running of the Dauphiné Libéré 28 May-4 June 1984. It will be recalled this, too, coincided with the production of the 50,000 Vitus 979 frame and now the same race would also see it share the spotlight on a new force in the Continental peloton.


Pablo Wilches and Francisco Rodriguez on their Vitus 979s "Tout Mavic" including the stems and handlebars (on most teams Cinelli stems and 'bars were substituted). Credit: velos-mont-valerien.over-blog.com

The Colombians arrived in France without bicycles or even jerseys and Vitus/Mavic hastily supplied them with stock Vitus 979s with Tout Mavic components, so off the shelf and quickly procured that several were not even in appropriate frame sizes. The Castelli purple and red jerseys, which bore no relationship to the national colours they rode for, came from a local cycle shop.  It all had the markings of a local club ride up against the icon of French Cycling, Bernard Hinault who was the favourite from the beginning. However, in the fourth day of the tour when the mountain stages began, the Colombians astonished, surprised and dominated with Rodriguez in first place, Ramirez in second and Wilches in four with Hinault in... seventh.  Although Rodriguez was forced to retire in the 7th stage, it set up a great duel the next day between Hinault and Ramirez with the Colombian winning the stage and the race the following day by 27 seconds.  With French bicycles, the Colombians had beat the hero of French cycling and thrust themselves onto the winner's podium and the Continental peloton where they would thrive for much of the decade.


The classic duel between Colombian amateur upstart Martin Ramirez and The Badger, Bernard Hinault, on the 8th and final stage of the Dauphiné Libéré. 


VARTA-CAFÉ COLOMBIA 1984

One of the two principal Colombian amateur teams, Varta-Colombia was started in 1983, sponsored by the Varta battery company of Germany, just as Colombian cyclists made the first mark on the Continental circuit  with Alfonso Florez winning the Tour de l'Avenir in 1980.  The 1983 Tour de France was the first open to amateurs and Varta competed as a Colombian national cycling team.  For its first Tour, the team excelled in the mountain stages and Jose Patrocinio Jimenez and Edgar Corredor placed 2nd and 8th place in the King of the Mountain category.

Beginning in 1984, the team was sponsored by Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia and known as Varta-Café Colombia.  Building on the association between Vitus/Mavic from that year’s Dauphiné Libéré triumph for the Colombians, Varta-Café Colombia, too, was equipped with Vitus 979s “Tout Mavic”, and returned to the Tour de France with its top rider, the 23-year-old Luis Herrera who had just won the Vuelta a Colombia.

Luis Herrera came in second in the stage 11 of the 1984 Tour de France, July 9, Pau - Guzet Neige, 41 seconds behind the winner, Robert Millar. Credit: www.bikeraceinfo.com

A classic close-up of Luis Herrera on his Vitus 979; note the extra water bottle on the seat tube. Starting in 1987 stock frames had a second set of water bottle cage bosses on the seat tube.

Another close up of Herrera and his 979 Tout Mavic and as the Colombians had earlier in the year, including Mavic stem and 'bars. 

Herrera’s performance in the 1984 Tour de France was one of the greats of the decade.  On the 11th stage, Guzet-Neige, he came in second behind Robert Millar (riding a Peugeot PY-10FC), the 2nd again behind overall leader Laurent Fignon on the 16th stage. It was on the epic mountain stage, th 17th on 16 July, on famed Alpe d'Huez, that Herrera finally claimed as his own, finishing 49 seconds ahead of Fignon and more than two minutes up on anyone else. In all, five Colombians were among the top 20 finishers of the Tour.  Luis Herrera had made history as the first amateur to win a Tour stage and a new national hero.

16 July 1984: Luis Herrera crosses the finishes line at Alpe d'Huez on his Vitus 979 becoming the first South American and first amateur to win a stage of the Tour de France. 

In 1985, the team was reorganised as a professional squad, but adopting Alans as its team bicycle (although the initial team photo for that year still shows the blue Vitus 979s from the previous season). The following year, it was back to Vitus machines, but using the new Carbone 9s which were badged as Merciers.


U.S. NATIONAL WOMEN'S TEAM 1984

Everyone knows that Greg Lemond was the first American to win the Tour de France in 1986. Except that he wasn't. That distinction and achievement rightly belongs to Marianne Martin who won the first running of the Tour de France Feminine in July 1984 riding for a U.S. National women's team and on a Vitus 979.

Marianne Martin who was the first American and first woman to win the Tour de France Feminine in July 1984 and did so on a Vitus 979. Credit: http://bikeretrogrouch.blogspot.com

In 1984, as part of the effort to widen the participation and appeal of the race, Tour de France organizer Felix Levitan decided to organize a Tour de France Féminin that year. The Tour de France Féminin was over 18 stages compared to the men’s 23. The women riders completed about 1,080km of the 4,000 km the men race covered owing to UCI rules about how far women could ride in races. Despite the shorter distance, the course followed that of the men's that year including all of the mountain stages and ran the same course just earlier in the same day so the crowd interest and attention was enormous even if many doubted the women could even complete the race. Organised along national lines, there were six teams totalling 36 riders-- two teams from France and one each from the Netherlands, Great Britain, Canada and the United States.


The United States Team with their Vitus machines and single team car (supplied by Peugeot-Talbot). This was the first team that was directly sponsored by Vitus and the name appeared on their jerseys. From the CLB 1984 brochure.  Credit: Velopages.com

Sponsored by Vitus (believed the first time it directly sponsored a team), the United States team comprised Jolanda Goral, Betsy King, Marianne Martin, Patty People, Deborah Schumway and Betty Wise-Steffan.  Eventual race winner Martin was, in fact, the last to join the team, having not qualified for that year's U.S. Olympic team having suffered a bout of anemia earlier that year, and encouraged by her coach to take the last slot in the Tour de France team at the last minute.  All rode stock blue Vitus 979s fitted with a mix of French components including Huret Success Titanium derailleurs. There was no money to bring over an American coach so a French coach managed the team and there was but a single team car.


Marianne Martin riding in the polka-dot jersey. Credit: The Guardian, Denys Clément photograph

U.S. Team members Deborah Shumway and Bette Wise-Steffan climbing La Plagne on their Vitus 979s during the 1984 Tour de France Feminin. Shumway would place third in the overall race. Credit: John Pierce photo.


Deborah Shumway in the 1984 Tour de France Feminine. Credit: John Pierce photo. 

The race, run from 30 June to 22 July 1984, belonged mostly to the Dutch and American riders with Martin placing 3rd in the 1st stage and coming into her own with her American team mates in the mountain stages starting with stage 12 (La Chapelle en Vercors-Grenoble) which Martin won, donning the Polka Dot jersey and placing her in second place overall. By stage 14, she was in the Yellow Jersey and held it until the final stage on Paris' Champs Élysées with Deborah Shumway placing 3rd. She clocked 29 hours, 39 minutes, and 2 seconds for the 616-mile course. They shared the winner's podium with the male winners of the tour, Laurent Fignon (first),  Bernard Hinault (second) and American Greg LeMond third. It was a marvelous showing for American cycling and especially for women's cycling at the highest levels of the sport. Indeed, all but one of the women completed the entire race despite the dire predictions before the event.





Marianne Martin's Vitus 979 she won the 1984 Tour de France Féminin on. Note that the rear derailleur is not original and this was raced with a Huret Success Titanium (note the Huret sticker on the chainstay). This was displayed at the exhibit "Bicycles! 150 Years of Gears" in 2010 at Longmont Museum & Cultural Center in Longmont, Colorado. Credit: Wikipedia.org

SUPERMERCATI BRIANZOLI-WILIER 1984

An Italian team that existed, in various forms and with varying sponsors, from 1983-1993, it had its earliest associations with one of Italy's oldest cycle firms, Wilier Triestina.  As such, its one season (1984) adoption of a non proprietary bicycle let alone a non Italian one was doubly remarkable, almost as unusual as numbering two Americans, Jonathan Boyer (late of the Sem-Mavic team and no stranger to Vitus machines) and John Patterson, within its ranks. 

The use of the Vitus 979 as a team machine coincided with Wilier Triestina selling its badged version of the machine in its commercial range and both were in the characteristic bronze red colour the marque was known for and with full Campagnolo Super Record components.


Presentation of the team in 1984. Composed of Italians, two Americans and a Norwegian, its team machine was French as was its team cars (Citroen).  Credit: Cycling Archives, Willem Dingemanse


One of the two young Americans on the team, Jonathan Boyer was already an experienced Vitus 979 rider from his two years with the Sem Mavic team. Credit: Cycling Archives.


Alfredo Chinetti (aged 35) was the team’s star rider in 1984, winning that year’s Giro della Provincia di reggio Calabria and placing 14th overall in the Giro d’Italia. Credit: Cycling Archives


A close-up of the team's Vitus 979. These were fitted with Campagnolo Super Record components and in the trademark Wilier Triestino copper red colour. 


Giuseppe Saronni and Alfredo Chinetti (on his Vitus 979) during the 1984 Giro d'Italia. Credit: Archivio Tiralento


SKIL-REYDEL-SEM-MAVIC 1984
SKIL-SEM-KAS-MIKO 1985


Heyday: a wonderful fold-out poster from Miroir du Cyclisme 1984 of Sean Kelly time trialling on his Vitus 979. 1984 would prove the acme of a memorable combination in cycle sport.  


Beginning in 1984, Skil, the power tool maker, became main sponsor of what was now called team Skil-Reydel-Sem-Mavic, still under the direction of Jean de Gribaldy with Christian Rumeau as assistant manager.  Indeed, the team's machines, which remained Tout Mavic equipped Vitus 979s, now bore "de Gribaldy" down and seat tube stickers, but still in the light platinum blue. That year they were ridden to glory and it indeed marked a heyday on all levels.

This was Sean Kelly's seminal year which he still remembers as his best ever, especially a truly remarkable first half. Kelly and his 979 dominated the '84 Spring Classics in a commanding fashion with 15 victories among them Paris–Roubaix, Liège–Bastogne–Liège, Blois–Chaville, the GP Ouest-France and the Grand Prix de Fourmies. His Paris-Roubaix victory, his first, on 8 April 1984, was memorable for its astonishingly poor weather and was one of the muddiest ever, further cementing its gritty glory and the mud caked Kelly and his 979 created an enduring image and confirming the machine's ruggedness and its cobble busting abilities. That year, Kelly won no fewer than 33 races.


Sean Kelly and his Vitus 979 caked with mud and pounding the pavé on 8 April 1984, Paris-Roubaix, created an iconic image still associated with the rider and the machine. Credit: Pez Cycling News. 

The team's cycle sponsors: Vitus, Mavic and Reydel couldn't have wished for better publicity than that surrounding Kelly's first Paris-Roubaix victory.

Indicative of the season he was enjoying, Sean Kelly and his Vitus 979 graced successive covers of the wonderful (and very soon defunct) International Cycle Sport in April and May 1984. Credit: Flickr, member Nelson 1.2.3

The team's Eric Caritoux won the Vuelta a España by an astonishing six seconds, the closest ever in a grand tour. Earlier in the season, he had won the stage to Mont Ventoux in Paris–Nice (and Kelly won the overall).

Eric Caritoux leads Sean Kelly and Bernard Hinault during the 1984 Paris-Nice and won a stage of the race which Kelly won overall yet again.  Caritoux and Kelly are riding Vitus 979s while on the left behind is Peugeot's Robert Millar on a PY-10FC. Credit: CNN.com

Another of Miroir du Cyclisme's wonderful posters from 1984, the break-out year for Eric Caritoux who emerged from a trusty stablemate of Sean Kelly to one of the team's leaders and was that year's surprising winner of the Vuelta.  

For 1985, Reydel and Mavic dropped their sponsorship and were replaced by Kas, the Spanish soft drink maker and Miko (the coffee company) to form Skil-Sem-Kas-Miko, but the core of the team's riders remained, still under de Gribaldy.  The venerable Saint-Etienne cycle company, Mercier, had filed for bankruptcy in November 1983 so that for 1984 the former Mercier team competed as Coop Mavic with Rossin machines. Mercier was revived by its employees and those of also defunct France-Loire in 1985 and that year provided Skil-Sem-Kas-Miko's Vitus 979s which were badged as Merciers and still Tout Mavic equipped.  By then Vitus Carbone Plus 3 machines were also used by the Skil Team.


Presentation of the new Skil-Reydel-Sem team in Paris, February 1985. Credit: www,jeandegaribaldy.com

In this wonderful photo, redolent of mid 1980s cycling style, Jean-Claude Leclercq in the classic Skil striped jersey with his Mercier badged Vitus 979 in 1985. Credit: Alchetron.com

In his second year with the team, Jean-Claude Leclercq won the French National Road Championship in 1985 on a Mercier Vitus 979.

During 1985, Kelly won Paris–Nice again, the Giro di Lombardia again, finished fourth in the 1985 Tour de France and again won the points classification. Gerrie Knetemann, in his one and only year with the team, won the Amstel Gold Race (but did so on a steel framed Mercier) and Jean-Claude Leclercq became French road race champion.

Tour de France, 1985: Sean Kelly in the 'Catch Sprint' jersey and Eric Vanderaerden (Panasonic) in the green points jersey. Kelly is riding his Mercier badged Vitus 979 and won, yet again, the overall points competition and placed fifth overall. Credit: Dirk Sprogue, Pinterest

1985 Tour de France team time trial. Credit: Cycling Archives, Erik van Herck


KAS-MAVIC-TAG HEUER (1986-1987)
KAS-CANAL 10 (1988)


For 1986, Kas assumed the sole sponsorship of the team when Skil pulled out although the now Spanish team initially remained essentially French and still managed by de Gribaldy.  Kas had its own rich roots in cycling, having its own team from 1958-1979 and the revived team consequently participated in more Spanish races.


Presentation of the new Kas team in early 1986 with no fewer than three Vitus 979s sharing the picture and Jean-Claude Leclercq in his French National Champion jersey adding a Gallic flavour to what was still essentially a French team that first year. Credit: www.jeandegribaldy.com

Sean Kelly, then rated the no. 1 rider in the world, remained the star and Vitus remained the team machine with Kas the last to use the 979 extensively in addition to the Carbone 3. The first year, the 979 machines appear to be the same as those used the previous season, still in the now classic platinum blue dating from the Sem France Loire days, but with Kas stickers as well as Vitus ones on the top tube. That year, Mercier shifted its sponsorship via providing team machines (Vitus Carbone 9s) to the Café Colombia squad.

Sean Kelly and his Vitus 979 Ruled the Spring Classics.  Starting the 1986, they did so for the revised Kas Team, a Spanish sponsored team that for that first year remained French and still under di Garbaldy management. The 979s, too, were still in the old platinum blue from the Sem France days but with new Kas stickers in place of the Mercier ones.

In 1986, Sean Kelly improved on his ninth place in the 1985 Vuelta a España by coming third, winning the points jersey at the Vuelta for the third time. Kelly also won the Tour of the Basque Country and the Volta a Catalunya. Kelly also won, Paris-Nice, Milan–San Remo and Paris–Roubaix, with Acacio Da Silva who won the Züri-Metzgete.

Sean Kelly on his Vitus 979, Paris-Nice, March 1986 which he won (his fifth victory on the race to date). Credit: http://cyclingart.blogspot.com/2018/03/tip-of-cap-sean-kelly.html

Kelly notched another Paris-Roubaix win in 1986 and while he, like the rest of the team, alternated riding Vitus Carbone 3 machines, continued to rely on his Vitus 979 for these hard pave classics. Credit: bikesbooksbeerspodcast.blogspot.com and Cycling Weekly.com

On 2 January 1987 de Gribaldy tragically died in a car crash, aged 64. For 1987, Kas became Spanish-based, managed by Faustino Rupérez Rincon and no fewer than 13 of the riders were Spanish. The 979s remained in the stable to which were added Vitus Carbone 9s, and the 979s were now attired in a striking anodised gold colour.

Sean Kelly remained the team's undisputed star, but as if star-crossed after de Gribaldy's sudden death, 1987 was an unfortunate one with Kelly forced to retire from that year's Vuelta due to a serious saddle sore and also from the Tour de France after an accident injured his shoulder. He did win Paris-Nice for the sixth time and again on a Vitus 979 although by then, he used the Carbone 9s on some races and stages.

Sean Kelly in the 1987 Tour of Flanders where he finished second. Although he used the new Vitus Carbone 3 and 9s extensively, the stalwart Vitus 979 as above remain his mount of choice especially for Spring Classics, no other machine was better on the notorious pavé. Credit: Cycling Archives on Twitter. 

In 1988, Kelly won the Vuelta a España, but did so riding a Vitus Carbone 9. Sadly, this was the final year for the Kas Team for following the death of founder Roman Knörr Streiff, the company was acquired by investors and withdrew its sponsorship.


Sean Kelly's final Paris-Roubaix on a Vitus 979, 10 April 1988. Credit:twitter.com/mission753 (Cycling Archives)

Quite possibly Sean Kelly's final win on a Vitus 979 was the Ghent-Wevelgam on 20 April 1988. Credit: Cor Vos photo from Velonews

Sean Kelly chasing Claude Criquielion at the 1988 Ghent-Wevelgem. Credit: twitter.com/mission753 (Cycling Archives)

The end of an era: Sean Kelly winning the Gent–Wevelgem 20 April 1988 on a Vitus 979. Credit:bikeraceinfo.com

Spring 1988 was the end of an era and it appears that Sean Kelly's last win on a Vitus 979 (and its last win in the professional circuit) was on 20 April when he won that year's Gent–Wevelgem race.

Bookends to a truly Golden Era: left Herman Van Springel on 18 May 1980 crosses the finish line at Bordeaux to claim the first victory on a Vitus 979 and right Sean Kelly on 20 April 1988  winning the Ghent-Wvelgam in what is believed to be the last professional win for the machine. Coincidently, both were achieved on gold-coloured 979s.

Proving it's really also all about the bike afterall: Sean Kelly and his Vitus 979 in 1988 near the very end of a remarkable seven-year relationship. Probably no other single professional achieved so many of his wins on one single make and model of racing bicycle. And to the end, it was toe clips, toe straps and non-aero brake cables!

The winding up of the Kas team was, of course, not the end of Sean Kelly's career or Vitus in the pro peloton. Kelly rode for PDM-Concorde in 1989-91 riding steel framed Concordes (Ciocc), but in 1992 joined the Lotus-Festina team which re-united him with Vitus machines, the just introduced 992s. It was on a Vitus 992 that he won his last classic, the 1992 Milan-San Remo, in his now trademark sprint finish.  And, yes, with toe-clips and straps.

A final win for Sean Kelly riding Vitus Duralinox: 21 March 1992, Milan-San Remo. Credit: cyclingart.blogspot.com

In all, the Vitus 979 had a fulsome and winning eight years in the professional peloton, a remarkable (especially for the era) longevity for the same model. Moreover, what started out as a bicycle initially selected for specialised uses and stages, proved to be one of the most versatile of the decade, excelling in every category of professional road cycle sport.


MAVIC SSC TEAM SUPPORT MACHINES c. 1982-87


Lucho Herrera photographed against the Mavic SSC team support car, on 7 July 1985.  Note the stock Vitus 979s "Tout Mavic" equipped emergency bicycles part of Mavic neutral support service. Vitus 979s were used for this c. 1982-87. Credit: John Vink photo


VITUS 979 BRANDED COMMERCIAL MARKET MODELS

Vitus supplied frame sets to an enormous and international range of cycle shops, large and small, mail order houses and to many well respected and established bicycle manufactures to whom this was an usual, if unique, "off the shelf" product not made by themselves. In many respects, the Vitus 979 as such presaged the present era of globalised "branded" bicycle manufacture where the brand is defined more by the decals than the actual origin and build of the frame. 

But notably, at least in the early days, the enormous success of the Vitus, dropped resistance by the big, established French makers and many offered the frame badged under their names and fitted out as complete machines.

This is a brief catalogue illustrated resume of some of the main commercial offerings of the Vitus 979 in the 1980s

PEUGEOT


The PX-10DU was the first and only Peugeot of its era not designed or built by the firm, but proved a very popular machine in the British and European markets and especially in the UK with its association with the Peugeot racing team's "Foreign Legion" cadre of British and Irish riders. Here, the PX-10DU graces the cover of the 1984 British market brochure.

Peugeot had sought exclusive branding rights to the Vitus 979 frame but was rebuffed by Bador which saw far greater market penetration and profit potential by supplying the frames to any number of companies and cycle shops. Indeed the marketing of the frame was as novel as the product itself. As it was, Peugeot was not remotely the first big brand name to offer the frame with the earliest examples being sold by Bertin and especially Motobecane. The later called the frame its "A Line" or "Prolight" and had full Dura Ace component sets. These were among the earliest examples of 979 frames and the most commonly seen today.

The PX-10DU was offered only to select Peugeot markets: France (1982-85), Great Britain (1982-5), West Germany (1982-83), Netherlands (1983) and Japan (1982-3) and was the only top of the range Peugeot model of its era not sold in North America.

In its commercial form, the PX-10 DU was with the PY-10FC and Vitus 979 Mavic SSC-fitted machines, the last bastions of the all-French racing bike. Indeed, unlike the British Reynolds framed Peugeot Pro-10s, it was entirely French save for the Weinmann brake set (Switzerland) and the Selle Italia saddle (Italy) with the cream of French component manufacturers represented: Stronglight, Atax-Philippe, Mavic, Maillard and Simplex and back under their individual identities with the demise of the Spidel combined branding.


An early example of a Peugeot branded Vitus 979 frameset as offered for sale in Japan in a different colour than the stock bronze and with conventional c. 1982 decals including those for Prestige Peugeot (the separate division that made the team bikes as well as the semi custom made PY-10s and Pro-10s c. 1974-83). This also has the earlier Vitus 979 decal in green.

A beautiful example of a Peugeot PX-10DU frame as offered on eBay in 2014 showing the unique frame colour as well as the frame details. The example differs from most in having the Peugeot name plate at the front of the top tube than at back and lacks the raised Peugeot lion logo on the seat tube. Credit: Matthias Krogmann

One main difference from the team models was the colour and instead of all-silver, the three main tubes were anodised "Polished Bronze", a shade that was only used on Peugeots and not a stock Vitus option. However, early brochure depictions (French and UK market 1982) shows the all-silver version and the initial models were sold in this colour.  Possibly as it was not a Peugeot designed or built frame, the look was decidedly understated without the standard Peugeot decals and indeed "Peugeot" only appeared on a small plastic plaque affixed to the rear driveside top tube with the Peugeot rampant lion in a plastic bas relief form affxed to the driveside seat tube and rivetted to the head tube.

Although with slight variations over the years, the stock specifications for the European market PX-10DU were (using a 59cm as an example):

Frame
Material: Duralinox Vitus 979
Lugs/bottom bracket/fork crown/drop-outs and rear brake bridge: CLB cast alloy
Colour: Peugeot Polished Bronze Racing Team livery three main tubes, polished and lacquered natural alloy rear triangle, head and fork
Size: seat tube 59 cm (c to c), 61 cm (c to t), top tube 57 cm (c to c)
Angles: 74 (head) 74 (seat)
Rear spacing: 130 mm
Wheelbase: 38.5"
Chainstay length: 16"
Bottom bracket height: 10.5"
Fork rake: 1 9/16th"
Trail: 2.20"
Weight: 19.73 lbs complete machine

Components
Rear derailleur: Peugeot (Simplex) SX610
Front derailleur: Peugeot (Simplex) SLA10
Gear levers: Simplex SLJ5057 retrofriction levers braze-on mount
Chainset: Spidel (Stronglight) 106 42t x 52t, 170 mm cranks, French pedal threads 14mm x 1.25mm
Bottom bracket: Stronglight 701, French thread 35x100
Headset: Bador Competition French thread 25mm x 1mm (25.4 tpi)
Stem: Atax SFC 120mm
Handlebars: Philippe 42 cm with white Ambrosio bike ribbon and plugs
Brakes: Weinmann Carrera 400 with recessed allen bolts
Brake levers: Weinmann drilled 501
Seatpost: Simplex SLJ6164 25.0 mm
Saddle: Selle Italia CX black
Pedals: Lyotard
Toeclips and straps: Christophe chrome plated steel clips and white Christophe straps
Rims: Mavic anodised silver Montlhery Route 700x20mm 420g. 36-hole sew-ups
Tyres: Tufo Jet-Pro
Hubs: Maillard 700 Professional front and Spidel (Maillaird) Helicomatic rear low-flange 36-hole with Simplex skewers
Freewheel: Maillard SH700 Helicomatic 6-speed 13-14-15-17-19-21 t
Chain: Sedisport Sedicolor 4DC silver
Accessories: T/A alloy bottle cage and T/A Peugeot bottle


It should be noted that the components were not as high end as those fitted to the Pro-10 and PZ-10s.


A beautiful NOS 1983 PX-10DU frameset (indicating they were indeed sold as such), serial  no. F037938 as offered on eBay March 2019. credit: eBay seller lvdr2008


Details from the above frame showing the original warranty card. Credit: eBay seller lvdr2008

The first depiction of the PX-10DU in the 1982 French market brochure showing the all-silver scheme similar to the Team models. Note also the range of frame sizes to 62 cm, in succeeding years this was dropped to 60 cm being the largest usually offered. Credit: Bikeboompeugeot.com

The PX-10DU as introduced in the 1982 UK market brochure, again in "natural dural silver" and showing the glued on name badge at the front of the top tube rather than the back as was customary. The size range is also different from the French market models and again up to 64 cm although actual examples in so large a size are not normally found. Credit: Bikeboompeugeot.com

In price point and based on the range of top-end models offered, the PX-10DU was ranked variously in pecking order in specific markets per year:

1982 (Fr): Pro-10, PY-10S, PX-10DU
1982 (UK): Pro-10, PX-10DU
1982 (Ger): Pro-10, PZ-10D, PY-10LSD, PX-10DU
1983 (Fr): Pro-10, PY-10FC, PY-10S, PZ-10, PX-10DU
1983 (Ger): Pro-10, PZ-10, PX-10DU
1983 (Neth): PY-10FC, PX-10DU
1984 (UK): PY-10FC, PX-10S, PX-10DU
1985 (Fr): PY-10FC, Pro-10, PY-10M, PX-10DU
1985 (UK): PY-10FC, Pro Sprint (753r), PX-10DU (all offered as framesets only)

Typical of the later PX-10DUs with stickers instead of the glued on name plate and riveted headbadge, this 57cm frameset as offered for sale by Hilary Stone in February 2014 shows the build details.

Nowhere did the PX-10DU find a more receptive market (along with the rest of the Peugeot racing line) than in Great Britain at a time when the Peugeot cycling team's "Foreign Legion" of  represented the cream of a newly dominant core of English-speaking riders in continental professional road cycling.

The PX-10DU in the 1983 French catalogue showing the most common version of the model with Polished Bronze main tubes, Peugeot/Simplex 610 derailleur and Ofmega platform pedals. The largest frame size is now 61 cm. Credit: Bikeboompeugeot.com

The PX-10DU as featured in the 1983 German market brochure. That year it was third best in the line-up behind the Pro-10 and PZ-10.

The PX-10DU in the 1984 UK brochure, note the sizes are now restricted to 56, 58 and 60 cm stock with others special order only and only up to 61 cm.

The PX-10DU in the 1984 French brochure. Credit: Bikeboompeugeot.com

The PX-10DU in the c. 1984 UK brochure showing the addition of the yellow-orange-red stripes to the seat and top tubes as on the Team Peugeot models but still without a downtube "Peugeot" decals and instead the glued-on plastic name plate on the driveside top tube. credit: bikeboompeugeot.com



The PX-10DU assumed special prominence in the Japanese market for which it was the flagship of the Peugeot range under a new important agreement finalised in December 1981. The model, along with the other Peugeot models for the Japanese market, was announced on 11 March 1982. For this, it was fitted with the better Simplex SLJ5500 rear derailleur and SLJA 522 front derailleur, Maillard 700 pedals as well as the new Cobra Aero Profile water bottle and cage. Only 52 and 54 cm frame sizes were offered in Japan


The PX-10DU assumed pride of place in the elaborate 1982 Peugeot Japanese market brochure.

No fewer than four pages of the 1982 Peugeot Japanese brochure were devoted to the PX-10DU including a complete description and illustration of all the main components. Unlike machines for the UK/European market, the Simplex SLJ 5500 derailleur was specified as was a Concor saddle reflecting its "top of the line" status.

Showing the unique internal lugs, the Weinmann 400 Carrera brakeset, front Simplex SLJA 522 derailleur and the Cobra Aero Profil water bottle and cage.


MOTOBÉCANE

Motobécane fold-out poster leaflet for their new "Alu-Line" of Vitus 979s. Credit: www.rennrad-news.de

Typical of the branding of the Vitus 979 by various cycle companies and shops is the Motobécane "Prolight" (U.S. market name) or the C7 "Alu-Line" or "A-Line" (European market). This was, in fact, one of the very first adoptions of the 979 by a major cycle firm in its line-up and indeed many of the surviving early examples of the frame are Prolights/A-Lines, both in Europe and the United States. Motobécane introduced the 979 to the States and as early as late 1980 was selling them as depicted in the above page from the 1981 US brochure. The catalogue model displays the top tube cable clips and very early stamped fork blades. The components were a mix of Simplex (including a Motobécane branded version of the early Simplex 6600 derailleur) and Ofmega.  Offered from 1980-85, the Prolights/A-Lines were finished in a dark blue grey that was unique to Motobécane.

Motobécane Prolight, 1981 catalogue. Credit: labibleduvelocataloguesmercier.blogspot.com/

An early Motobecane Prolight with full Shimano 600 components. Credit: www.bikeforums.net, member francophile

The "A Line" seat tube decal and the unique Vitus 979 clear decal used on these machines. Credit: www.bikeforums.net, member francophile

German market fold-out for the Motobécane "Alu-Line" Vitus 979 c. 1981. Most Moto 979s had a "A-Line" sticker on the seat tube. Credit: https://fotos.rennrad-news.de, Treppler photo

For the French market (as shown in the 1982 brochure), the Motobécane 979 was called the C7 and had all Dura-Ace components. Credit: http://www.velovintageagogo.com

Review of the Motobecane Prolight in the American magazine Popular Mechanics, July 1982.

Motobécane Prolight, 1984 catalogue. Credit: labibleduvelocataloguesmercier.blogspot.com/



MERCIER

For Cycles Mercier, that most famous of Saint-Étienne cycle manufacturers, the introduction of the Vitus 979 coincided with financial upheaval for the firm which, more than most, suffered from all the ills effecting the French bicycle industry at the time.  In November 1983 it filed for bankruptcy (coming after France-Loire, too, was declared insolvent that May) but was revived in 1985 by the employees of France-Loire as Mercier-France Loire.  Henceforth, Merciers were now badged as  "Le Vélo de Mercier". As discussed previously, the Mercier name returned in 1985 to the professional peloton as Mercier badged Vitus 979s and Carbone 9s for Kas and Cafe du Colombia.

The "old" Mercier firm had offered the Vitus 979 soon after its introduction as a separate Serie Contre La Montre or Time Trial Series. This was made up of three models distinguished by their component group with Shimano, Campagnolo Record or Campagnolo Super Record being offered. These were in a unique dusty rose anodised finish evoking the traditional Mercier racing colours and surely among the most handsome early examples of the Vitus 979.

An early (showing the top-tube cable clips) Mercier "Tour de France Record Duralinox" model with full Campagnolo Nouvo Record components and looking quite handsome in the traditional Mercier pink racing colours. Credit: veloretrocourse.proboards.com

1983 Mercier catalogue (last for the original company) listing of their 979 framed bicycles. Credit: labibleduvelocatalogues

The revived Mercier brand continued to feature the Vitus 979 which were now in a striking "violine" purple shade.

A later Mercier France-Loire 979 in the new "violine" colour and decalled as a "Special Tour de France". credit: tontonvelo.com

FRANCE-LOIRE

Cycles France-Loire was started in 1960 by Ateliers de la Loire with the purchase of the well-established Sibilia company.  This had been founded in 1925 by an Italian immigrant of the same name who built just handcrafted frames (c. 1947, the output was just 1,000-1,500 a year), but as France-Loire the firm was transformed into a major producer of a complete range of cycles at all price points.  

With the "Bike Boom" in America and a growing demand for sports cycles, Roger Loueuillet doubled the factory capacity of the firm by February 1974 and by the following year aimed to produce 75,000-100.000 complete cycles annually.  A considerable number of "ten-speed racers" were exported to the United States under the St. Etienne brand.

Although much of its range was popular priced mid-range bicycles, France-Loire did offer some good quality all Reynolds 531 machines and produced special homage models in honour of Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor c. 1978 as well as a stand alone special Jacques Anquetil brand of racing bicycles.

Most of the surviving examples of France-Loire branded Vitus 979s are later (1981 onwards) and dating from the period when the firm co-sponsored the Sem France-Loire racing team. These were in the same pale platinum blue of the team machines.  There was also a special run of Sean Kelly Commemorative Vitus 979 "Lozenge" aero machines in royal blue and with all Campagnolo components that came out in mid 1983. Sadly this coincided with France-Loire declaring bankruptcy, ending their team sponsorship and appear to be the last of their branded 979s.

An exceptional France-Loire badge Vitus 979 "Losange" Aero, serial no. I037546 (546th frame built in July 1983 as offered on eBay (Germany) in October 2017. Credit: eBay seller backspin1337

Non-driveside view of the same machine. Credit: eBay seller backspin1337

Credit: eBay seller backspin1337

Build details of the same machine, note the tapered down tube. Credit: eBay seller backstop1337

GITANE

One of the more tentative (and late) French cycle company badging of the Vitus 979 was that by one of the most famous and well-established, Cycles Gitane. Offered only apparently to its large U.S. market (it only appears in the American 1987 brochure), this featured a quality all French Spidel 6600 component group and a polished alloy finish.

from the 1987 Gitane (USA) catalogue. Credit: labibleduvelocatalogues

BERTIN

One of France's best known cycling manufacturers of the post-war era, Cycles Bertin was founded by Andre Bertin (1912-1994)  c. 1949 who was an accomplished French professional cyclist and team manager.

Bertin was among the earliest of the established French cycle firms to offer the Vitus 979 badged under its name, indeed it exhibited one during the September 1979 cycle show that introduced it. Moreover, it offered the model throughout the 1980s.  These were usually offered in Bertin's trademark royal blue and number 181-581 based on the quality of components. Mostly, they were fitting with Shimano components as Bertin was for many years the chief Shimano importer in France. Bertin was one of the few companies to also offer the aero 979 as well as the Carbone 3/9 variants. 

For a firm with such a reputation in the cycle industry, including substantial exports to the U.S., Canada and especially Great Britain, it is odd that it was singularly stingy on publishing literature or brochures of its bicycles. So for now, a photo of a Bertin 979 restored by a collector will have to suffice.

A Bertin 581 Vitus 979 with Dura Ace components. Credit: bertinclassiccycles.wordpress.com

A Bertin 181 dating from 1981.

CILO

Cilo, once one of Switzerland's principal bicycle manufacturers (produced in Romanel sur Lausanne on the shores of Lake Geneva), built some superb racing bicycles and had a long and respected reputation in the professional racing circuit for many years as well as fielding their own racing team. Although the Vitus 979 was not extensively used by the Cilo Team, it was certainly sold to the general public under the Cilo badge.  Cilo, however, was one of those firms whose paucity of publicity (and printed matter), should not reflect the quality of its in-house production or the extent of its 979 sales over the years. Most of the 979s badged as Cilos are in an anodised rose finish.


A rare Cilo badged Vitus 979 "Arcor" Aero frame sold on eBay in October 2018. .

The same model, broadside view.  

Showing the unique profiled seat stays and tubing of the Cilo Vitus 979 aero.

WILIER TRIESTINA

Dating to 1906, Wilier Triestina is one of Italy's oldest cycle manufacturers and this and the traditional nationalistic qualities of Italian cycling, make it one of the more remarkable examples of branding the Vitus 979 and one of the few by an Italian firm. Moreover, the firm co-sponsored the Supermercati Brianzoli team and in 1984, as discussed previously in this article, the team machine were Wilier badged Vitus 979s that one season.

Offered only for a few years (it doesn't appear in a 1985 catalogue), the models were unique in their custom made braze-on Campagnolo Super Record front derailleur. This was machined by Italian framebuilder and former racer Luciano Paletti and usually only found on his frames

An exceptional 1984 Wilier Triestina 979 (serial 042477) As offered on eBay December 2018. Credit: Cro_george (Zagreb, Croatia)



Details of the unique braze-on Campagnolo Super Record front derailleur.  


JAN JANSSEN

One of Europe's largest racing cycle shops, the Dutch Jan Janssen firm was one of the biggest Vitus 979 dealers on the Continent and sold the model through most of its production life.


The Vitus 979 had pride of place on the cover of the 1986 catalogue. Credit: www.klassiekeracefiets.info

Janessen's sold the 979 in 1986 with three models with Campagnolo components and one with Shimano. Credit: http://www.klassiekeracefiets.info

Specifications for the 979 "Competition" model with Campagnolo Record components. Credit: http://www.klassiekeracefiets.info

The Vitus 979 "Competition" in the 1988 catalogue. That year introduced the epoxy white finish as a colour option. Credit: http://www.klassiekeracefiets.info

Specifications for the "Competition" model in 1988. Credit: http://www.klassiekeracefiets.info

Jan Janssen sold their complete Vitus 979 machine as the Vitus Competition with Campagnolo Chorus components as shown in the 1989 catalogue. Credit: Velobase.com

Details of the Vitus Competition from the same catalogue. Credit: Velobase.com


KONRAD KOTTER/ALBUCH KOTTER

In 1979 former opera singer, restaurateur and cycling enthusiast Konrad Kotter started his cycle firm.  This sold a quality range of lightweights which were mostly made by Romani in Parma, Italy, and imported as unpainted frames and finished in Schechingen, Germany and mostly fitted out with Shimano components. They were badged as Kondors or Kotter Racing Team..

To promote his company, Kotter organised his own professional cycle racing team in 1980-1981. This attracted some very talented cyclists, notably Dietrich 'Didi' Thurau and Hans Peter Jakst.

In 1982, the company declared bankruptcy and was taken over by entrepreneur Hartmut Fischer and renamed Albuch Kotter.

During this time, Kotter's, under both managements,  imported a fair number of Vitus 979 frames and from the very beginning of production. These were fitted out with Shimano components (including the brand new Dura Ace AX series) and sold under the model name "Nizza". Judging from the number of surviving examples, Kotter accounted for a good proportion of Vitus 979s sold in Germany at the time, certainly as complete machines.


A beautiful early Kotter "Nizza" Vitus 979 in full Dura Ace AX. Credit: www.rennrad-news.de

A later Vitus 979 Nizza with the Albuch Kotter headbadge sticker.

BRÜGELMANN

Europe's largest mail order cycle company, Frankfurt-based Brügelmann, was one of the very first to offer the new Vitus 979 and as a frameset only.


The first appearance of the Vitus 979 frameset in the 1980 Brügelmann catalogue was one of its earliest. Credit: V-CC on-line library.

The 1982 catalogue included the new Vitus 979 Aero frame, although it doesn't specify which one.  Credit: Velo Pages


PARIS SPORT

Paris Sport was a house brand of  Park Cycle & Sports in Ridgefield Park, New Jersey.  Vic Fraysse, with his son, Mike, imported a significant number of quality lightweights from French builders including Bertin. Steve Woznick, multi national U.S. champion, rode a Paris Sport and often competed in a Paris-Sport jersey during the 1970s.

The firm was a major importer of Vitus 979 frames into the United States and most were sold as complete machines.

A 1984 Paris Sport Vitus 979. Credit: http://chuck.kichline.com

The unique pantographed Vitus seatpost and headbadge sticker, Ets Frayesse refers to Vic and Mike Frayesse, owners of the Paris Sport Cycle Shop. Credit: http://chuck.kichline.com

A stunningly beautiful 1985 Paris Sport Vitus 979 (serial no. E052624) with full Campagnolo Victory components.  Credit: http://riddentreasure.blogspot.com


BERTONI

Bertoni was a brand, built as the name suggests, around Italian made lightweights, of one of the great American cycle entrepreneurs, Ben Lawee (1926-2002).  Lawee created also the Italvega and Univega brands for the U.S. market built around foreign imported machines of his own design and specification.  Lawee got his start in the cycle trade working for the Joannou organization, itself an early pioneer of quality imported bicycles into the US (including Dunelt) and in 1959 he purchased the Jones Bicycle Shop in Long Beach, California. Lawee began to import directly quality lightweights including Legnano and Bianchi, Carltons and Motobecane.  He later became the U.S. distributor for Motobecane during the “Bike Boom” in America in the 1970s and played a major role in the specifications of the brand for the U.S. market, including the early adoption of quality Japanese components.  At this time, he also created the Italvega brand of Italian-built lightweights, built by the same firm that made Torpado.  Supply problems and rising costs saw much of the production of Italvegas shift, however, to Japan (built by Miyata) and the name of the brand changed to Univega.

Bertoni was a final effort by Lawee to build and import Italian made lightweights of his own design and specification into the United States and dates from the early 1980s.  It is believed that most were made by Daccordi and were of a good quality, mostly made with Columbus tubing.  The one "oddball" in the range not Italian made but with a very Italian name, the Ultra Leggera, was Lawee's import and branding of the Vitus 979 built around a full Shimano 600EX groupset. This figures in the Bertoni's catalogues in the late 80s at least and the brand seems to have ended by the end of the decade.


The Bertoni Ultra Leggera from the 1986 catalogue. Retail cost: $970.

The Ultra Leggera as presented in the 1987 Bertoni catalogue. Credit: Velobase.com

A beautifully original 1987 (serial 077882) Bertoni Ultra Leggera. Credit: Bikecult.com


Another view of this same machine. Components: Shimano 600. Credit: Bikecult.com


VITUS VALEDICTORY


The Vitus 979 was in production for 18 years, 1979-1997, an impressively long span for any single bicycle design and all the more remarkable for the total transformation of the racing bicycle and the cycle industry that occurred over the same period.  The same innovation that inspired its design and development and garnered its success, eventually doomed it in a new and evolving era of one piece carbon monocoque frames and TIG welded aluminium.

The expression of a native, national cycling culture and the innovation, design and pride that went into the 979 was soon sublimated into the globalisation of the cycle industry. The 979 and Vitus withered and died along with most of the French bicycle making business.  In 2008 the Vitus "brand" (by then all that was really left of it) was acquired by Chain Reaction Cycles of Northern Ireland and the bikes are today made in Asia. If true French racing bicycles are rare today, so, too, are French champion coureurs and in many ways, the "Foreign Legion" that the 979 helped to introduce to the peloton have outlasted both the company and the machine.



SOURCES

Books

The Foreign Legion, Rubert Guinness, Springfield Books Ltd., 1993
Kings of the Road, Robin Magowan and Graham Watson, Leisure Press, 1988


Websites

http://bulgier.net/pics/bike/Catalogs/
http://www.retrobike.co.uk/
http://veterancycleclublibrary.org.uk/library/
http://veloretrocourse.proboards.com/
https://www.bikeforums.net/
https://forum.tontonvelo.com/
https://anciensveloslyonnais.weebly.com/miosotis-mario-miosotti.html
http://numelyo.bm-lyon.fr/
http://www.jeandegribaldy.com/
https://www.lederailleur.fr/
http://labibleduvelo.blogspot.com/p/catalogues.html
http://www.memoire-du-cyclisme.eu
http://roadworksbicyclerepairs.tumblr.com
https://www.podiumcafe.com
https://www.rennrad-news.de
http://www.bikeraceinfo.com
https://www.birota.ru/catalogues/index.php
http://velobase.com/
http://www.cyclingnews.com
https://www.procyclingstats.com
https://www.pezcyclingnews.com
https://rouleur.cc
https://www.seankellycycling.com
https://www.cyclingweekly.com
https://www.steel-vintage.com
https://www.bikeboompeugeot.com/
https://bertinclassiccycles.wordpress.com/
http://www.velominati.com
http://vitus979.com
http://www.velo-pages.com
http://montour1959lasuite.blogspot.com
http://www.cyclingarchives.com/
http://www.muse-ette.com
http://www.equusbicycle.com
http://cyclingart.blogspot.com
http://www.velovintageagogo.com/
http://bikeretrogrouch.blogspot.com
http://www.klassiekeracefiets.info


Corrections/Suggestions/Additional Information/Photos welcomed
author's e-mail: kohl57@starpower.net


©Peter C. Kohler, 2019