Hubbard's Cupboard: Bad boy Beyaert's behaviour would make Cavendish blush

The man with incredible tales from past Games
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The Independent Online

With British cycling riding high, Mark Cavendish is favourite to kick-start the home gold rush by winning this afternoon's road race through the byways and hills of Surrey, finishing on The Mall.

In 1948, the same event saw one of the sport's most intriguing figures, the Frenchman Jose Beyaert, take the same title in a race that took place in Windsor Great Park, where many of the cyclists suffered repeated punctures. He broke away from the rest of the field a mile from the finish and won by six lengths.

He had been known to police as a teenage streetfighter and had arrived late at the London Olympics after the mayor of his hometown, Pantin, refused to sign his good conduct certificate. Only government intervention got him to the Games.

He (right) was the last Frenchman to win the Olympic road race and also competed in the Tour de France, where he had to be restrained from punching a rival.

Beyaert had been a French resistance worker during the Second World War, moving weapons on his bike. He was also a gymnast boxer but the most remarkable aspect of his life came when he moved to Colombia, ostensibly to open a velodrome. But there he became known as "the Olympic gangster".

He got involved with drugs –not taking them, but smuggling them, as well as emeralds, when he began an association with drugs barons. It was also rumoured that he was approached to be a hired assassin for the Mob.

In fact, Beyaert had no wish to be a role model. He later admitted: "I was a violent man, but I did not want others to bear my responsibilities."

He escaped a kidnapping attempt in 2001 and moved back to France where he died in 2005, aged 79.