Pelissier was one of four brothers, three of whom became professional cyclists. He began racing professionally in 1911 and amassed important victories before the First World War, including the 1912 Milan-San Remo and three stages in the 1914 Tour de France.
Pélissier brothers (l to r) Henri, Charles, FrancisOne day in August of 1911 while walking on the edge of Paris Henri Pelissier met Lucien Petit-Breton, one of the great cycling hereos of the day. Petit-Breton had already ridden the Tour de France four times and won it in 1907 and 1908. He asked Pelissier if he would like to travel to Italy with him to race. Six hours later they were on a train to Milan.
Their first race was the Tour of Romany-Tuscany. Pelissier crashed and didn't finish. But he won Turin-Florence-Rome and the Tour of Lombardy.
In his first time racing the Tour de France, Pelissier finished second in 1914 less than two minutes behind Philippe Thys of Belgium. He won the 10th, 12th and 15th stages.
In 1923 Henri Pelissier won the Tour de France at the age of 34. During his career he also won Milan - San Remo, Paris - Brussels, Paris - Roubaix twice, Tours of Lombardy three times, Bordeaux - Paris and Paris Tours.
Pelissier was repeatedly at war with organisers, sponsors and the press. When he went training, he urged his friends to take it easy - "it's important not to wear yourself out" he advised - but never letting on that he had been out at dawn for 40 kilometres of "speed training".
He dismissed his rivals with a sneer. "The others are cart horses; I'm a thoroughbred," he said during the Tour de France. The next day Pelissier had a flat tire and the whole field left him and his brother Francis 30 minutes behind.
Henri Pelissier's first wife, Leonie, despaired and shot herself in 1933. A few years later Pelissier had a girl friend, Camille Tharault, who was 20 years younger than him. He threatened her with a knife at least once. On May 1, 1935 he and Camille had an argument in the kitchen of their Norman-style villa outside of Paris. Pelissier lunged at her with a knife, cutting her face. She ran to the bedroom, opened a drawer and pulled out the revolver with which Leonie had shot herself. She ran back to the kitchen and found Pelissier waiting with the knife. Camille pulled the trigger five times. Pelissier fell to the floor. A bullet had hit his carotid artery. His body was placed in the room where Leonie had killed herself.
Camille's trial opened a year later, almost to the day. She pleaded self-defence and on May 26, 1936, she got a year's suspended jail sentence. It was as close as the court could come to acquitting her.