This era featured a winner from Luzembourg, Charly Gaul, who later became a hermit and refused all contact with the outside world.
But the real story was yet to come, and proved that the French can also love a loser rather than a winner.
Jacques Anquetil won an unprecedented five Tours between 1957 and 1964.
Yet it is Raymond Poulidor who would top any popularity poll, after some agonising near misses.
The "eternal second" finished with the runners-up spot five times, and was third in three further Tours without even wearing the yellow jersey.
During the 1960s the Tour changed back to sponsored teams, embracing commercial reality but still offering plenty of romance.
1957: Jacques Anquetil (Fra)
1958: Charly Gaul (Lux)
1959: Federico Bahamontes (Spa)
1960: Gastone Nencini (Ita)
1961: Jacques Anquetil (Fra)
1962: Jacques Anquetil (Fra)
1963: Jacques Anquetil (Fra)
1964: Jacques Anquetil (Fra)
1965: Felice Gimondi (Ita)
1966: Lucien Aimar (Fra)
It helped that the two rivals disliked each other so intensely.
Poulidor was a simple country boy, Anquetil a Norman from the city of Rouen.
Poulidor actually did not ride the Tour until 1962 and was to do so for 14 consecutive years without claiming his holy grail.
Anquetil did so immediately - in his first appearance at the race in 1957.
Despite the French team's lack of unity costing him between 1958-1960, he took five wins from less than a decade of appearances.
After Gaul's triumph in 1958, Spaniard Frederico Bahamontes - the Eagle of Toledo - made the most of there being too many selfish French riders in 1959.
Anquetil was absent as Italian Gastone Nencini won in 1960.
But he started to add to his 1957 success in 1961, beginning a run of four in a row.
"Maitre" - or Master - Jacques's strength was the time trial.
DURING THIS ERA
In 1962 Britain's Tom Simpson becomes the first GB rider to wear yellow jersey
1958 had already seen Brian Robinson snatch Britain's first stage win
Star sprinter of the era was Frenchman Andre Darrigade, although one stage ended in tragedy when he collided with a race official, who then died
1959 winner Bahamontes set a new record for best climber wins - six between 1954 and 1964
It was one he used to devastating effect in 1964.
Poulidor had taken a huge 42 seconds out of his rival after a shoulder-to-shoulder ride on the Puy de Dome.
The battle caught the attention of all of France and the video is still part of the exhibition at the museum on top of this giant dormant volcano.
On the final stage into Paris, a time trial, Anquetil took back almost every second.
It was a cruel way for Anquetil to snuff out Poulidor's hopes.
But the man who won five Tours had a lack of respect for Poulidor, mainly because he was not ruthless enough.
It was as if he believed "Pou Pou" should have beaten him by more at the top of Le Puy and he made him pay for a wasted opportunity.
Until Miguel Indurain's emergence Anquetil was the greatest time triallist in history.
He won 12 such tests in the Tour alone and set a world hour record even before his first Tour win.
However he could also ride the mountains and won two stages there in 1963 to prove the point.
Anquetil did not always follow what Indurain later called "a monk's life" in order to race.
His idea of training? "A few whiskies, blonde cigarettes and a woman," he once suggested with tongue only slightly in cheek.
Over-indulgence at a Tour rest day barbecue in 1964 left him requiring revitalising champagne in the Pyrenees the next day.
Anquetil sat out 1965, as Poulidor came second once more, losing by less than a minute yet again, this time to Italian youngster Felice Gimondi.
The five-time winner returned in 1966 but injury forced him out of his last Tour, although not before he helped Lucien Aimar stop Poulidor.
Surely now would be the chance for "Pou Pou" to eliminate his bridesmaid's reputation.
Yet the "eternal second" never even wore the yellow jersey in his remaining decade on the Tour.
After Anquetil's greatness he had to battle a man who was even better during the early 1970s.