His body spoke so much. Before the race, it told of self-assurance and vanity, hair slicked back, eyes sparkling, crowds gathering. Climbing mountains, it whispered fallibility, a hunched and haunted appearance of a man scared by the shadows around him. Against the clock, it thundered control, hunkered down in the drops, zeroed in on a moving target on the road.
So dominant against the clock, no wonder Jacques Anquetil was often conservative and subsequently portrayed as the bad cop to his adversary Raymond Poulidor’s good one.
When he knew his strengths, why risk regular feats of derring do to indulge others and potentially lose the race? There’s beauty in pragmatism and self-awareness too. What the French would do now to have one rider as “boring”, beautiful and successful as Anquetil…
After all, you have to be so good to be so measured. It’s easy to forget how talented he was, a phenomenon since winning the vaunted GP des Nations time-trial as a teenager. Maître Jacques took his debut Tour in 1957 – by almost 15 minutes – and became the first man to win five.
The vulpine Frenchman won two Giri when it was a stronghold for home riders; the same goes for his lone Vuelta. Remarkably, he never finished a Grand Tour off the podium.
“Maître Jacques” pushed the boundaries of what was possible. He claimed glory in the 1965 Dauphiné, hopped on a plane and triumphed at Bordeaux-Paris twenty-four hours later. The year before, suffering after reading a bad horoscope and overdoing it on red wine, he salvaged the 1964 Tour while in freefall through the field after his pride was piqued by team manager Raphael Géminiani: “If you’re going to die, you might as well die in front.”
At his root, Anquetil is both one of a cycling great and a fascinating study of a champion, combining pride and brittle self-confidence, calculation and grace. He appeared debonair but was salt of the earth, this son of a Norman strawberry farmer who transformed his life through cycling.
As for the extra-curricular activity: Anquetil freely admitted to taking dope. He was a bon vivant, who liked the occasional bidon of champagne while racing. He married Janine, who had been previously wed to his doctor – then later got involved in a menage à trois with his step-daughter Annie. And those are just the headlines, which he would probably meet with a Gallic shrug. C’est la vie, and there was scarcely a dull moment in his.
I’ll let a few more photographs do the rest of the work. As Paul Fournel wrote, “he was cycling beauty out on its own.”
Over the coming months the Rouleur team will be making the case for each of the 18 Cycling Hall of Fame nominees. Vote for Anquetil – or any of the other nominees – below.
Read more from our Cycling Hall of Fame 2019, “The case for…” series:
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