Just Because I’m Paranoid Doesn’t Mean They’re Not Out to Get Me

THE CONSIDERABLE LENGTHS TO which Anquetil would go to conceal his occasional weaknesses became clear the following year. The extent to which he had something to hide also became surprisingly apparent at the beginning of the season. Never at home racing in cold and wet conditions – which he dismissively referred to as forced labour rather than competitive sport – he had to abandon both Nice–Genoa and Paris–Nice, his two preferred early season warm-up events. As a result of a fever, he was unable even to start Paris–Roubaix.

It was against this unpromising backdrop, then, that Anquetil arrived at the start of the Vuelta a España for the first time. There was plenty at stake. Were he to win, he would become the first man to have won all three major Tours, a feat not even achieved by Il Campionissimo himself. Were he to lose, of course, the rule of the cycling jungle was that his prestige would fall to an all-time low. This natural reaction would be exaggerated by the expectation heaped on Anquetil coming into the race as a two-times Tour de France winner and one of only a handful to have also won the Giro d’Italia. What’s more, the Tour of Spain was, and still is to some degree, considered a poor relation of the much longer established Tours of France and Italy. Certainly, in 1962 it didn’t have the history and prestige associated with the other two major Tours: it had only been founded in 1935, compared with 1903 for the Tour de France and 1909 for the Giro, and had only been run on an annual basis since 1955. For Anquetil to not win such an event would be a retrograde step indeed.

Even more serious than Anquetil’s usual and widely shared concerns about his contract value and standing in the cycling firmament, however, was the pressure he would come under within his own team. Since his meteoric appearance on the cycling scene, Anquetil had been in a virtuous circle of success breeding strong teams and preferential treatment within these teams – all breeding more success. The importance of the role of ‘leader’, to Anquetil as well as to all those who pretended to the same position, has already been made clear by the unhappy experiences of the French national teams in the Tours of 1958 and 1959. Too many leaders and the counterproductive rivalry that ensued revealed the less palatable face of competitive sport and also ended in disappointing results.

Not that Anquetil had needed such experiences to inform his behaviour. Ever since his antagonistic reaction to Francis Pélissier’s decision to follow Hugo Koblet at his second Grand Prix des Nations, Anquetil had demonstrated an innate understanding of the need to assert his pre-eminence. He had clearly managed to do precisely that within his trade teams to date, but the winter just past had seen the transformation of his 1961 Helyett-Fynsec squad into two new entities: Leroux-Gitane and St Raphaël. Anquetil was now part of the illustrious St Raphaël team and had quickly realised the need to stamp his authority on proceedings, as his soon-to-be directeur sportif Raphaël Géminiani discovered when he joined up with the team for the first time as an assistant in early 1962. ‘No cohesion had been established,’ he recorded in his book Les années Anquetil. ‘The directeur sportif only had eyes for Anquetil, eating alone with him. He took exaggerated care of some, neglecting others.’

If an excess of leaders can rebound badly on team performance, so too can an exclusive focus on one individual. Anquetil’s failings in the early season were mirrored by those of his new teammates. Only one team member made it to the finish of Paris–Nice, while all the St Raphaël riders abandoned the Tour of Germany. By April and the Tour of Spain, things had been going so badly that Géminiani had been promoted to sole directeur sportif. Although this was the same Géminiani who had previously fought tooth and nail with Anquetil, Bobet and Rivière for leader status in the Tour in the French national team, he embarked on his career as team manager by making explicit his philosophy of egalitarianism within the team. ‘I based my approach on common sense, psychology, confidence, friendship and a sense of equality that I wanted to restore,’ he wrote. Sporting reality demanded that there was a leader nominated for the overall classification, however, and Géminiani was happy that this should be Anquetil: ‘Jacques Anquetil was our leader. He offered the best guarantee of success over 17 stages.’

Nevertheless, the harsh reality of the road and Géminiani’s desire to let his team make the most of their considerable strength in depth quickly exposed Anquetil’s relative lack of form. The victory on the second stage by Anquetil’s new teammate, and current world pursuit champion, the German Rudi Altig, set the tone. While Anquetil’s teammates won a staggering twelve out of the seventeen stages, including the team time trial that would give Altig the leader’s jersey thanks to his stage-two win, Anquetil was relegated to the unusual and for him distinctly unpleasant role of spectator. Languishing in sixth place after the eighth stage, Anquetil’s situation deteriorated still further when Altig used an attack by Spanish riders as an excuse to extend his cushion over his erstwhile leader.

Whether Anquetil was now constrained to wait until the individual time trial two days before the end of the race, or simply persisted in his belief that this would suffice and he didn’t need to attack beforehand, depends on which account you believe. According to Géminiani in Les années Anquetil, in spite of his insistence – and that of his teammates, including Altig – that Anquetil should take the race by the scruff of the neck, he refused to do so. According to Jean-Paul Ollivier, Anquetil’s teammates no longer believed in his ability to win overall, and so he was frustrated in his desire to attack by effectively being left on his own.

Whichever, on the eve of the 82-kilometre time trial, Altig still led Anquetil by a minute and a quarter. It was then that Anquetil’s insistence on his leadership manifested itself at its most Machiavellian. Not confident that he could rely on the race itself to overhaul Altig, Anquetil asked Géminiani to make sure that the German was not provided with a time-trial bike. This would have the effect of depriving him of the 13-tooth cog fitted to time-trial bikes and effectively limit his top speed. Petulant Formula one racing drivers could teach Anquetil nothing when it came to getting the upper hand, it seems.

Géminiani would hear nothing of it. ‘Jacques, you chose to wait until the time trial,’ he wrote. ‘You wanted this confrontation. It’s up to you to face up to that choice. You’ll race against Rudi with the same kit.’ Ollivier maintains that it was actually Altig who went behind Anquetil’s back by insisting on a 13-tooth cog against a prior agreement that only Anquetil would benefit from one.

But surely the point is not the timing of Anquetil trying to enforce an agreement to be able to ride with special kit in order to be able to gain an advantage over a teammate but the fact that this is what he tried to do. What’s more, Géminiani’s version was corroborated by Altig himself when I spoke to him about his rivalry – and friendship – with Anquetil: ‘He’d started the race as nominal leader, but then I took over the lead. There was a long time trial at the end, and as he was very good against the clock he thought he would be able to make up the time on me then. But I was also quite a strong time-triallist, so he didn’t want me to have the 13-tooth cog. Perhaps he knew I was going well. Perhaps he felt that he wasn’t going to win. But our mechanic said that he’d change my rear wheel anyway and gave me one with a 13-tooth cog.’

The end result was a stage victory by two seconds for Altig – paving the way for overall victory two days later – and an angry and bitter Anquetil, who abandoned before the next day, inspiring press accusations that he had been betrayed by a team that not only won more than two-thirds of the stages but also won the general classification, the green jersey and the team competition. The reasons for this abandonment are again rendered obscure by the various different explanations given. According to Ollivier, Anquetil had for several days been suffering with a temperature that eventually came to a head after the rigours of the time trial. Abandoning was the only option. Géminiani himself recalled no illness, limiting himself to the observation that Anquetil’s decision seemed spiteful and worrying. Altig is even more to the point. ‘When you lose a race, you’re always “ill”,’ he told me. ‘Yet he still finished second. Maybe he was “ill” in the head?’

Whether ill during the Vuelta – another potential explanation for the absence of attacks – or shortly afterwards, Anquetil was diagnosed with viral hepatitis on his return to France. Demonstrating once again the remarkable powers of recovery for which he was justly famed, he lined up at the start of the Dauphiné Libéré ten days later. His physical state may have been diminished by his illness, but his motivation was great. With his reputation both publicly and within his team beginning to fray at the edges, his whole season now rested on his performance in the Tour de France. In turn, his performance – even his participation – in the Tour de France depended on how he fared in the Dauphiné.

The omens weren’t good. Géminiani was still the directeur sportif and confessed that Anquetil and Altig were barely on speaking terms. He also said Anquetil was in such a poor state that he was scarcely recognisable – even paler and more drawn than he was habitually. Two days of rain and fog made things even worse. Yet Anquetil, surrounded initially by a select coterie of teammates, managed to survive and even show a semblance of form before finishing an improbable seventh overall, a respectable 17 minutes behind the winner Junkermann. Géminiani wrote:

All he had left was his pride and his courage, which was not much and yet a considerable amount at the same time. Dropped, half-dead, weakened, he rode a time trial each day to try and rebuild his fitness. Slowly, he recovered. He found his rhythm and a level of comfort. I’ve rarely seen such humility, and once again I had to ask myself where he found this formidable energy.

Anquetil’s place on the St Raphaël Tour team – now that the Tour had reverted to trade teams for the first time since 1929 – was guaranteed, even if his actual participation remained in doubt right up to the start of the race. Given his recent health troubles, it should perhaps be little surprise that after the pre-Tour medical inspection Dr Dumas, the official Tour doctor, required a waiver to be signed before he would allow Anquetil to start. Even more serious, however, was the ongoing antipathy between Anquetil and Géminiani.

After his successes in the Vuelta and the Dauphiné, Géminiani had been appointed directeur sportif of the St Raphaël team for the Tour. He had gone so far as to select his Tour team, which included Altig, who was still sparring with his teammate in the press, but would be based, Géminiani maintained, around Anquetil. Yet Anquetil remained unconvinced of the merits of his former rival as team manager and demanded the return of his former manager Paul Wiegant, brother of Mickey, even though Sophie recollects in Pour l’amour de Jacques that her father had previously voted against Wiegant after having apparently been led to believe that this was the wish of his teammates. It took a meeting of all ten Tour riders and Géminiani, as well as Anquetil’s manager Daniel Dousset and the managing director of St Raphaël, Max Augier, who said he’d had enough of ‘Mr Anquetil’s caprice’, to resolve the issue. In a secret ballot, eight out of ten riders preferred Géminiani.

Anquetil was now faced with two possibilities: yielding to the wishes of others, including Altig, and riding under the guidance of Géminiani; or foregoing the Tour. It was touch and go. As Ollivier points out, ‘Never had Anquetil yet been forced to comply with the wishes of another.’ According to Géminiani, it took a frank discussion at Anquetil’s house before the dispute was resolved. He wrote:

‘Jacques, Altig didn’t usurp you with his victory in Spain. He’s in no way involved in your defeat and everybody else in the team knows it, which explains why they voted against you. But all that doesn’t matter. I’m here to tell you that they’re more than ever confident in you. As for me, I’m convinced you’re the only one who can win the Tour.’

‘Great. Let’s forget all that, then, and start again from scratch.’

If the relationship with Géminiani had improved, the fractious nature of his rapport with the villainous Rudi was still clear to see. The German won the first stage from Nancy to Spa to put on his first yellow jersey, and then again on stage three from Brussels to Amiens. Ostensibly, Altig was in the team to try and win the green jersey for best sprinter, although his own recollection of the tension with Anquetil suggests his aspirations – or at least Anquetil’s perception of them – were higher: ‘At the start, it was a bit difficult, but later, when I’d lost some time in the mountains, things got a bit better.’

By the tenth stage and the time trial into La Rochelle, which he won ahead of Baldini and Altig, Anquetil was beginning to dispense with Altig as a rival for the yellow jersey and cement his leadership of his own team. He still had to face up to other contenders for overall victory, however. Initially, the most important of these appeared to be Rik Van Looy. Although renowned as a rider of one-day classics rather than stage races, Van Looy was intent on changing that reputation. To demonstrate his strength, he and his team imposed a record average speed on the peloton as it wound its way through northern and western France to the foothills of the Pyrenees. Even 45 years later, Raymond Poulidor, then in his first Tour, remains impressed: ‘Yes, there was Van Looy with his red guard that meant we got to the Pyrenees at a daily average of 44 kilometres per hour. Every day, every day, flat out. He really wanted to be at the front, and he took us at a crazy speed to the foot of the mountains.’

A crash put Van Looy out of the race, however, and it became the turn of Belgian hopeful Joseph Planckaert to threaten Anquetil’s supremacy. Demonstrating the form that had already won him Paris–Nice earlier in the season, Planckaert wore the yellow jersey for seven days in the Pyrenees and Alps and earned grudging respect from his French rival, who couldn’t drop him: ‘He’s a real leech.’ It took the final sixty-eight-kilometre time trial from Bourgoin to Lyon for Anquetil to finally move into the yellow jersey, turning a deficit of more than one minute into a race-winning margin of four minutes fifty-nine seconds, which he would maintain all the way to Paris.

More significant than all of this, however, was the appearance of Poulidor himself, the first direct confrontation in a rivalry that would endure for the rest of Anquetil’s career. Even before the Tour had started, there had been considerable speculation and anticipation in the press as to the level of challenge Poulidor might be able to pose. After all, in only two years as a professional Poulidor had already accomplished two important victories that had as yet eluded Anquetil: the French National Championships – a feat Anquetil would never achieve as a professional – and the Milan–San Remo classic one-day race – it would be another two years before Anquetil won a one-day race abroad. To add more fuel to the fire, it was common knowledge that his absence from the Tour the previous year, when still run in the national teams format, was not down to his relative inexperience or youthfulness – he was only two years younger than Anquetil – but because his manager, Antonin Magne, didn’t want him to have to play second fiddle.

‘Straight away, journalists set me up as a rival to him, as I’d been noticed right from the start of my career,’ Poulidor recalls. ‘I’d won or led a lot of races, and the public had also become aware of me. So, that got the journalists talking even more.’ Straight away, too, Anquetil took umbrage at this parvenu, a reaction which Poulidor, with typical humility, still finds entirely understandable: ‘He didn’t react very well, and for good reason. I was set up as a rival, but I didn’t have the victories to prove it. I had nothing.’

It looked as if nothing would come of the first confrontation at the Tour, either, after Poulidor broke his left wrist in the run-up to the start in Nancy. He only managed to ride at all in 1962 after being fitted with a special, lightweight plaster cast, immediately throwing doubt on his potential to mount a credible challenge. Far from dampening the potential rivalry, however, this unfortunate turn of events simply proved to be the beginning of Poulidor’s love affair with the French public, which in turn would be a major source of antagonism between the two men.

‘I had my arm in plaster at the start, so my popularity started from there,’ he recalls. ‘The first day, I lost nine minutes. I was low in the evening. We went through the feed zone, and it was a jungle. There was only one, so you couldn’t miss it, but I only had one arm . . . I couldn’t keep up with the first riders through the zone, then there were a few breaks, and I lost nine minutes. It could have been the same the next day, but I managed to catch up the first break, and it was OK.’

Things improved steadily thereafter, and by the time the race came to the Alps Poulidor was lying third overall: ‘I did the first eight days with my arm in plaster and only took it off when we arrived at the Pyrenees. Then I won a major mountain stage in the Alps [the 19th stage from Briançon to Aix-les-Bains] and came third in the final time trial behind Anquetil and Baldini, finishing third overall. Our rivalry started from there. When we made it to the Parc des Princes, the crowds were on their feet, and it was all for me.’

This in itself was enough to irk Anquetil: ‘How did he react? Certainly it must have been difficult for him. All the adulation was for me, so if I put myself in his place . . .’ Yet according to Poulidor it was the practical consequences of this popularity that proved to be the biggest thorn in Anquetil’s side: ‘What was harmful to his career, I now understand, was this popularity, because I was paid the same rate in the criteriums as him, even though I hadn’t won, so for him it was frustrating. I understand. I would have reacted in the same way, and even other rivals reacted in a similar way to Anquetil. I was casting a shadow over all of them, so it was normal that I didn’t win. But then the more they didn’t let me win, the more they ganged up on me, the more popular I became.’

Yet it was Anquetil who had equalled Philippe Thys and Louison Bobet’s achievement of three Tour de France victories, a feat made all the more remarkable by the concerns surrounding his health only a few weeks before the start. Dr Hermier, the doctor who diagnosed the viral hepatitis, was certainly impressed: ‘I congratulate you on this new victory, but as far as I’m concerned you should no longer consider me your doctor. You’re not made like other people.’ Further evidence of this unique constitution came in the form of the tapeworm from which he’d also been suffering during the Tour, and from which he was still recovering when he partnered Rudi Altig, his nemesis from the Tour of Spain, to victory at the Baracchi Trophy in Italy. Once again, Altig proved more than a match for his more illustrious partner, although it was Altig’s own hunger for victory and his sense of rage inspired by Anquetil’s atypical reluctance to prepare thoroughly that were more significant in his subsequent humiliation than his tapeworm.

‘Two or three days before the race, we should have gone out training, but it was raining heavily, so Jacques didn’t want to go out,’ Altig recalls with a degree of relish. ‘So, I went out on my own, and I found a road tunnel that was being repaired, and I rode up and down inside that for three hours. I was angry, because Jacques hadn’t prepared as seriously as he normally would. The Baracchi Trophy was an important race, so I said, “If he’s not going to train, then he won’t forget this race in a hurry, because I want to win.”’

This would turn out to be an understatement. After 70 kilometres of the 111-kilometre event, Anquetil cracked, and Altig had to resort to chivvying, haranguing and even pushing his partner. Pictures of the event reveal Altig, riding one-handed but still in the lead, imploring the hapless, glassy-eyed Anquetil to one last effort. By the finish, Anquetil’s famous lucidity under duress had for once deserted him, and he was incapable of negotiating the final corner onto the track. Instead, he rode straight ahead into the crowd and crashed so heavily that he had to be immediately taken to hospital. ‘Yes, he fell because he was no longer capable of thinking straight,’ Altig recalls. ‘I had pushed him and pushed him, and then I said, “Turn left, we’re going into the stadium,” but he just went straight on into the crowd. He had great courage to have held on for so long.’ With considerable feeling, demonstrating that he too had the competitive drive inherent in all great champions, Altig adds, ‘Fortunately, the time was taken at the entrance to the stadium, so we still won.’ A sentiment no doubt shared by Anquetil, if not immediately.

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