An Insatiable Appetite

WINNING, OF COURSE, WAS Anquetil’s raison d’être. When still a novice, he had been advised that if he raced to make money, he wouldn’t win, but that if he raced to win, he would make money. ‘He quickly understood that the best way to make money out of riding a bike was to win races,’ remembers his friend Dieulois. It may not have been rewarded with great popularity, either with the public or his rivals, but Anquetil did not let this deter him. In fact, his run-in with Altig and the growing threat posed by Poulidor, both on the bike and in terms of the public’s affection, only served to encourage Anquetil to even greater achievements – 1963 was to be his most successful year to date.

It should be noted, however, that simply winning any old race wasn’t enough – the standing of the event was almost as important as victory. One of the great ironies of Anquetil’s rivalry with Poulidor is that it was Poulidor – the eternal second – who ended his career with more professional wins (189 compared with 184). Of course, the vast majority of Anquetil’s victories carry far greater prestige than those of Poulidor. Although prepared to go to enormous lengths to assert his authority, he was inspired by pride and a careful assessment of the races that were most important in sustaining his reputation – and contract value – rather than the later all-consuming gluttony of Eddy Merckx, for example. When Merckx was nicknamed ‘The Cannibal’, Anquetil was dubbed ‘The Civilised Cannibal’ by Jacques Augendre.

‘I think it wasn’t in his character to want to win everything,’ explains Dieulois. ‘The season was long, so he targeted some races and was happy to win those to maintain his status and the commercial value that allowed him to earn his living. He wasn’t like Merckx. Jacques could have had a fuller palmarès [race record] if he’d really knuckled down to it, but he just based his season on the Tour and the time trials, and that was enough for him. He was quite calculating in this way.’

To this end, starting the season with his third win in Paris–Nice was the best way to demonstrate his form and send out a clear message to his rivals. The victory didn’t come without some controversy, however, and once again it involved Altig.

Following the problems surrounding their partnership in the same team the previous season, Géminiani had established a policy of ‘horses for courses’ at St Raphaël. As a result, Anquetil had been appointed leader for stage races, while Altig, along with Jean Stablinski and Jo de Roo, had been nominated to the same role for the far more numerous one-day races. The distinction was not unique, and in principle would seem to have been a step forward from the previous year’s tribalism. Even if both Altig, as winner not just of one-day races but also of the previous year’s Vuelta, and Stablinski, one-day man par excellence and himself winner of the Vuelta in 1958, could have justifiably felt aggrieved at the division of labour, Géminiani was moved to describe the mood in the training camp at the beginning of the season as being reminiscent of the musketeers: ‘All for one, and one for all.’

At Paris–Nice, Altig was to discover first hand how keen Anquetil was to ensure the first half of that famous motto was adhered to. Shortly afterwards, he would also discover Anquetil’s reluctance to fulfil the second half of the pact. First came Paris–Nice, however, and an enterprising Altig took advantage of the tight marking to which Anquetil was subjected to gain a lead of 35 seconds over his teammate. Having learned his lesson from the Tour of Spain, Anquetil swapped high dudgeon for backroom politics and made sure Géminiani was on his side when it came to enforcing the team policy. In Les années Anquetil, Géminiani wrote:

‘I don’t like the idea of going into the time trial stage in second place,’ he told me. Being the one behind this policy, I couldn’t disagree with him. Fortunately, Rudi was as good as his word and didn’t balk at the request. A rider with great class and a fine temperament, he made sure he lost some time during a stage, allowing Jacques to put on the leader’s jersey that he would then wear all the way to Nice.

Altig’s reward for his selfless team work was to finish second in anticipation of Anquetil returning the favour a few days later in Milan–San Remo. This was not to be, as Altig recalls: ‘We had an agreement that I would help him in stage races and he would help me in the classics, but it was difficult. I could hardly wait for him at the side of the road. I did it once in Paris–Nice, then three days later he was supposed to help me in Milan–San Remo. But he only did 50 kilometres before stopping and getting into the car with Jeanine, who was parked at the side of the road. I said to myself, “I can’t tolerate a teammate like that.”’ Perhaps revealing the reality behind his claims to be a born-again egalitarian, Géminiani, who places the same incident not in Milan–San Remo but in Paris–Roubaix, dismisses it as no more than a ‘hiccup’. Either way, it marked the beginning of the end of Anquetil and Altig’s working relationship, although not of their friendship. When I spoke to Altig, he maintained he had always managed to keep a distance between his professional and his private lives, a distance that allowed him to be friends even with rivals: ‘In races, he was too selfish, so we decided not to mix racing and friendship. What I can say about Jacques is that since his death he is someone I have missed.’ In fact, this is a phrase he repeats several times during our conversation, clearly wanting to underline the warmth of their friendship rather than any lingering bitterness over races won and lost.

Back in 1963, Anquetil was keen to continue to underline his authority. Beating Poulidor in the Critérium National helped, but the next big challenge was to remedy the previous season’s failure in the Vuelta. Things started off well. He put on the golden jersey of race leader after the first time-trial stage, and the rest of the team still found time for three stage victories, including one for Guy Ignolin, while helping Anquetil defend his position prior to the next time trial on stage 12. Here, Anquetil was expected to cement his overall victory by extending his lead, but Géminiani records that as early as the 20-kilometre mark he began to look in trouble: ‘His face was contorted, and he was sweating more than normal. With a move of his head, he made me understand that things weren’t going well and that he felt sick and was spent. The last 20 kilometres were heroic.’

Anquetil indeed achieved the unthinkable in such a state and held onto his leader’s jersey, even if he did lose the stage. This was enough to lead to plenty of speculation about his well-being, and Géminiani was fully aware that the rumour mill would run wild if this performance was then followed by any visible signs of weakness. Accordingly, Anquetil was whisked away from the finish area and immediately hidden in his hotel room, where he was in such a state that it took Géminiani and Anquetil’s masseur working together to manage to bathe him. Further reclusiveness was impossible, however, as all the teams were sharing the same hotel and, more importantly, the same dining room. Géminiani later wrote:

Sitting down to eat without him would have confirmed their suspicions. Taking advantage of a slight improvement, we dressed him and, surrounded by his teammates and in full sight of everyone, started eating. All except Jacques, of course, who couldn’t swallow anything and simply wanted to throw up. Everybody passed their napkins to him to allow him to do this discreetly while all our rivals seemed mesmerised. Having shown himself, Jacques could return to his room.

He could also continue to recuperate, which he did at a remarkable speed: by four in the morning, he had managed to devour a whole cooked chicken and some beer left for him by Géminiani. That his recovery was complete the following morning was confirmed when he became aware of the speculation surrounding his health: ‘So, they thought I was out for the count, did they? Well, tell the lads we’re off to Valencia [the destination of that day’s stage] in top gear.’ The fairy tale was complete when teammate Shay Elliot won the stage, and Anquetil held onto his lead until the finish in Madrid two days later.

Unlikely as this may seem, Ignolin was there at the time and confirms the story: ‘Yes, he must have eaten something that disagreed with him. He was throwing up, and the masseur was hiding the plate using our napkins. Afterwards, he went up to the room to recover and ate some cold food during the night, and the next day he was going like a motorbike again.’

If the experiences of the Vuelta demonstrate one aspect of Anquetil’s remarkable constitution, there are plenty of examples that reveal the more familiar, if sometimes exaggerated, stories about his levels of consumption. In fact, the reality was such that no exaggeration is required, even if he sometimes couldn’t help himself. In an article for Le Cycle magazine, French journalist and until recently official Tour de France historian Jacques Augendre remembers two favourite Anquetil aphorisms: ‘I tried to drink water once. It made me sick’; and ‘Health Food? Such an uncivilised phrase will never be uttered in my house.’ He also remembers Anquetil’s unique way of paying tribute to Pernod for their continued sponsorship of the season-long competition for the rider with the best overall performances, a competition he won four times: ‘He won a Baracchi Trophy not with lemon tea in his bottle but with Pernod. Then he got off his bike and offered his bottle to the journalists who were interviewing him and said, “Would you like an aperitif?”’

Even for Anquetil, such indulgence during a major event appears to have been unusual, notwithstanding the regular consumption of alcohol as a pick-me-up and painkiller by cyclists of the time. It should be remembered that beer, wine, champagne and even brandy were frequently consumed after one of the many café raids that supplemented the meagre refreshments provided by race organisers and team cars.

‘I never saw him eat excessively during important races,’ insists Ignolin. ‘But after the Tour, during the criteriums, oh yes. I went on a few trips with him. I remember lots of steak tartare, lots of pepper and lots of champagne – ooh la la. After one race near Reims, there were four of us: me, Jacques, Jeanine and Shay Elliot. We took our supper together after the race at about midnight. What spices there were on the steak, and four bottles of champagne for four people. We raced the next day in Limoges, so we had to drive from Reims to Limoges. I had a sore head the next day.’

His friend Pierre Chany told Sophie of his exasperation at hearing exaggerated stories of Jacques’ consumption being repeated so frequently that he came to be seen as a dilettante rather than a serious athlete blessed with unlikely physiological capabilities. Stories such as his victory in the 1967 Critérium National in Rouen after he had been drinking and playing cards until 3 a.m. on the morning of the race and only deciding to participate after finally succumbing to Géminiani’s jibes that Poulidor was going to win on his doorstep. Yet it was Chany who inadvertently added grist to the rumour mill when he was involved in one of the most famous of all Anquetil’s dietary exploits.

The location was Géminiani’s home town of Clermont-Ferrand on the eve of the local Ronde d’Auvergne one-day race. In mid-August, in prime criterium season – and therefore prime money-earning season – it had taken a good deal of persuasion to get Anquetil to the start line. The only persuasion that had worked, in fact, came in the form of a promise from Géminiani of a lavish meal and plenty of liquid refreshment. Given what was consumed, it’s perhaps small wonder that Géminiani and Chany’s recollections seem a little hazy and in fact differ in the detail of who was there (in Les années Anquetil, Géminiani lists Anquetil’s teammates for the event as well as a couple of former rugby-playing friends, while in Pierre Chany, L’homme aux 50 Tours de France Chany suggests serious contenders for victory in the race such as Stablinski and Van Looy) and also in the exact quantities involved. Nevertheless, both recall that Anquetil stayed up until 5 a.m. drinking champagne, beer and whisky and outlasting all his companions in doing so. For good measure, Chany adds that Anquetil needed to supplement everything he had consumed up to that point by having two fried eggs – washed down with two more whiskies – before going to bed, and was still capable of being taught how to safely eat the glass from which he was drinking (nibble the rim, chew it up and it forms a harmless paste, apparently).

Three hours later, Anquetil required some further persuasion, this time to get out of bed and make it to the start of the race – hardly surprising given the prospect of racing 270 kilometres over the unforgiving terrain of the Massif Central. In spite of puncturing after an hour and considering this the perfect excuse to stop (Géminiani only managed to keep him in the race by saying that it was an excellent way of purging himself of the previous night’s indulgences), Anquetil eventually went on to record an extraordinary solo victory. Chany recalled the scene afterwards: ‘When Jacques arrived, Raphaël, who was thinking about the purging, asked him, “Have you nothing to say to me?” Jacques replied, “Yes, you can put the champagne on ice.”’ The following evening, Anquetil won the criterium in the Pyrenean town of Quillan, prompting his British rival Tom Simpson to ask what he had done to be riding so strongly. Had he known, he might not have believed it.

The Ronde d’Auvergne may not have been the most important of races to a multiple Tour de France winner, and this no doubt goes some way to explaining Anquetil’s singular preparation for the event, as does the legendary hospitality of the Machiavellian Géminiani. But even without such temptation, he needed little excuse to ignore the dietary rule book or to prove that it had no deleterious impact on his performance. At the Tour du Var in early 1963, Géminiani records how Anquetil was spotted by Antonin Magne, Poulidor’s directeur sportif, eating a copious breakfast washed down by white wine. ‘He may be called Anquetil, but don’t be surprised if he’s the victim of stomach cramps,’ Magne called out to his team, loud enough for Anquetil to hear. Never one to tolerate implied weakness, Anquetil won that day’s stage having ridden everybody but Henry Anglade off his wheel. ‘By way of cramps, it was us who suffered,’ Magne was told by one of his riders.

Anquetil continued to make his rivals suffer at the Dauphiné Libéré, gaining revenge for his tribulations of the previous year with a comfortable overall victory, his first in the race. Next came the Tour de France and the much anticipated rematch with Poulidor, a rematch that was expected to be too close to call, since the organisers had reduced the distance of the time trials and also the time bonuses awarded for winning them. With a very mountainous route and a resurgence in the form of 1959 Tour winner and climbing great Federico Bahamontes (the ‘Eagle of Toledo’), Anquetil’s dominance was under attack from all sides. Indeed, Anquetil was once again put under considerable pressure from the start, thanks to the incessant attacks of Van Looy (who would eventually finish well out of the picture overall but who managed to win four stages and the green jersey). He nevertheless reassured himself and his teammates with victory in the first time trial, though at only 24 kilometres in length this provided little opportunity for him to establish a race-winning lead.

Instead, and in unusual fashion, he had to wait until the Pyrenees to begin to assert himself. From Pau to Bagnères-de-Bigorre, via the Col d’Aubisque and Col du Tourmalet, Anquetil not only matched Bahamontes but also beat him in the sprint to win the stage.

By the time the race reached the Alps, Poulidor and Bahamontes were left with little option but to attack if they wanted to precede Anquetil in Paris. Bahamontes was at least partially successful, winning the stage into Grenoble and riding into the overall lead at the same time. Still, on the eve of the final mountain stage, from Val-d’Isere to Chamonix, via both the Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard and the Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard, as well as the Col de la Forclaz, Bahamontes led Anquetil by a mere 29 seconds, a clearly insufficient margin to assure overall victory given the 54-kilometre time trial still to come. He would have to try to drop Anquetil again. Poulidor, meanwhile, was behind Anquetil and had even more reason to try and distance his rival. This he duly did, attacking hard on the second climb of the day. He was unable to gain a meaningful advantage, however, and by the time he reached the foot of the Forclaz he was beginning to tire.

What Poulidor appears not to have known, and what Géminiani says he and Anquetil were both aware of, was that the new road over the Forclaz had been closed due to a landslide, obliging the riders to use the old unmade road. At the same time as spelling doom for an already fatigued Poulidor, this allowed the ever-resourceful Géminiani to put into action an illicit plan to facilitate Anquetil keeping up with the inevitable acceleration by Bahamontes. According to Géminiani’s recollections in Les années Anquetil, he had chanced upon news of the change of route the previous evening. Concerned as to what this would do to Anquetil’s morale when combined with an assault by Bahamontes, he planned to reassure his man by effecting a change to a lighter bike at the foot of the climb.

In 1963, however, a rider could only change a bike that had suffered some kind of mechanical failure. This was not enough to deter Géminiani, as Ignolin recalls, even if he appears to cast doubt on this having been a planned move: ‘Yes, I remember the Forclaz in 1963. There had been a landslide, so we didn’t go up the main road. We went up the old road. It wasn’t really a road. It was just a track. It was no longer maintained, and there was no tarmac left. There was mud everywhere: in the chains, on the wheels, in the gears. Jacques was not happy – he was behind Bahamontes at the time. Géminiani said, “Don’t worry. We’ll sort it.” Then he told the mechanic Jacques had a problem. Of course, there was a commissaire in the car, but he managed to say to the mechanic to take a pincer and cut the gear cable so that Jacques could have a new, clean bike to finish the stage on.’

Whether Géminiani should be congratulated for having planned all this in advance or for having simply reacted quickly when he saw what was happening, the effect was the same. ‘It all happened so quickly, the commissaire didn’t see anything, and Jacques went on to beat Bahamontes to the stage win in Chamonix,’ Ignolin explains.

Following this up with victory in the final time trial, Anquetil ended with a margin of victory over the Spaniard of three and a half minutes. In doing so, he became only the second person, after Bobet, to win three Tours in a row and the first ever to win four overall. Poulidor was a disconsolate eighth.

Anquetil’s achievement in having not just won a Tour that had been designed to reduce his advantage over his rivals but in having out-ridden Bahamontes in the mountains (two stage victories to the Spaniard’s one) meant he received a far warmer welcome than in the previous two years. ‘The most beautiful of his victories!’ declared L’Équipe, moved also to resurrect the comparisons with Coppi that had littered his earlier career:

Above all, he demonstrated that he didn’t have to rely on the time trials to win, as he also won two mountain stages. All that remains for him to do now in order to be compared with Coppi is to win an important one-day race. At 29, he can still make this dream come true, all the more so having shown this season, through his stage victories, that he’s far from having fulfilled his potential. That’s no mean feat after such a career.

Yet still not everybody was happy, especially Parisian tabloid Ici Paris: ‘Jacques Anquetil a superchampion? Everybody agrees this to be the case. It’s just a shame that his bored and distant demeanour gives the impression to the public that he’s the cat’s whiskers, not to say the eighth wonder of the world.’ The paper was particularly peeved that Anquetil had rejected its overtures to have him photographed next to Sheila, a pretty pop star of the time. ‘What’s she doing next to me?’ he had asked. ‘A charming young lady, who couldn’t help but add a touch of glamour to his victory,’ was the paper’s disingenuous reply. ‘He almost flew off the handle. The photographers thought back to another great champion, Louison Bobet, who would never have turned down such a delightful picture opportunity. But Bobet is a gentleman, and therein lies the difference,’ it concluded.

This widespread public perception of Anquetil as cold, not to say arrogant, appears to have been at odds with his standing among his peers in the world of professional cycling, who hardly had a bad word to say about him. ‘There’s always been a “Daddy” in France. First Bobet, of course, and then Anquetil, following on,’ recalls Brian Robinson, who rode with both. ‘Anquetil was the Daddy then. He was a guy with more star quality than anyone else apart from Coppi. He had a presence, a real good presence. He was a gentleman. If he said something to you, that was it. He was very laid-back.’

Ignolin is similarly complimentary: ‘He was a great champion, and I admired him a lot. To find myself in the same team as him was a highlight of my life. I did the three big tours with him, and he won them all.’

Bobet, on the other hand, alienated himself to a degree from his fellow cyclists, as Chany later recalled: ‘He had a certain conception of prestige and of life. He was there to be a champion. He had respect for himself. He was proud, verging on being conceited. When he became a star, when he had his plane [at the end of his career, he had a plane that he flew in to races], when he was at his peak, frankly, he was difficult to put up with some days.’

Jean Milesi, another former teammate of Anquetil’s, has a favourite anecdote that does much to suggest Anquetil’s relative humility compared with his erstwhile rival was genuine: ‘It was a stage in the Tour, and I did a café run to pick up some drinks and distribute them around teammates and maybe a few friends from other teams if there were any left. I had a beer left, so I thought I’d give it to Jacques, but we came to a small hill, and to get to him at the front I had to cycle past the whole bunch while climbing this hill. When I got to him, I offered him the beer, but he said no. He was riding alongside Pierre Everaert, who said, “Do you realise what he’s just done, riding past everyone to give that to you? The least you could have done is take the beer from him.” By this time, I’d dropped back a bit, but Jacques decided Pierre was right, so he dropped back down the bunch to say thank you for the beer and to drink it. It was a good job I hadn’t already given it to someone else.’

Even in the heat of battle of the famous 1964 Tour, the Tour he came closest to losing, and with Poulidor the most likely beneficiary, Anquetil still found time to help out other riders. Profiting from the skirmishes between the two rivals, little-known French rider Georges Groussard had managed to lead the race for eight stages and was still in yellow as the race spent its last day in the Pyrenees. ‘The day before I lost the jersey, a stage with four cols, Bahamontes had attacked straight away. At the top of the last col, the Tourmalet, he still had a five-minute lead, and I’d only had a lead of about two, two and a half minutes on him overall. So we went down as fast as we could, and Anquetil was helping us in the chase. But when we got to within two minutes of Bahamontes, he went to the back of the group, and he didn’t want to work any more. He knew he was close enough to him to overhaul him in the time trial the next day, and he wanted to save his energy.

‘The result was that we were no longer closing in on Bahamontes, and I was about to lose the jersey, so I went to find Anquetil at the back of the bunch, and I said, “I helped you the other day, so can you help me today? I know full well you’re going to take the jersey from me tomorrow, but I’d very much like to keep it tonight.” So he came to the front and started to ride again, and he made such an effort that we managed to start closing in on Bahamontes. Everyone else thought that if he was riding, we’d better ride with him, and I kept the jersey. Voilà. And I was very happy, as I’d much rather lose the jersey to Anquetil than to Bahamontes, and I had an extra day in yellow. He was very smart. He knew that one day he might need a favour, so he was happy to return one.’

Poulidor, meanwhile, found himself in the unusual position of receiving brickbats rather than plaudits. He was even whistled and booed as the Tour finished in Paris, an experience which he said helped him understand how Anquetil felt when exposed to a similar reaction, even if it was for different reasons: ‘Yes, I was whistled for finishing eighth. They whistled me because I’d lost and had been a disappointment. They booed him because he won too much. He was a metronome. All he was interested in was winning, by one second, two seconds – it didn’t matter. He had a watch in his head.’

Of course, because Poulidor had been targeted as a result of his failure to win, he had the opportunity to rectify things (Anquetil never felt inclined to lose a race simply to elicit sympathy from the public). This he duly did, taking a comfortable victory in the Grand Prix des Nations. ‘The 1963 Tour was a great disappointment to me,’ he recalls. ‘For that I wanted to ride the Grand Prix des Nations, and I won it with incredible ease. After that, the public loved me even more – this popularity would never leave me. It was revenge for me.’ It wasn’t vengeance against Anquetil, however: ‘No, it was just vengeance against the fans – the same fans who’d whistled me a few months earlier. It was a reconciliation.’

Having also won the Grand Prix de Lugano, another Anquetil speciality, Poulidor was then partnered with his great rival for the Baracchi Trophy, giving him a clear opportunity to become the first man to win all three time trials in the same season. ‘The unheralded French pairing of Anquetil and Poulidor condemned to total victory,’ trumpeted L’Équipe. Yet although Poulidor had the satisfaction of appearing stronger than his rival, with Anquetil not taking turns at the front for the final quarter of the event, this was a pyrrhic victory, as they were beaten into second place – by nine meagre seconds – by the obscure pairing of Joseph Velly and Joseph Novales.

Could Anquetil really stomach the thought of helping his rival to a unique achievement that should by rights have been his? Certainly, Anquetil’s apparent insouciance in defeat casts doubt on the assertion by Marcel Bidot that he and Poulidor could have worked together in the Tour to their mutual long-term advantage: ‘I regret Antonin Magne being opposed to Poulidor being selected for the national team in 1961. Raymond would have helped Anquetil and most likely they would both have won one or more Tours. Together they would have dominated cycling for ten years.’

With the continuing exception of the world championships – where Benoni Beheyt’s controversial victory over teammate Rik Van Looy overshadowed Anquetil inexplicably conceding his own chances by sitting up in sight of the line, even though he was well clear of the bunch – it seems as though Anquetil was not doing a bad job of dominating everything on his own.

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