Jacques of All Trades

REGARDLESS OF WHETHER HIS 1967 hour record was ratified or not, Anquetil had achieved his twin goals of cementing his place in cycling folklore and reclaiming his place at the top of the bill, though whether this was a result of popularity or notoriety remained a moot point. In practical and financial terms – the terms that meant the most to him – this restoration of his pre-eminence, even if as something of an elder statesman rather than the dominant rider of previous seasons, afforded Anquetil the luxury of determining his own timetable for retirement, rather than having it imposed upon him by a loss of form or a fall from grace. In fact, Anquetil would end up drawing out his farewell to the world of professional cycling that he’d been immersed in since he was nineteen by another two years until 1969.

‘The 8 January next year I’ll be 36,’ he told L’Équipe. ‘I always intended to race until I was 34, but I was tempted to carry on a bit longer, and I don’t regret it, as I don’t think I’ve made a fool of myself. But enough is enough. It’s time to move on.’ He certainly didn’t make a fool of himself in terms of his race results. The glory days of the early part of the decade may have been definitively behind him, but in 1968 he still found it in him to win the Baracchi Trophy for the third time, this time in partnership with Felice Gimondi. In 1969, his last year as a rider, he earned a glowing review in L’Équipe for his performance in the Tour of the Basque Country, his last major victory: ‘A French rider has beaten the Spanish in their own country, and that rider is Jacques Anquetil!’

Even finishing third to Poulidor’s second in Paris–Nice (after being caught by Merckx in the time trial up the Col d’Èze) and then losing to his arch-rival in the Circuit des Six Provinces provoked only a measured response. After chasing down a Poulidor break on one stage, he explained his motives: ‘I chased to prove something to myself, and I thought I could make it to the lead group, but then I started to get cramps in my legs when we went up the Col de la Forclaz. That hadn’t happened to me since the world championships in 1955. Perhaps I was tired after the chase, or perhaps it was a lack of race miles. I haven’t raced much this year, and my mind’s on other things. I think if I focused exclusively on cycling, I could still be right up there for victory, but, like I say, my mind’s on other things, even during a race – on the person behind the rider. It’s peculiar, though, that at 35 I’m still acting as if it’s up to me to control the race.’

The story was similar in the Critérium des As. Even before the event, Anquetil was talking down his chances: ‘I don’t think I can win. One hundred kilometres behind a motorbike is no joke, and I know I won’t get any presents from the Belgians.’ He was right. Walter Godefroot went on to claim victory, while Anquetil came fourth. ‘I did what I could. Two laps from the end, I thought I might make it. A few years ago, things would have been a lot more straightforward!’

Seen in the context of the pride and fierce rivalry that inspired so much of his career, this phlegmatic response to defeat, first at the hands of his greatest rival and then in an event he’d won four times previously, raises the question: why was he still racing? Certainly, he’d admitted himself that his mind was elsewhere and that he was short of race miles. In May of his last year, he gave his own explanation in an interview with Lui magazine: ‘Out of curiosity, no doubt. Out of fear of suddenly being deprived of competitive cycling. Out of pride, also. I’m thirty-five, and I’m constantly facing up to adversaries who are ten or fifteen years younger than me. They can’t always show me who’s boss, and I’ll admit that gives me a degree of pride. For the next generation of riders, Jacques Anquetil is still the man to beat, the public-enemy number one.’

According to Richard Marillier, who describes Anquetil as being more than just a friend to him, and who worked alongside him when he was technical director of the French national cycling team in the 1970s, there was also another more prosaic reason. He wanted the money: ‘I hope somebody’s told you this. You’d find it somewhere anyway. He had decided to stop racing. He said, “That’s it. I’m stopping.” He’d bought a farm. It started like that, with something like 400 hectares – it was enormous – but only a few buildings. Then the bloke who looked after his business interests – his solicitor, if you like – said the chateau is for sale, the one by his farm and the one he rode past as a kid. “But how much?” The answer was that it was a price that represented a very good deal. So he rode for two more years solely to pay for the chateau. He borrowed 90,000,000 francs at the time [Marillier still talks in old francs, so this is the equivalent of £90,000]. He paid it off in two years, but he rode solely for that.’

This was towards the end of 1967, and although he may not actually have earned quite enough to completely pay off such a mortgage, Anquetil himself acknowledged the financial benefits of his two-year swansong in his interview with Lui: ‘The paroxysm of effort in sport is in fact only acceptable through the moral or material satisfaction it provides. I still have a furious desire to race, but I never do it just for pleasure. Pure, unadulterated amateurism is a chimera. It doesn’t exist. It can’t exist, and everybody knows it. Why this hypocrisy is tolerated, I don’t know. I would have been as pure and irreproachable an amateur as the next man as long as one way or another, through whatever detours it took, money was being put into my wallet.’

Nor would this money have been inconsiderable, he claims, suggesting a top amateur was likely to receive in the order of £200 per month plus appearance money, more than double the average salary of the time. Yet Anquetil was more ambitious than that: ‘I’ve been a pure professional for more than 15 years and have never been embarrassed to be one. It’s never tarnished my reputation. It’s never brought into question what I’ve achieved.’

He might not have been embarrassed, but his memory appears short. His candid articles two years earlier in France Dimanche – including his confessions about buying riders – certainly cast a shadow of sorts on his reputation. Yet as an unabashed professional, he was happy to continue, explaining the comfortable financial situation he was now in: ‘I started investing at the end of my military service. On my return to civilian life, I wanted to buy a sports car, a beautiful red one, a car for someone of my age. But instead I chose to buy a small block of flats on rue Malaitre in Rouen. My first property, and my first capital investment. Now I have quite enough money to live comfortably for the rest of my days.’

Two extra years would undoubtedly have helped, however. According to figures Anquetil himself provides in his interview with Lui magazine, his basic salary in his last contract with the Bic team was £12,000 per year (although Géminiani suggests he was paid £30,000 per year). He said he could then more than double this through the contracts he was given to race in criteriums (between 50 and 100 of these each year, worth £300 each, giving a total of between £15,000 and £30,000) and other appearance money. On average, he said he declared £36,000 per year for tax purposes, a good reason to keep cycling (even if he chose to ride the Tour de France route one day ahead of the race in 1969 to provide a stage description for Europe 1 because he earned more from that than from racing).

To put this into context, the average UK wage of the time was £1,300. Anquetil was nearly thirty times better off and could hope to earn more in his two supplementary years than most people would earn in their lifetime. It should be noted, however, that this still doesn’t put him into the same stratospheric salary bracket as today’s highest-earning sports stars, notably footballers. While the equivalent of Anquetil’s earnings today is a very healthy £1,000,000, and this could no doubt be improved considerably by the endorsements and deals that would be available to someone of his status, this is still some way short of Wayne Rooney’s latest deal with Manchester United, worth, according to the Daily Mail at least, a staggering £35,000,000 over six years – nearly £6,000,000 per year.

Even gravy trains must come to an end, however, and in spite of this earning potential, and in spite of his good showing in the Critérium des As, he decided 1969 would be his last season: ‘Even if I’d won the As for a fifth time, it wouldn’t have changed anything. It’s well and truly over. I shall race the autumn criteriums, and then I’ll retire. I’m racing a lot and also working on my farm – there’s nothing better to keep you in shape. What’s more, as I know I’ll be stopping soon, I’m enjoying my racing greatly.’ Not even the prospect of a tenth victory in the Grand Prix des Nations could lure him: ‘You’ve got to be joking. If I lost, that’s all anyone would remember. Even if I was tempted, I wouldn’t fall into such a trap. I’m not even going to participate at the opening of the new track in Grenoble on the first of February for the simple reason that I won’t have a racing licence next year.’

He bade farewell to the Parisian crowds in front of a full house of 8,000 at the La Cipale track and received a rapturous reception, a reaction that didn’t seem to surprise him: ‘The public now appreciate what I’ve achieved. And, as always, when anybody retires you begin to miss them.’ His final race was also on the track, at the Sportpaleis in Antwerp, on 27 December. As befits someone with such an impressive list of victories, he was in exalted company: ‘When you’re getting ready in the same changing-rooms as Rudi Altig and Eddy Merckx, it’s quite something. You don’t think about it being your last race. But when the organisers decided to delay the start of the last race by a minute so my wife could set us off, I must admit to having a twinge of regret. That’s when it really struck me that I was saying goodbye, and hindsight will surely serve to reinforce that feeling.’

The tributes began to pour in, led by Merckx, Anquetil’s heir apparent: ‘The ease with which he appears to ride is unprecedented, all the more impressive when you’re aware of the hardships involved in riding a bike. The most extraordinary thing is that he still makes it look easy after a career lasting 17 years. I think that’s absolutely fantastic, because I know that 17 years as a cyclist is a long, long time. The sum of the hardships that represents is unimaginable.’

According to Brunel, Merckx was more than simply the heir to Anquetil’s dominance of cycling. ‘Anquetil wanted to challenge Merckx,’ he recalls. ‘There was a criterium, and at the end of the race he said, “Let’s see what Eddy’s made of.” So they started with a reception by the mayor, where there was champagne, etc. Then they went to a restaurant, eating, drinking more champagne, wine. Then it was off to a nightclub. They started on whisky – double whiskies. And in truth it was Merckx who won – Jacques left first. Merckx won. Jacques left with Jeanine at 5 a.m. to sleep for an hour then met Eddy again at breakfast, and Merckx ordered chicken and pasta . . . They had a rapport that no longer exists today, a very virile rapport.’

Relieved of the hardships Merckx mentions, Anquetil was not one to sit on his hands. Although happy to distance himself from the effort of racing, he maintained his interest and involvement in the world of cycling. He would eventually become race director for Paris–Nice and the Grand Prix du Midi Libre, a member of the managing committee of the FFC, and made a name for himself as a columnist in L’Équipe and co-commentator during the Tour de France and other races, first on radio for Europe 1 and then for the newly created French television channel Antenne 2. He vowed never to become a directeur sportif, however. ‘He never wanted to be in charge of a team,’ recalls Jeanine. ‘He could never have said to others not to have a beer when he wanted one himself: “If I told them not to drink, imagine what they’d say to me . . .”’

Yet he was happy to accept his friend Marillier’s request to help him with the national team. Formerly a resistance fighter and colonel in the French army during the war in Algeria, now an energetic if slightly ailing octogenarian, Marillier was prepared to go to considerable lengths to meet me and impress upon me his fondness for Anquetil. I ended up taking a train from Paris to meet him in Nevers, as he said it would be too much to ask me to find the old farmhouse he owns, ‘lost’ – his word – in the surrounding countryside (I would have been delighted to try). I didn’t realise until it was too late that this required him corralling a friend into providing a taxi service for the 60-mile round trip, as his fading eyesight meant he was no longer able to drive himself; that he had no trouble in doing this says much about his reputation and his still noticeable military bearing. ‘It’s the least I can do,’ he said when I finally appreciated what had happened. ‘I’m obliged to come and speak to you, first because my wife was an English teacher and I’m very fond of les Britanniques – I don’t speak a word of English, mind you – but mainly because of my friendship with Jacques. And if you can come to France, the least I can do is to come and meet you for lunch in Nevers. And you’ll be able to enjoy some decent food.’

To all intents and purposes, Marillier was a one-man team. He was selector of all French national teams – male, female and amateur – manager and directeur sportif all in one. Not surprisingly, he felt the need for a bit of extra assistance: ‘My first world championships were in Leicester in 1970, and I understood that I needed with me a person, a name that carried some clout on the global stage. At the world championships, when you’re abroad, nobody knows who Marillier is; Anquetil is known by everyone. So, I rang Jacques. I asked him, and he said – you have to know him – first he said, “It’s kind of you to think of me. I’d say yes, but on certain conditions. Basically, I don’t want to be sucked into all the hassle of selection. You select, tell me who you’ve chosen the evening before so I don’t look like a fool in front of the journalists and we’ll work like that.” And we did work like that for ten years – with him as directeur sportif, if you like.’

His duties were not exactly wearing, however: ‘What did he do? He didn’t do anything! Nothing! He was in the car during the race. There was the driver and Anquetil, and I was at the roadside, linked up by radio. But he never gave any advice. He’d collect the numbers. When we were abroad, they asked who would be collecting the numbers. I’d say, “Jacques Anquetil.” They’d say, “What?” “Yes, no joking. He’ll be along to get them.” I thought French cycling needed a figurehead. Even if I had Poulidor in my team, Anquetil was something else. He was on a pedestal.’

This in itself had benefits for the morale of the team, as Bernard Hinault recalls: ‘His most notable achievement was that when he was standing next to you, it was him standing next to you. You’d be full of admiration for him, so it was already a bit of a dream come true. That you could just speak to him like that, when you’re only 21, was fantastic, an inspiration. Then when I grew in stature within the team and it was him who came to see me, that also made me happy – the fact that he would ask me for my opinion.’

If Marillier’s side of the deal seems distinctly lacking in terms of the practical help you might have thought he’d be looking for, it’s clear what Anquetil got out of the arrangement: he could continue his long-standing enjoyment of the camaraderie of cycling with neither responsibility nor great exertion. In fact, being free of these constraints facilitated a remarkable rapprochement with Poulidor.

Anquetil family legend has it that he first became a fan of Poulidor after his daughter Sophie kept repeating ‘Vas-y Poupou’ instead of ‘Vas-y Papa’ (‘Come on Poupou’ – Poulidor’s nickname – instead of ‘Come on Papa’). In fact, the thawing of their relationship had started sometime before Sophie, only born in 1971, was able to make her preferences felt (and, of course, ‘Papa’ had stopped riding before she came along). This process was only helped by the fact that the two were involved in the same national team. With Poulidor no longer a rival, old enmities could be set to one side. ‘At the end, when he’d finished cycling, he talked to friends of mine, and he said to me, “Raymond, we’ve lost ten years of friendship,”’ Poulidor remembers. ‘In the end, we became very, very good friends. In fact, he was one of my number-one fans.’

This unlikely turn of events is confirmed from first-hand experience by Marillier: ‘I remember a scene from the world championships in France at Gap. It was the eve of the race, and we were in a park on a lawn. All three of us were lying down: Poulidor, me in the middle and Anquetil. Jacques said, “You’d have been in the shit if I’d continued to race. What would you have done when you were choosing – take me or him?” I said, “It’s simple, a quick decision – it would have been one or the other. I wouldn’t have taken both, except if you’d signed an agreement with me beforehand, but even then . . .” Jacques said, “Yes, but you’d have had half France against you.” And Raymond said, “Yes, but you’d have had the other half for you . . .”’

As was the tradition in the cycling caravan, the friendship included plenty of card-playing, one of Anquetil’s favourite pastimes, and of course there was only one winner: Poulidor. ‘Ah, cards,’ he says, smiling. ‘Yes, I beat him a lot, but he didn’t mind.’ Marillier describes one typical confrontation that serves also to reinforce the unique esprit de corps that cycling provided at the time: ‘It was in 1977, at the world championships in San Cristobal on the Venezuela–Colombia border. The defending world champion was Freddy Maertens, so the Belgians all rode for him. Then one lap from the end, he abandoned. I can tell you that people like Merckx, who’d worked their backsides off for him, weren’t happy. Both teams were in the same hotel, and at dinner time we were eating at opposite ends of the restaurant. Towards the end of the meal, Merckx suddenly got up, and the directeur sportif as well, and I thought, “That’s it. They’re going to fight.” But Merckx just came to our table and said, “Commandant,” that’s what he used to call me, “can I come and sit with you?” I asked, “What’s up?” He replied, “I can’t stay with those delinquents,” so he finished the meal and the evening with us.

‘Shortly afterwards, Poulidor said to me that this was his last race for the national team so he’d buy the drinks. Bloody hell. We’d never seen him pay for anything. Never! “You sort it out. Champagne for everyone.” I went to find the hotel boss, and I didn’t speak any Spanish and he no French, but I understood they didn’t have any champagne. “How about whisky?” I asked. Poupou said that this was OK, so we got two bottles, but it was a rip-off – £32 I think. So, they were all there – Anquetil, Merckx, Poulidor – drinking plenty. They’d ridden 260 kilometres that day, after all. After a while, someone suggested playing cards, a game of poker. Anquetil played like a potato but was always happy to play. Poulidor said, “Yes.” Merckx said, “Why not?” They all played in Poulidor’s room. They started at 11 p.m. I came back at 6 a.m., and they were just finishing. Six in the morning! They hadn’t slept a wink. I asked Poulidor how things were going, and he said, “I’ve taken £34 from one and £36 from the other.” In other words, he’d paid £32 for the whisky and had won back double!’

In spite of these occasional financial setbacks against his old adversary, and in spite of Poulidor’s retirement, Anquetil continued his functions with the national team even after Marillier left to join the Tour de France organisers. His last attendance was in Villach in Austria, just after he’d had his stomach removed and scarcely three months before he died. The role he had carved out for himself continued to provide unlikely benefits, including discovering the delights of English seaside resorts. ‘I remember going to the world championships at Goodwood in 1982,’ says Jeanine. ‘We both went there. What I remember most are all the slot machines in Brighton.’

There was also the equally unlikely discovery of a new, improved, riding position. For the undisputed master of time-trialling, a man about whose position on a bike people have written poems and eulogies (‘Watching Anquetil in the Grand Prix des Nations almost made me cry with admiration’ was one of L’Équipe’s most notable attempts to characterise his beautiful combination of rhythm and power), this is tantamount to heresy. Had it not come from as competent a judge as Bernard Hinault, it might also seem unbelievable, yet he is adamant: ‘It was when we were at the world championships in Colorado Springs in the USA in 1986 – more or less 20 years since he’d been on a bike. He was a bit bored, and he said, “You can’t lend me a bike?” So we lent him one and didn’t change the set-up at all. It was set up for me, but we didn’t change the saddle, handlebars, anything. Then, after we’d started riding, he said he’d never felt so comfortable on a bike.’

This feeling of comfort must have been all the more remarkable given that Anquetil appears to have ridden a bike no more than half a dozen times after he retired. ‘When he hung up his wheels, he hung them up for good,’ says Sophie. ‘I remember him getting back on his bike just three times: once, he climbed the Puy-de-Dôme with Poulidor; once, he rode his bike into the swimming pool on my birthday; and the third time I was twelve. I’d really insisted that he come for a ride with me one weekend. I insisted, insisted, and then finally he capitulated. We went with some friends and did a ride together. But once he’d stopped, that was it. I think that he’d given so much, suffered so much on a bike, that once his career was over that was enough, and he had no reason to keep riding.’

Perhaps the discovery of a better position might have reduced his suffering. ‘You must remember, he didn’t have a wind tunnel like I had to test his position,’ Hinault continues. ‘If Père Jacques [the respect implied by this affectionate nickname is quite clear] had been in a wind tunnel, I think he would have changed his position. And when you look at it closely, I’ve looked at him in photos, he doesn’t have the ideal position. Ideal for the time he was riding, yes, but not the best position with hindsight, knowing what we now know. He could have been even more powerful and faster.’

In a similar vein, Poulidor recalls how Anquetil was at ease on almost any bike: ‘He was just made to ride a bike. If you gave him a bike, any bike, he was good on it.’ Poulidor also repeats the story of Anquetil being asked by his mechanic what gearing he wanted for a big mountain stage during the Tour: ‘He just said, “Do as you would for yourself.” It was remarkable.’

Yet this may in reality be no more than another facet of the Anquetil myth, another ruse designed to unsettle his rivals. For a start, he was meticulous in preparing his gearing for all his time-trial triumphs – going so far as to work out which gear he needed to be in for each corner on a course – while his attempts on the hour record included the experimentation with different ratios that led to his unprecedented use of 52 x 13. What’s more, Vin Denson – the teammate with the closest inside-leg measurement to that of Anquetil – recalls how he was almost as restless as Merckx: ‘He had quite long inside legs – he was all leg, in fact – and even though I was quite a bit taller than him I used to have only about a quarter-inch longer inside leg than he did, so they’d build my bike up to his size. On difficult stages, like through the small Brittany villages when you knew the team cars couldn’t get through quickly to be able to effect a change if necessary, the team would say I was on Anquetil’s bike today, and he was ever so fussy about his saddle position. He’d carry a spanner, and I’d carry one myself, as half the time he’d forget to put his in his pocket. He’d be riding to the start, and he’d say, “Those bloody mechanics have not got my saddle right,” and I’d say, “They’ve probably got it perfectly right. It’s just nerves, Jacques; it’s just nerves.” But he’d insist on stopping, and he’d move it down a quarter-inch, say. And bugger me, after we’d started, just as things were getting a bit frisky, after about 20 kilometres, he’d say, “My saddle’s too low,” and want it up again. So Stablinski or [Anatole] Novak or someone would be pushing him, and I’d be altering his saddle – it had little notches on it. I’d move it up to what I knew was his position, and he’d be happy then. Then he wanted a comb, then a beer . . .’

Denson was, in fact, referred to by British journalist Geoffrey Nicholson not as Anquetil’s ‘superdomestique’ but as his ‘supervalet’, a description he still sees as apt: ‘I thought, “If you’re going to be a valet to anyone, might as well be valet to the Duke of Norfolk.” And Anquetil was the star man. Oh yes, he was the top. Nobody to touch him.’

Cycling no longer filled his life, however. As befits a man with his considerable energy levels, he had various other interests. ‘There was a manufacturer who made jerseys, gloves and the rest, all in his name,’ recalls his childhood friend Maurice Dieulois. ‘There was also a company that made “Anquetil” bikes, and from time to time he did publicity stuff in shopping centres, that sort of thing.’ A tête-à-tête with Jacques Anquetil in L’Équipe also revealed that he owned a few properties in Cannes, as well as a gravel pit in Normandy, producing some 100,000 tonnes per year. He even found time to dish out road safety advice for a government campaign to reduce road deaths, although his advice wasn’t always conventional: ‘I’ve driven 800,000 kilometres, the equivalent of 20 times around the world. Being careful doesn’t have to mean being slow.’

His comments on the sometimes uncomfortable relationship between cars and cyclists were perhaps better received – ‘When you overtake a cyclist, make sure there’s enough space for him if he falls’ – and his advice to cyclists themselves was ahead of its time:

I couldn’t recommend highly enough to my cycling friends, those who are passionate about the bike, to use all available means to make sure everyone is aware of them. Even, and I’m not joking, wearing luminous helmets or jackets. Some might laugh at this idea. Others might see it as a chance to start a fashion. Whatever, the important thing is to avert an accident.

But his real passion, going right back to his rural upbringing, was working on his farm, and this he did with abandon. ‘How many times did we talk to him with Géminiani about not just buying land but perhaps considering investing in property?’ asks Jeanine. ‘But no, for him it was land.’ In spite of his wealth and his other activities, he was determined that the effort he himself put in on the farm should be appreciated. In an interview with the Miroir du Cyclisme headlined ‘The Tour . . . of the Estate with Anquetil’, he was asked whether he’d become a gentleman farmer:

‘Not at all. I’m a farmer. It’s not a pleasure garden. Here’s where I grow wheat, next door it’s oats, further along it’s flax – flax is a tricky crop. And the farm can’t wait. I’ve got to spread fertiliser, harrow, sow. I’ll take advantage of the good weather and put in some extra hours. They say it might not last, and the barometer suggests a storm’s brewing.’

Jeanine’s son Alain was nominally in charge of running the farm, but this didn’t stop Anquetil from dirtying his own hands. ‘Was it just a farm for fun? No, he worked hard at it,’ Jeanine asserts. ‘We had cows and other animals. Wheat, oats, barley, maize. There were times we’d come back from an evening out in Paris all dressed up with high heels on, and we were in the mud with Jacques if necessary.’

Maybe it was this combination of high society and country living that leads his school friend Dieulois to acknowledge that he was looked on by some as a kind of dandy: ‘They said, “Look, he’s got a farm, but he must only work there every now and then. Most of the time he must be at his desk, on the phone.” But he had the boots, he drove the tractor, he maintained the buildings. Although I don’t really know that he made any money from it. On the contrary, at certain points it must have cost him money.’

‘He lost lots on the farm, but he liked it,’ confirms his last companion Dominique, an assertion that creates an intriguing picture. The man who infamously declared to his friends that he wouldn’t ride his bike for ‘chocolate medals’, whose prime motivation was to use the bike to make as much money as possible in order to improve his lot, was now paying out of his own pocket to reconnect with the rurality of his youth. This was clearly the passion that cycling had never been. ‘He just wanted a simple life,’ says Sophie. ‘He was a peasant, so he went out harvesting, labouring, looking after animals. My image of my father is someone who replanted hectares and hectares of trees, as there had been fires. Someone who took me out on 1 May, as everyone used to, to get wild lily of the valley. Everything followed the rhythm of nature.’

However, this didn’t stop him being an innovator, as he had been in cycling. A retrospective in L’Équipe after he retired revealed that he was one of the first to import a particular early maturing breed of cattle from Ireland – his success in this venture was enough, the paper claims, to have led to a meeting with the British prime minister. Nevertheless, after a while he moved away from husbandry and became an arable farmer. It was not unusual, the paper said, for him to spend 20 hours consecutively at the wheel of his tractor. ‘Like a real farmer, he doesn’t hesitate to work from dawn to dusk,’ explained his cousin Marcel Bidault. ‘He’s got farming in his blood.’

Hinault, who until recently had also turned to farming after he’d retired from cycling, doesn’t contradict any of these assessments but does suggest another motivation behind Anquetil’s desire for land: ‘As he was a farmer, we spoke about crops, animals, the farm, long and late into the night. He worked, yes. When he wasn’t commentating on cycling, or whatever, he was at the farm working. There was also the fact that having earned lots allowed him to buy a farm – he was no longer the labourer but the landowner. That allowed him to show local people how he had succeeded and succeeded socially. It’s not arrogance. That’s not how he was. But he wanted to get from the bottom to the top of the social ladder.’

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