The Cyclist, the Wife, Her Daughter and His Lover

EXCEPTIONAL, UNCONVENTIONAL, SOMETIMES SHOCKING: if this is an accurate description of Anquetil’s life so far, then the way he conducted his family life after his retirement from cycling would only serve to emphasise the picture of a man born to exceed normal constraints, whether physical or social. In fact, the extent and intensity of his off-bike activities – farmer, commentator, race director, unreconstructed bon viveur – were as nothing compared with his domestic arrangements.

The root cause of all the later upheavals was Anquetil’s desire, not to say obsession, to have a child of his own. This had been understood right from the outset of his relationship with his then lover Jeanine, as she herself acknowledged when trying to explain her reasons for being willing to give up her own marriage and children for him. The problem was that Jeanine could no longer have children, a fact which had also been clear to both parties long before they married. The inevitable result, although delayed by the duration of his cycling career, was a collision between his desire for his own child and her inability to provide him with one.

When I visited Jeanine in Corsica, she was happy to talk candidly about most aspects of her married life. She was aware of – and unflustered by – the obligation on a biographer to ask sometimes awkward questions on intimate and sensitive subjects. She was nevertheless guarded when talking about some aspects of their relationship – what she felt with regard to asking her daughter to act as a surrogate mother, and the later implosion of the Anquetil family unit as the rivalry between mother and daughter for the love of one man came to a head. Yet although talking to a stranger on such matters may have been uncomfortable, she was quite ready to respond to her granddaughter Sophie’s considerably more probing interrogation for her own book about her unique family life. If there is one clear leitmotif for the whole saga, it is that, without a doubt, blood is thicker than water.

It is with reference to Jeanine’s comments in Pour l’amour de Jacques, then, that the process that led to Anquetil having a daughter with his stepdaughter is best explained:

‘He’d always wanted to have a child, and I couldn’t give him one. I’d had two very difficult Caesarean births with Annie and Alain, and my husband at the time thought it better if I had my tubes cut. While Jacques had been racing, we’d been enough for each other, but I knew him too well to think that his obsession for having his own child wouldn’t increase once he’d retired. And that’s exactly what happened. As soon as he stopped, his desire to have a kid kept gnawing away at him.’

(The consequences of this desire have obviously been gnawing away at Jeanine ever since. ‘If I’d been young now, we’d never have had any problems with having children,’ she told me, with evident regret. ‘I could have had IVF. In those days, you couldn’t do that. I could have had a child of Jacques by IVF, so there wouldn’t have been any problems.’)

Anquetil, it should be clear by now, was never one to back away from a challenge, even when others would have baulked at the potential solution:

‘In 1970, Jacques came back one evening from having been out walking on his own all day in the forest, and he said to me, “I have to find a surrogate mother, even a whore who we have to pay for nine months, but I have to have my own child. We’ll go to Paris. That’s where we’ll find someone.”’

Even the resilient and infatuated Jeanine was not enamoured with this plan. The possibility of the mother not wanting to hand over the baby, not to mention the fact that even if she did so it would mean depriving a mother of her child, the difficulty in deciding what to say to that child and the all too real risk of a ‘kiss and tell’-style scandal meant that Jeanine resolved to find another way, any other way, as she explained to Sophie:

‘His sadness – it broke my heart to see your father like that. So, in order that he could be happy, so I could keep him, so that nothing would change, so that the Anquetils could stay together, I had the crazy idea – it was like a deliverance – to ask my daughter to have my husband’s child. When I saw that his mental heath was really becoming dependent on having a child, I saw, we all saw, that the only answer was Annie. I know that some people, not to say most people, will find it difficult to believe what I’m about to say, but given the context . . . I had to ask Annie. I had to do it, I felt that, I had to do it, so I did it.’

The idea of a mother offering her daughter to her husband might well be difficult for many people to comprehend, even offensive. Yet Jeanine was happy to confirm this version of events to me. Nevertheless, there are others who maintain that Anquetil himself was far from a passive participant in the drama. Although, as with Jeanine, there were some subjects about which some of the people I interviewed in the course of my research for this book preferred not to speak, others were happy to accept and discuss their erstwhile colleague, friend or rival in his entirety, warts and all. While on occasion this inevitably resulted in the broaching of a subject others would have preferred to have kept quiet, it also reveals the depth of the affection Anquetil inspired in some of his relationships. To remain friends with someone with such a shocking and, it’s worth repeating, potentially offensive family life is one thing; to be prepared to discuss that family life publicly and without reservation demonstrates a considerable bond of loyalty, a bond that has to have been hard-earned.

Maurice Dieulois, one of his oldest friends, was only too happy to emphasise the value he placed on Anquetil’s friendship: ‘Jacques was a chap who was very faithful. He always recognised that I’d introduced him to cycling and that we’d been good friends, and it always stayed the same. He had this character that meant we always stayed friends, and he certainly never took advantage of his stature. At the end of his life, or during races, we always had the same rapport as when we were kids at school. He never spoke about the bike or his career, and if the subject was broached, it was never him who broached it. He never flaunted what he’d achieved. Never. Never. In order to get him to talk about his races, you had to approach the subject indirectly and talk about other things first. He never flaunted himself or told stories to make himself seem grand. And this was in spite of the career he had, being right at the top from 1953 to 1969, the moments of glory and being received in high places, having friends in high places, in the world of art . . . even in politics. He was admired, adulated; people were honoured to receive him. But he never took advantage of that.’

It should be pointed out that a notable exception to this general rule of his friends being content to talk was Raphaël Géminiani. He was initially more than happy to meet and discuss Anquetil – ‘there’s plenty to tell you’. However, after I’d visited Jeanine and Sophie in Corsica, a visit he knew about when he agreed to meet me, he changed his mind: ‘You’ve had a good time over there, no doubt, eating and drinking well and talking to women who know nothing about cycling. Leave me alone. Don’t bother me any more.’ His reputation as a forthright and impetuous character seems justified.

In stark contrast, although perhaps not surprisingly given his plain-speaking, military demeanour, Richard Marillier not only went out of his way to meet me but was unflinching when the subject of Anquetil’s domestic arrangements was broached, even if it involved implicating his friend: ‘I don’t think Jeanine suggested Annie. What I am certain about is that Jeanine was very much in love with Jacques. I don’t agree with everything that’s happened since, going on tour to explain things, and I’ve told her. But I do know one thing: she loved him very much, would do anything for him, and if she needed to make sacrifices to keep him, then she would make them. That sacrifice started with her daughter and was taken to such a degree that when Annie was pregnant they both left to hide it and make it seem like Jeanine was pregnant. We, who knew them well, knew it wasn’t true. We knew that because she loved him and didn’t want to lose him, she accepted that, if that’s what it took.’

While it might seem unlikely that Marillier is in a better position to comment on such intimate family details than Jeanine or Sophie, it should be kept in mind that Jeanine’s love for Anquetil was – is – so all pervasive that it would inevitably colour her perception of events, even if only subconsciously. It’s a common enough trait for those who are fond of someone to paint a rosier picture of them than is justified in reality. The observations of Dominique, Anquetil’s second partner, should perhaps be seen in this light, even if they also affirm Jeanine’s version of events: ‘It’s true that he didn’t like to be told what to do. Jacques didn’t like people deciding for him, especially at work, on the bike. But in his private life, he was quite the opposite – a man who was easily led by others – so he found himself trapped. It’s not a question of him not having thought about it, but if he’d taken charge, he would have seen things very differently and things would have happened differently. But he placed a lot of faith in the people with whom he lived, and he let them run the family. So, he no longer took control, and that’s how he found himself in the situation in which he did. He could have confronted the issues at the root of the problems if he’d picked up the reins and said, “I want that, and I want that, but not that, so I won’t do that like that. I’ll do things differently.” But because he let other people make the decisions, he found himself caught, as if in a spider’s web, in a situation different from that which he would have chosen himself.’

Yet both Sophie, in her book, and Jeanine, when she spoke to me, suggest a man as in charge at home as he was in every other aspect of his life. ‘He was the patriarch,’ Jeanine says. ‘Everything went through him.’

Whatever the exact chain of events, and whoever the initiator was, the end result was the same: Annie consented to have a child with her stepfather. The notion of this relationship being consensual is, of course, central to how it is perceived, as Sophie recognises in her book when she is questioning her grandmother:

‘You’ve just said, “I had to do it,” to ask your daughter from your first marriage to sleep with your second husband to give him a daughter you couldn’t provide. But was this an order or a request? I get the impression it was an order. That ought to bother me, but it doesn’t, not in the slightest, but I want to know.’

Jeanine is adamant that she not only had to convince her husband that this was the right solution but that she left open to her then 18-year-old daughter the possibility of saying no, even if she still perceived her eventual consent as essential:

‘Your father had to have a child. You had to be born. As for the freedom of your mother to say no to my plans, she had it, absolutely. That I knew how to be persuasive is a different matter, but, having said that, the best thing to do is to ask your mother what she thinks.’

I, too, would have liked the opportunity to ask Sophie’s mother, Annie, directly while I was in Corsica. Sophie had in fact managed to persuade her to speak to me, even though she was initially reluctant. ‘She doesn’t really like to talk about it all too much now, as she’s quite happily built a new life, and she’s remarried, so she’s no real interest in looking backwards,’ Sophie explained. Unfortunately, the meeting was interrupted before it even started when Sophie’s son Yan fell off his quad bike and had to go to hospital.

Yet once again Annie’s response to the situation is clearly articulated in her daughter’s book, even if Sophie says her mother would happily have avoided the subject for the rest of her days:

‘No, not talking about it didn’t weigh on me, and nor did I feel I was prevented from talking. I wasn’t censoring myself, either. It’s more that nobody ever asked me about it. Was it a peculiar arrangement? No, I don’t think so. Well, perhaps. I don’t know. That was the Anquetil universe.’

But what about the thorny issue of consent (not to the act but to the relationship):

‘Yes, Jacques and Nanou ensured I was free to do as they wanted . . . You know how your father was. He never insisted on anything he didn’t want you to do, but when he wanted something he managed to get it without ever demanding it. As for Nanou, you know how she ruled over Les Elfes. The sultan, her sultan, was Jacques. The grand vizier who could predict his every desire before he even knew it himself – that was Nanou.’

She goes on to point out that she was also only 18 at the time of the proposition and that she felt as though she had been living in a sort of Hollywood fantasy world:

‘When Nanou came to explain to me that I had to have a child with Jacques . . . I don’t know what I thought . . . here’s what I want to tell you . . . I was dumbfounded; maybe that makes everything seem anodyne . . . after all, I was part of the Anquetil family unit, of the Anquetil universe where the rules of the outside world didn’t apply. They were replaced by those of the man who was the Master of all he surveyed.’

It should perhaps be pointed out that the inevitable inhibition of free will in such intimate relationships is the reason that most legal systems have defined certain rules and responsibilities that should dictate the behaviour of the participants. These are normally called fiduciary duties, and in the United Kingdom and in France they represent the highest standard of care imposed by either equity or law. The duty falls on the person or people in the relationship who are in the position of power. In simple terms, this standard of care consists of not putting their personal interests above their duty to, and the interests of, the less dominant partner. Even more onerous, persons in the position of strength must go so far as to avoid putting themselves in a situation where there is a conflict between their personal interests and their fiduciary responsibilities, let alone then imposing their personal interests. Not surprisingly, the intimacy between parent or step-parent and child – the initial relationship between Anquetil and Annie – is considered sufficient to create a fiduciary duty.

Of course, this means that not only the morality but also the legality of their domestic set-up is open to question. However, of more direct pertinence to a full appreciation of the context in which it happened is an awareness of the paternal relationship between Anquetil and Annie that preceded the sexual one. This remains unclear. At one point, Sophie writes that Annie and her brother Alain lived with Jacques and Jeanine from when she was ten years old – that’s to say, in 1962. Later in the book, Alain and Annie are said to have lived definitively with Jacques and Jeanine only from 1967, having initiated the process in around 1964 or 1965. What’s clear, however, is that at some point the children broke away from their father.

Sophie says that this rupture was irrevocable, although Dominique, who of course was initially married to Jeanine’s son Alain, disagrees. In fact, given Sophie’s comments, I expressed my surprise when I met Dominique and she said that she knew Alain’s father, Jeanine’s first husband. ‘Yes, of course I knew him,’ she said. Does this mean the children regained contact with him? ‘More or less,’ she replied, before telling me how the rupture had occurred: ‘He remarried, and you know that with women there are often jealousies. They separate their new husbands from their children, push them away, put them in the dustbin, because they’re not their own children. So, he was deprived of his children, not by himself, but perhaps because of this woman, who also had her own children and wanted to promote hers at the expense of his. It’s a story that’s as old as the hills, the story of the nest, even if it’s not a nice story.’

If the complicity of their father in the departure of Annie and Alain and their decision to move in with Jacques and Jeanine is uncertain, what is clear is that, whether for only two or three years or whether for the best part of a decade, Anquetil assumed, and didn’t shirk, his responsibilities as a father figure. Jeanine has already explained how his rapport with her children, even from before their affair in the mid-1950s, was a determining factor in her seduction. Sophie is equally glowing in her assessment of his role as a father to his two step-children: ‘As soon as Annie and Alain went to live permanently with Jeanine and Jacques, he became head of the family, an exemplary father and at the same time a doting dad.’

Annie agrees: ‘He took us to the circus and to the fair. He paid close and sometimes critical attention to how we got on at school, but he was very kind. We loved him.’

The question that remains is to determine what it was that allowed Anquetil to either insist on or at least accept a relationship that was possibly illegal and certainly beyond accepted social norms. When I asked Bernard Hinault how he thought people had reacted to the revelations in Sophie’s book, he said it would largely depend on how people perceived his motives: ‘There will be those who say he was just a coureur, in every sense.’ The significance of this description comes from the fact that ‘coureur’ in French has an unlikely dual meaning. It means both racer, as in racing cyclist – ‘coureur cycliste’ – and also womaniser – ‘coureur des filles’ (someone who chases after girls – or skirt, as Hinault puts it). This is clearly Hinault’s interpretation of his close friend’s actions. It is also clear that, in Hinault’s eyes, this is an interpretation that doesn’t merit great censure. Whether the result of traditional French ambivalence to sexual indiscretions that might make prudish Brits blush, or whether a function of Hinault’s own earthy virility, for him Anquetil’s stereotypical male appetite for sex should simply be seen as a fact of life. Some people are like that, some people aren’t. ‘Les problèmes de cul [loosely interpreted as ‘women problems’], as we say, they mean nothing. If you’re a very good athlete, a very good politician, you’ve got to start from the position that it’s up to them. It’s their private life. C’est la vie.’

Yet while this might well be a fact of life, it might not have been a fact of Anquetil’s life. Although he was clearly a man with a considerable appetite for many things, his desire to chase after women in general is at best uncertain. He clearly enjoyed his time as a bachelor before marrying Jeanine – at the time of his relationship with Paule Voland, he boasted of the column inches that would be produced if the newspapers wrote about all the girls he saw – but Géminiani, for example, goes to some lengths to spell out to Sophie in Pour l’amour de Jacques how faithful he was once married:

‘Once, we went to Algeria at the end of the season without Nanou. I don’t know why. Every day, there was a minor race. We stayed for a week, and, of course, each night we had a party. There wasn’t much problem if you didn’t want to sleep on your own at night . . . and nobody did sleep alone . . . except Jacques! Yet he was the most sought after, and sometimes there was quite a queue outside his hotel room. It was as if he couldn’t see them.’

Dominique paints a similar picture: ‘He wasn’t a womaniser. It was women who chased after him, not him chasing after them. I’ve seen him at the Tour. I’ve seen us arrive somewhere and girls come and say, “Mr Anquetil, I’m on the Tour. I’m working for such and such a company. I hope we’ll be able to see each other again during the Tour.” That’s nice. I’m there, and I’m watching young girls come and try and chat him up in front of me. It’s just part and parcel of being a public person. But that wasn’t the man.’

Sophie provided an alternative explanation when I asked her how her father came to say yes to the possibility of having a child with his stepdaughter when most people wouldn’t consider it, even if they found themselves in the same situation: ‘I think it’s in his origins and his roots: his proximity to the land; the sense of wonder about and the importance of the family; the desire to stay close to kith and kin. I think he thought it was OK to have a kid with his stepdaughter, as it was the closest he could come to having one with his wife. It was to avoid having recourse to the outside world, for the outside world represented a danger. Someone from the outside could have done a kiss and tell, so it was harder. I think it was truly a desire to stay close to the family.’

This in itself might seem unlikely. Yet Philippe Brunel suggests, with his tongue only partly in his cheek, that in Normandy, at least, similar arrangements were more widespread than might initially be supposed: ‘Don’t forget, in Normandy it’s quite normal. Cases like his, things like the Anquetil family set-up, they happen frequently. If you read Maupassant, you find lots of Anquetil’s life in there, lots of blood relationships, lots of relationships within families. It happens. Why, I don’t know. It’s a region of close-knit communities, in small families, shut off from the outside world, maybe. I’m just saying that in those books you can see it a lot.’

Nevertheless, in addition to the more or less improbable notion of a stepdaughter acting as a surrogate mother for her stepfather, the Anquetil family had also to deal with the fact that their relationship became something more than one of convenience. In fact, Annie and Jacques maintained a sexual relationship, under the same roof as Jeanine, for more than a decade. The result was that Anquetil went to Annie’s bed every night before then joining Jeanine. The young Sophie, who initially slept near Jeanine before being transferred to her mother, went in the opposite direction. It’s little surprise that Sophie says she referred – and still sometimes refers – to both women as her mother, even though she was fully aware of the biological truth of her situation. Annie explained it to Sophie in Pour l’amour de Jacques:

‘Everybody was quite comfortable with it. That’s how it was. We were caught in a sort of gentle madness that didn’t actually make anyone crazy. It took me 12 years to realise it wasn’t what I wanted. I think I didn’t want it right from the start, but without knowing it, without admitting it, it came upon me slowly – very slowly. I should have left after you were born. But I loved him!’

The feeling was apparently reciprocated, again suggesting that Anquetil was more than a mere sleeping partner in the establishment of their relationship. Annie told Sophie:

‘They were playing with fire. Before Nanou came to explain to me that I had to have a child with Jacques, and that he would find it difficult, but that it was necessary . . . I knew that he wouldn’t find it so difficult. He’d started to look at me in a different way. His genuine desire to have a child, had it driven him to prepare me gently to accept him into my bed? With him, it’s quite possible.’

Annie even suggests that his desire for a child may have been just the excuse he needed to hide from Nanou his real motivation – to establish a relationship with Annie:

‘Having me, he had a young Nanou again, without having to lose the old one . . . I’m not their victim. I too played with fire. And once it had happened, instead of spending a few nights with me to make me pregnant, he fell in love with me and stayed for 12 years. You wanted the truth. That’s mine, or how I see it, anyway.’

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!