Jacques Anquetil (8 January 1934–18 November 1987), was a French road racing cyclist and the first cyclist to win the Tour de France five times, in 1957 and from 1961 to 1964. He stated before the 1961 Tour that he would gain the yellow jersey on day one and wear it all through the tour, a tall order with two previous winners in the field - Charly Gaul and Federico Bahamontes - but he did just that. His victories in stage races such as the Tour were built on an exceptional ability to ride alone against the clock in individual time trial stages.
In 1941, his father Ernest refused contracts to work on military installations for the German occupiers and his work dried up. Other members of the family worked in strawberry farming and Anquetil's father followed them, moving to the hamlet of Bourguet, near Quincampoix. Anquetil had his first bicycle at the age of four and twice a day rode the kilometre and a half to the village and back. There he was taught by a teacher wearing clogs in a classroom heated by a smoking stove.
Anquetil learned metal-turning at the technical college at Sotteville-lès-Rouen, a suburb of the city, where he played billiards with a friend named Maurice Dieulois. His friend joined the AC Sottevillais club and began racing. Anquetil said he was impressed by the way girls were attracted to Dieulois because he had become a coureur cycliste and he gave up his first choice - running - and joined the club as well. He was 17 and he took out his first racing licence on 2 December 1950. He stayed a member the rest of his life and his grave in the churchyard at Quincampoix has a permanent tribute from his clubmates.
Anquetil passed his qualifications in light engineering and went to work for 50 old francs a day at a factory in Sotteville. He left after 26 days following a disagreement with his boss over time off for training. The AC Sottevillais, founded in 1898, was run by a cycle-dealer, André Boucher, who had a shop in the Place du Trianon in Sotteville. The club had not just Anquetil but Claude LeBer, who became professional pursuit champion in 1955, Jean Jourden, world amateur champion in 1961, and Francis Bazire, who came second to Eddy Merckx in the world amateur championship in 1964.
Boucher trained his group first from a bicycle and then by Derny. Anquetil made fast progress and won 16 times as an amateur. His first victory was the Prix Maurice Latour at Rouen on 3 May 1951. He also took the Prix de France in 1952 and the Tour de la Manche and the national road championship the same year.
Pélissier called Anquetil, who was surprised and flattered to hear from him, and offered him 30,000 old francs a month to ride for La Perle as an independent, or semi-professional. Anquetil accepted and immediately ordered a new car, a Renault Fregate, which he crashed twice in the first 12 months.
Pélissier wanted Anquetil for the 1953 Grand Prix des Nations, a race started by the newspaper Paris-Soir which since 1932 had risen to the status of an unofficial world time-trial championship. It was held on a 142 km loop of rolling roads through Versailles, Rambouillet, Maulette, St-Rémy-les-Chevreuse and then back to Versailles before, originally, finishing on the Buffalo track in Paris.
Anquetil was aware that one of his rivals was an Englishman named Ken Joy, who had broken records in Britain but was unknown in France. He would ride with another Englishman, Bob Maitland. The historian Richard Yates says:
Anquetil caught Joy - the moment he realised he was going to win the race - even though Joy had started 16 minutes earlier. At 19, Anquetil had become unofficial time-trial champion of the world.
The win pleased Pélissier but did not convince him. Next year he drove his team car not behind Anquetil but his Swiss star, Hugo Koblet. Anquetil was not amused. When he beat Koblet, he sent his winner's bouquet to Pélissier's wife "in deepest sympathy".
Anquetil rode the Grand Prix des Nations nine times without being beaten.
Should he break the record, he and the army agreed, he would give half the rewards to the army and the rest to the mother of a soldier, André Dufour, who had been killed while fighting at Palestro, in Algeria. The chances of breaking it were far from guaranteed, not only because Coppi's record had already defied Gerrit Schulte and Louison Bobet but also Anquetil himself, on 23 November 1955, when he had started too fast, faded and finished 696 m short of Coppi. His second attempt also flopped. He again started too fast. After 54:36 his helpers called him to a stop after 41.326km. His legs failed him when he got off his bike and he had to be carried to a chair in a corner of the Velodromo Vigorelli, the velodrome in Milan, Italy.
"I was like a child's lead soldier that has lost its horse", he said. The Italian crowd chanted: "Coppi! Coppi! Coppi!"
Next day he received a telegram: "Congratulations on a good performance. Sure of your success. Take your time. Captain Gueguen will arrive tomorrow with instructions. Signed: Commander Dieudonné".
At 7:30pm on 29 June 1956, riding a lighter bike made in three days to the same design as Coppi's, and using a 7m40 gear (52x15), Anquetil tried again and finally broke his hero's record, riding 46.159 km. Coppi was the first professional to give Anquetil his autograph. When the two next met, Anquetil was also a professional. He went to Italy to meet Coppi and, for reasons never explained, dressed as a simple country boy rather than in the smart clothes that he normally wore.
In 1967, 11 years later, Anquetil again broke the hour record, with 47.493 km, but the record was disallowed because he refused to take the newly-introduced post-race doping test. He objected to what he saw as the indignity of having to urinate in a tent in front of a crowded velodrome and said he would take the test later at his hotel. The international judge ruled against the idea and a scuffle ensued that involved Anquetil's manager, Raphaël Géminiani.
In 1957 Anquetil rode - and won - his first Tour de France. His inclusion in the national team - the Tour was still ridden by national rather than commercial teams - was what the French broadcaster Jean-Paul Ollivier called "a forceps operation".
Anquetil recognised the allusion and accepted the invitation to ride. He finished nearly 15 minutes ahead of the rest, having won stages.
In 1959, Anquetil was whistled as he finished the Tour on the Parc des Princes because spectators had worked out that he and others had contrived to let Federico Bahamontes win rather than the Frenchman Henry Anglade. The French team was unbalanced by internal rivalries. Anglade, whose bossy nature earned him the nickname Napoleon, was particularly unusual in that he was represented by the agent Roger Piel while the others had Daniel Dousset. The two men controlled all French racing. Dousset soon worked out that his riders had to either beat Bahamontes or make sure that Anglade didn't. Since they couldn't beat Anglade, they contrived to let Bahamontes win because Bahamontes, a poor rider on the flat and on small circuits, would be no threat to the post-Tour criterium fees that made up the bulk of riders' - and agents' - earnings.
Anquetil was jeered and showed his coldness to public reaction by buying a boat that he named "The Whistles of 59" and by pointing out that he was a professional and that his first interest was therefore money. It was an attitude that other riders could understand but made it hard for fans to love him.
In 1960 Anquetil stayed away from the Tour, returning in 1961 and winning the Tour de France thereafter until 1964. He won in 1962 at a speed not bettered until 1981. He was the first rider to win four successive times, breaking the record of three set by Philippe Thys and Louison Bobet. He was also the first to win five times in total, a feat since emulated by Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain. Only Lance Armstrong has won more Tours.
His last Tour victory (in 1964) was also his most famous, featuring an elbow-to-elbow duel with public favourite Raymond Poulidor on the road up the Puy de Dôme mountain on July 12. Suffering indigestion after his excesses on a rest day, Anquetil is reputed to have received treatment from his team manager in the form of a swallow of champagne - a story that Anquetil's wife says is untrue.
The Tour organiser, Jacques Goddet was behind the pair as they turned off the main road and climbed through what the police estimated as half a million spectators. Goddet recalled:
Anquetil rode on the inside by the mountain wall while Poulidor took the outer edge by the precipice. They could sometimes feel the other's hot gasps on their bare arms. At the end, Anquetil cracked, after a battle of wills and legs so intense that at times they banged elbows.
Of Anquetil, Pierre Chany wrote: "His face, until then purple, lost all its colour; the sweat ran down in drops through the creases of his cheeks." Anquetil was only semiconscious, he said.Anquetil's manager, Raphaël Géminiani, said:
Poulidor gained time but when they reached Paris, Anquetil still had a 55-second lead and won his last Tour de France. The writer Chris Sidwells said:
Anquetil won all three of the Grand Tours - the first cyclist to do so. Anquetil twice won the Giro d'Italia (1960, 1964) and won the Vuelta a España once (1963). He also won the season-long Super Prestige Pernod International competition four times, in 1961, 1963, 1965 and 1966 - a record only surpassed by Eddy Merckx.
The extent of those divisions is shown in a story, perhaps apocryphal, told by Pierre Chany, who was close to Anquetil:
Jean-Luc Boeuf and Yves Léonard, in their study, wrote:
Anquetil was upset, said Raphael Géminiani in his autobiography, that his rival, Raymond Poulidor was always more warmly regarded even though he had never won the Tour de France. In 1965, when Poulidor was perceived to have received more credit for dropping Anquetil the previous year on the Puy-de-Dôme than Anquetil had received for winning the whole Tour, Géminiani persuaded him to ride the Dauphiné Libéré and, next day, the 557km Bordeaux-Paris. That, he said, would end any argument over who was the greater athlete.
Anquetil won the Dauphiné, despite bad weather which he disliked, at 3pm. After two hours of interviews and receptions he flew at 6.30pm in a private plane from Nîmes to Bordeaux. At midnight, he ate his pre-race meal and then went to the start in the city's northern suburbs.
He could eat little during the night because of stomach cramp and was on the verge of retiring. Géminiani said in his autobiography that he swore at Anquetil and called him "a great poof" to offend his pride and keep him riding. Anquetil felt better as morning came and the riders dropped in behind the derny pacing motorcycles that were a feature of the race. He responded to an attack by Tom Simpson, followed by his own teammate Jean Stablinski. Anquetil and Stablinski attacked Simpson alternately, forcing himself to exhaust himself, and Anquetil won at the Parc des Princes. Stablinski finished 57 seconds later just ahead of Simpson.
There are strong and undenied rumours that the jet laid on to get Anquetil to Bordeaux was provided through state funds on the orders of President Charles de Gaulle. Géminiani mentions the belief in his biography, without denying it, saying the truth will come out when French state records are opened to scrutiny.
Anquetil was not as successful in the classic single-day races but towards the end of his career he won:
Of the classics, the most prestigious was Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He came to the start saying he would ride only for training. But he forced the pace on the climb from Verviers with 28km to go and then decisively on Mont Theux three kilometres later. He broke clear of his group of 15, which included Felice Gimondi, Rudi Altig, Jan Janssen and Henry Anglade, finishing with a lead of 5min 24sec on the track at Rocourt.
An official named Collard told him once he had got changed that there would be a drugs test. "Too late," Anquetil said. "If you can collect it from the soapy water there, go ahead. I'm a human being, not a fountain." Collard said he would return half an hour later; Anquetil said he would already have left for a dinner appointment 140km away. Two days later the Belgian cycling federation disqualified Anquetil and fined him. Anquetil responded by calling urine tests "a threat to individual liberty" and engaged a lawyer. The case was never heard, the Belgians backed down and Anquetil became the winner.
Anquetil finished in the top 10 in the world championship on six occasions, but second place in 1966 was the nearest he came to the rainbow jersey.
Géminiani's management career reached its height in the St-Raphaël and Ford-France teams with Jacques Anquetil. As a partnership they won four Tours de France, two Giro d'Italia, the Dauphiné-Libéré and then next day, Bordeaux-Paris. Géminiani said of him:
Anquetil was named France's champion of champions by L'Équipe in 1963. He was also appointed Chevalier de l’Ordre national du Mérite in 1965 (cross of merit) and Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur on 5 October 1966.
Jean-Paul Brouchon, leading cycling commentator at the news radio station France-Info, said of the day the forecast was supposed to come true:
A mixture of Anquetil's fear for the future and his enjoyment of living in the present led to many newspaper pictures of the large meal and the wine that he drank that day. Next morning, still worried about the prediction and laden down by the partying, he was dropped on the first hairpins of the col du Port d'Envalira.
He was famous for preparing for races by staying up all night before drinking and playing cards, although the story seems to have increased with the telling. Nevertheless, his team-mate, the British rider Vin Denson, has written in the UK publication Cycling of exhuberant parties during races. Denson has written, too, of Anquetil's scrupulous business arrangements with riders and others:
The British journalist Alan Gayfer, former editor of Cycling said:
Anquetil's marriage produced no children. However, his wife, Janine, had two children from a previous marriage. In 2004, Sophie Anquetil, the daughter of Anquetil's stepdaughter, published the book Pour l'amour de Jacques in which she affirmed what had been widely-rumored to be true: that she was Anquetil's daughter. Anquetil also had a son with his daughter-in-law.
He and other cyclists had to ride through "the cold, through heatwaves, in the rain and in the mountains", and they had the right to treat themselves as they wished, he said in a television interview, before adding: "Leave me in peace; everybody takes dope. There was implied acceptance of doping right to the top of the state: the president, Charles de Gaulle, said of Anquetil: "Doping? What doping? Did he or did he not make them play the Marseillaise [the national anthem] abroad?
Pierre Chany said: "Jacques had the strength - for which he was always criticised - to say out loud what others would only whisper. So, when I asked him 'What have you taken?' he didn't drop his eyes before replying. He had the strength of conviction.
Anquetil argued that professional riders were workers and had the same right to treat their pains as, say, a geography teacher. But the argument found less support as more riders were reported to have died or suffered health problems through drug-related incidents, including the death of the English rider, Tom Simpson, in the Tour de France of 1967.
There was great support in the cyclist community, however, for the way Anquetil argued that, if there were to be rules and tests, the tests should be carried out consistently and with dignity. It was professional dignity, the right of a champion not to be ridiculed in front of his public, that he said led to his refusal to take a test in the centre of the Vigorelli track after breaking the world hour record.
The unrecognised time that Anquetil set that day was in any case quickly broken by the Belgian rider, Ferdi Bracke. Anquetil was hurt that the French government had never sent him a telegram of congratulations but sent one to Bracke, who wasn't French. It was a measure of the unacceptability of Anquetil's arguments, as was the way he was quietly dropped from future French teams.
Anquetil rode his last race not in France, of which he still despaired for its preferring Poulidor, but in November 1969 on the track at Charleroi, in Belgium. It happened, wrote L'Équipe "to the great indifference of the media." He retired to become a farmer at Domaine des Elfes, La Neuville-Chant-d'Oisel, 17km from Rouen. He was a correspondent for L'Équipe, consultant for Europe 1 and then on Antenne 2, a race director for Paris-Nice and the Tour Méditerranéen and in Canada, directeur sportif of French teams at world championships, and a member of the managing committee of the Fédération Française de Cyclisme. His radio analyses were considered especially sharp and he gained a notoriety in Belgium for telling Luis Ocaña, the Spanish rider living in France, how to beat the Belgian star Eddy Merckx during the Tour de France.
He rode his bike only three times in retirement, saying he had already ridden plenty enough ("trop dégusté sur cet engin"). He rode the Grand Prix des Gentlemen in Nice, a race in which old riders were paired with current competitors; he went out for an afternoon with friends in Normandy; and he joined his daughter for a bike ride on her birthday. Other than that, he didn't ride his bike from 1969 to1987.
In 1987, after stomach cancer, Jacques Anquetil died in his sleep at 6am on November 18 at the St-Hilaire Clinic in Rouen. He had been there since October 10. A statement from the clinic said: "His state of health had visibly deteriorated over the last hours and he died in his sleep after showing great courage throughout his illness." Anquetil is buried beside the church in the village of Quincampoix, north of Rouen, where a large black monument by the traffic lights lists all his achievements. There is a further monument at the Piste Municipale track in Paris, where the centre is named after him.
The historian Richard Yates wrote:
The Tour visited Rouen on the 10th anniversary of Anquetil's death. There to remember his first victory in the race were his team-mates, Gilbert Bauvin, Louis Bergard, Albert Bouvet, André Darrigade, Jean Forestier, André Mahé, René Privat and Jean Stablinski. There, too, was the team car from Anquetil's first Tour, driven by the man behind the wheel that year, William Odin.
Anquetil holds a particular place in the estimation of British fans, who voted him the BBC's international personality of the year in 1964. He appeared with Tom Simpson from a studio in Paris. The Franco-American journalist René de Latour wrote:
A few days later, Anquetil was named French sportsman of the year.
Anquetil was fascinated by Britain because of the country's enthusiasm for time-trialling and because in 1961 he presented prizes at the Road Time Trials Council evening at the Royal Albert Hall to honour Beryl Burton and Brian Kirby. The pair had won the women's and men's British Best All-Rounder competitions (BBAR) for, respectively, the highest average speed in a season over 25, 50 and 100 miles (women) and 50 and and 12 hours (men).
Alan Gayfer, the editor of Cycling at the time of Anquetil's death, wrote in appreciation:
Anquetil was fascinated by the British love of time-trialling and in 1964 discussed riding a British 25 mile (40 km) race. Gayfer and the British professional Tom Simpson explained that the course would be on flat roads and asked Anquetil how long the distance would take him. Anquetil, who had the talent to predict his time-trial times accurately, said 46 minutes. That was eight minutes faster than the distance had ever been ridden, the record standing to Bas Breedon at 54:23. It took until 1993 for the record to fall below Anquetil's estimation.
Anquetil asked £1,000 to compete and a London timber merchant called Vic Jenner said he would put up the money. Jenner was an enthusiast who had often put money into the sport. He died shortly afterwards, however, and the ride never happened.