Jacques Anquetil

Jacques Anquetil (b. January 8, 1934 in Mont Saint Aignan, Normandy - d. November 18, 1987 at St Hilaire Clinic in Rouen), was a French cyclist and the first cyclist to win the Tour de France five times, 1957 and 1961-64.

Born the son of a peasant farmer, Anquetil took the French amateur road title in 1952, one year after he began racing. In 1953, Anquetil's first year as a semi-professional cyclist, he won the 19th running of the cycling Grand Prix des Nations time trial. Over his career, Anquetil was to win the Grand Prix des Nations nine times (1953-58, 1961, 1965/66), and proving his mastery of the discipline, on June 29th, 1956, on the velodrome at Milano (Vigorelli), Anquetil broke the 14-year-old hour world record of the legendary Fausto Coppi (46.159 kilometers).

In 1957 Anquetil, won the 23rd Grand Prix des Nations, and the Tour de France - the most important stage race of the world - on his first attempt with nearly 15 minutes lead and wins in four stages. The foundation stone of his success was his performance in the individual time trial stages, which brought him the nickname Monsieur Chrono. At the same time, Anquetil kept up on the mountain climbs with the climbing specialists.

After three moderate years without tour stage success, Anquetil begin in 1961 with a second victory-streak and won the Tour de France thereafter until 1964 as the first racer to win four successive years and as the first altogether five wins. With this victory series, Anquetil became the all time racer of the Tour.

His last Tour victory (in 1964) was also his most famous. He made French sport history with a legendary elbow-to-elbow duel against public favorite Raymond Poulidor at the Puy de Dôme mountain. Suffering badly from indigestions after his excesses on a rest day, Anquetil received treatment from his coach in the form of a swallow of champagne. Poulidor gained precious time on that stage but when they reached Paris, Anquetil gained a 55 second lead over the eternal second Poulidor.

Anquetil won all three of the large national stage tours as the first of, to this day, only four cyclists: Apart from his five tour victories, which placed him into a row with Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Miguel Indurain and Lance Armstrong, he twice won the Giro d'Italia (1960, 1964) and once the Vuelta a Espana (1963).

More popular in England than in his native France (Jacques used to tell cycling fans that he was only "in it for the money"), Anquetil was invited to the RTTC awards ceremony at London's Albert Hall in 1961 to present trophies to champions Brian Kirby and Beryl Burton.

Anquetil was not as successful with the classical single stage races but toward the end of his career he won once in each of three of the classics:

  • Gent Wevelgem (1964),
  • the 600km Bordeaux-Paris (1965) and
  • Liege Bastogne Liege (1966)

In 1965, Anquetil won the eight day, Alpine, Criterium du Dauphiné Libéré stage race at 3pm, sat through 2 hours of interviews and receptions, took a 6:30pm chartered flight to Bordeaux and won the world's longest single-day classic, the Bordeaux-Paris. He was famous for preparing for races by staying up all night before drinking and playing cards.

Anquetil finished in the top 10 in the World Championship on six occasions, but second place in 1966 was the nearest he ever campe to winning the Rainbow Jersey.

Despite his tremendous successes, which made him one of the best French cyclists of all time, the always cool, calculating and dissociated Mâitre Jacques was never as popular with the French public as his rival Poulidor. He retired to Normandy in 1969 to be a gentleman farmer.

In 1987, after battling stomach cancer, Jacques Anquetil died in his sleep.

When I was small, he was for me the champion cyclist. But above all he was a gentleman for his personal qualities as much as his sporting achievements. I have always been irritated by the game of comparing champions from different times but to be compared to him was an honour. -Bernard Hinault

Jacques simply tries harder than anyone I have met. In a time trial you can hear him catching you, you don't have to look round, there is this hoarse sound of breath being drawn in gulps, and then he's past you. Then it's like being in a thunderstorm, with the sweat simply pouring off him as he goes by. -Thomas Simpson


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