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90th Tour de France - July 5-27, 2003

The Five-times Club, part one: Jacques Anquetil

An event with a hundred years of history naturally attracts statistics-hounds who love to catalogue Tour numbers such as the youngest rider ever to win the Tour (Henri Cornet in 1904, just days before his twentieth birthday), the oldest (Firmin Lambot in 1922, at age 36), the average stage distance in 1930 (229.43km) and so on. But one Tour qualification most powerfully captures everyone's imagination: the elite club of riders who have won five Tours de France.

Every cycling fan can recite their names: Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain. More serious trainspotters can recite the years of the victories, their winning margins, the decisive moments in each win and the riders they left in their wake wishing they'd been born outside the reign of one of the Tour's supermen.

In the first of this four-part series, we look at the rider who made history by being the first to collect five Tour victories, Jacques Anquetil.

Maitre Jacques

By John Stevenson

Jacques Anquetil (left) follows long-time rival Raymond Poulidor
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The French public notoriously never loved Jacques Anquetil during his career as a racer, preferring to idolize instead Raymond Poulidor, the eternal bridesmaid. A fascinating character, Anquetil is described by biographers as 'proud', 'aristocratic' and 'haughty' which perhaps explains why fans of the time took the warm, genial Poulidor to their hearts instead. But Anquetil's talent cannot be disputed. In the era before scientific training and biometric bike fit, his utterly smooth style personified riding perfection while his ability to calculate his rivals' placings and capabilities presaged the calculations of riders' talents by coaches such as Dr Michele Ferrari.

Lucky number 51
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By the time he won his first Tour in 1957, Anquetil was already established as a time trial rider without parallel, after winning the GP Nations, the unofficial time trial world championships, four years running, and setting an hour record mark of 46.15979km in 1956. Over the next few years Anquetil became the first rider to win four Tours de France, exceeding Philippe Thys' and Louison Bobet's tallies of three, and of course went on to a total of five, as have the other four-Tour winners after him. His total of eight grand tour victories (five Tours, two Giros and a Vuelta) also made him the first rider to exceed Fausto Coppi's record of seven.

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Anquetil's final Tour victory was the most dramatic, and the closest Poulidor ever came to challenging him. On the stage 20 of the 1964 Tour, Poulidor and Anquetil engaged in a titanic battle on the slopes of the Puy de Dome. Despite bluffing and attempting to give the impression he was not suffering, Anquetil cracked a kilometer from the finish. Poulidor, who had allowed other riders to escape to reduce any finish bonus Anquetil might gain by winning, beat Anquetil by 42 seconds, though Jimenez won the stage. Sadly for Poulidor, it was not enough and Anquetil's 21-second victory in the final time trial, with its 20-second bonus, made up most of his final 55-second margin in the closest Tour to that time.

The end of Anquetil's career was marred by controversy as took a stand against dope testing. This was a position that the media and the public found hard to understand, especially in the wake of the 1967 death of British rider Tommy Simpson who collapsed during the Tour on the slopes of Mt Ventoux and was found to have traces of amphetamine in his blood. Some say Anquetil's position was based on concern for the dignity of the riders, as when he refused to provide a urine sample in a tent in front of a crowd after setting a new hour record in September 1967. "I am going to shower and change first, then I will do your control," Anquetil is reported as saying. But the authorities were having none of it and the record was never ratified.

Classic Anquetil style
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On the other hand, there is Anquetil's famous remark that you don't ride the Tour de France "on mineral water alone" and his tacit admission of the use of amphetamine, as in a story told by French journalist Pierre Chany. According to Chany, Anquetil and 1958 Giro d'Italia winner Ercole Baldini agreed not to use amphetamine for the Grand Prix de Forli one year, to see who would win on "just mineral water". They took the top two places, "but suffered like the damned to get an average speed that was a kilometre and a half slower than they would normally have ridden. 'Never again!' they told me as they got off their bikes," wrote Chany (quoted by Les Woodland in The Yellow Jersey Companion to the Tour de France).

After retiring, Anquetil became a gentleman farmer and continued to be involved with cycling as a radio broadcaster and writer for l'╔quipe, a role that won him the public affection that had eluded him as a rider.

After he died of cancer in November 1987, eight thousand people came to his funeral and tributes flooded in. Perhaps the most telling was from France's next five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault, who said, "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."

Anquetil's victories

Year  Team          Time          Distance    Average       Winning
                                              Speed         Margin
1957  France        135.44.42     4,665km     34.37km/h     14.56
1961  France        112.08.42     4,172km     37.20km/h     12.14
1962  St-Raphael    114.31.54     4,274km     37.32km/h      4.59
1963  St-Raphael    113.30.05     4,141km     36.16km/h      3.35
1964  St-Raphael    127.09.44     4,505km     39.69km/h      0.55

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