Listening to the Radio 5 dissection of 100 years of Tour De France history was a rare treat and enormous pleasure. Whilst I prefer the grittiness of cyclo-cross and the spring classics, the tour – and the Giro – exemplify the romance of continental stage racing. 100 years of endeavor, provides it in spades, but there was one story in particular that stuck in my mind. The deathbed statement of Jacques Anquetil. At the peak of his powers Anquetil was almost unbeatable, a hard as nails competitor and clinical executioner of race tactics. His close rivalry with fellow Frenchman Raymond Poulidor divided France. Anquetil was cold, calculating and successful. Poulidor was tough, rural and Gallic to the core.
Despite battles that saw the riders collapse over the finishing line, Poulidor could not break Anquetil’s will, finishing a persistent 2nd to the master ‘Monsieur Chrono’ (a nickname given in respect of his time-trialing ability). Due to their intense rivalry, the two found it difficult to communicate until long after their race careers ended. In 1987 At the age of 53, Anquateil died of stomach cancer, but not before making wry amends with Poulidor. Visiting him at home shortly before he died, Anquetil leaned over to Puolidor and said, ‘My friend…….you will come second to me once again.’