Jacques Anquetil (1934–1987) was the greatest professional cyclist of his day. The handsome French rider, with his slicked-back blonde hair and film star looks, was cycling’s poster-boy of the 1960s. He was the first-ever rider to win the Tour de France five times (between 1957 and 1964). In 1963, he won the Vuelta a España and, in 1964, he won the Giro d’Italia for the second time. His speciality was time trials, which earned him the nickname Monsieur Chrono.
Anquetil battled hard during his final Tour de France victory in 1964 against rival Raymond Poulidor. The photo of the two riders shoulder barging each other in the climb up Puy de Dôme is one of the icons of Tour history. Raymond Poulidor is the grandfather of today’s cyclocross sensation Mathieu van der Poel.
Loyal to his local club
As a 17-year-old metalwork student, Jacques Anquetil joined his local cycling club AC Sottevillais near Rouen in Normandy, north-western France. He remained a member the rest of his life and his club mates have installed a permanent tribute memorial at his grave in Quinxampoix.
World hour record
In 1956, Anquetil beat legendary Italian cycling great Fausto Coppi’s earlier record to ride 46.159km in one hour on the track. He broke the record once again in 1967 by riding 47.493km. However, the result was disallowed after Anquetil refused to pee for a drug test in a tent at the event, saying he would do it in his hotel. The judge refused and the result was scratched. Anquetil’s manager got into a fight. The rider insisted he wasn’t trying to avoid the test, but found the tent ‘undignified’. He was a big star at the time, and drug tests were relatively new. The current world one hour record is held by Bradley Wiggins: 54.526km.
Rival becomes manager
Anquetil was known to be a hot-headed man with a very strong will who could suffer like no other rider. He met his personality match in former rival Raphaël Géminiani, who became his manager through four Tour de France and two Giro victories. Anquetil sometimes had the public reputation of being aloof and cold. “The truth is that Jacques was a monster of courage,” said Géminiani. “In the mountains, he suffered as though he was damned. He wasn’t a climber, but with bluffing, with guts, he tore them to shreds.”
Star into stars
Space and the stars fascinated Jacques Anquetil and, to his delight, he once met Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. Anquetil was highly intelligent and, according to one British journalist: “the nearest thing to a true intellectual that cycling has ever produced.”
More family connections
Anquetil’s family life was more than complicated – it was pretty weird. Jacques married Janine Boeda in 1958. She had been married to Anquetil’s doctor and had had two children in that marriage: Annie and Alain. Janine and Jacques failed to have children. Janine persuaded her daughter Annie to bear Anquetil’s child. Annie had the child (Sophie) but later left, jealous of her mother. Janine invited Alain and his wife Dominique to live with them. Jacques then had an affair (and another child, Christophe) with Dominique. Jacques Anquetil died of stomach cancer soon after Christophe’s birth. He was just 53 years old.
Master of style
As well as being one of the most successful cyclists of his era, Anquetil was known as a master of style on the bike. It was beautiful to watch him make such great strength appear effortless on the saddle, observers said. His superiority on the machine was sometimes not appreciated by French cycling fans. During his fourth consecutive Tour de France victory he was booed by the crowds. No doubt, he and Chris Froome would exchange a few stories if Anquetil were alive today.