February 2012

By Barry Boyce, CyclingRevealed



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x“Pou-Pou” and the Cruel Tour of 1964x

Raymond “Pou Pou” Poulidor, born April 15, 1936 in Masbaraud-Mérignat, Creuse, France, was known as the “eternal second”.  His career was distinguished by great racing victories in all forms of racing except the Tour de France.  He finished second place three times and third place five times in the Tour de France. 

While Poulidor deserves his place in history as a great champion, much beloved by his French fans, it was his frequent clashes with Jacques Anquetil that ignited the passion of race fans and split France into two. The 1964 Tour, and especially with the ascent up the Puy de Dome, when the two men ground their way up the climb bumping shoulders, is remembered as one of the truly iconic events in cycle racing. The pictures from this day are some of the most famous in cycle racing history.

Whenever Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor lined up together for any race it was a sure bet that their exploits would be one of the main story lines. The proud and aristocratic Anquetil was a champion for whom winning was the only real option -- he could not bear to be beaten. He would push himself to incredible lengths to achieve his goals. His determination to succeed would be acutely peaked if Poulidor was in the race with him. Throughout his career, Anquetil would never let Poulidor beat him and if Anquetil could not win the particular race, he would manipulate matters so that Poulidor also would not win.

Poulidor is one of those riders who should have won the Tour. Sadly, Anquetil and his team always made sure that Poulidor would not arrive in Paris in Yellow. After Anquetil retired Poulidor continued to race Le Tour but he was always dogged by incredibly bad luck. Poulidor never got to wear (even for a day) the Yellow Jersey. In this respect Poulidor’s career can be compared to that of Sean Kelly. Kelly, ‘The King of the Classics’ is usually regarded as the greatest one-day racer of all time. Yet Kelly never won the Rainbow Jersey. Explaining the reasons for that follow the same course as trying to explain why Poulidor never claimed Le Tour.

Tour de France 1964

Defending champion Jacques Anquetil came to the 1964 Tour de France in search of an unprecedented fifth championship.  Tour organizers formulated the race for climbers and Raymond “Pou Pou” Poulidor, a talented climber, came to the Tour with great fitness.  The summer classic of 1964 provided France with an epic battle between two great champions.

A Bizarre Finish to Stage 9

The last day in the Alps created a bizarre finish to stage 9.  The stage finish was in Monaco and included a short circuit around Monaco.  Raymond Poulidor sprinted for the finish line that marked the start of the finishing circuit.  Pou Pou thought he had won the stage and raised his hands in victory.  He had forgotten the remaining circuit.  Jacques Anquetil took full advantage of the mistake and rode away with the stage win.  Poulidor finished in the same time, but the win gave Anquetil a one-minute bonus and closed his time gap to Pou Pou

SPECIAL NOTE: This one-minute bonus would become very important by the finish of the Tour.

Bad Luck Continues
Raymond Poulidor’s bad luck continued during stage 10, the 20.8 km ITT from Hyeres to Toulon.  Poulidor held a slim 15-second advantage over Anquetil and needed an extraordinary ride in the ITT.  The effort was there for Poulidor but midway through the TT a puncture cost him valuable time.  At the finish Anquetil won the stage, 36 seconds ahead of the ill-fated Pou Pou, and he moved into second place overall.

A Rest Day in Andorra
After a four stages run through the Pyrenees Mountains, the Tour took its only rest day in Andorra.  Rather than relax, Maître Jacques, accompanied by his wife Janine, went out to a VIP party.  He stuffed himself with barbecued lamb, and at one point a photographer captured him with a cigarette and glass of wine.

The next day, the race continued in the Pyrenees with stage 14, which featured the climb of Port d’Envalira.  A groggy Anquetil feeling the effects of the party struggled to keep pace.  On the ascent of the Port d’Envalira, Poulidor and Federico Bahamontes put the pressure on and upping the tempo.  Anquetil was unable to follow the hard pace and faded back.  A panicked team director Raphael Geminiani realized the seriousness of the situation and frantically searched for a solution.  In the back seat of the team car Geminiani found a bottle of champagne, which was reserved for the victory celebration in Paris.  Desperate for any remedy, Geminiani filled a water bottle and handed it to the struggling Anquetil.  By the top of the Port d’Envalira he trailed the Poulidor/Bahamontes group by 4 minutes.  Anquetil let it all hang out on the descent and used his time trialing ability to catch the leading group.  By the finish in Toulouse, Maitre Jacques crossed the finish line in the same time as the leaders and saved his second place in the overall classification. 

In the valley leading to Toulouse, the regrouping of 22 riders occurred, when Poulidor broke a spoke.  Quickly the team car changes the wheel, but an awkward push by the team mechanic sent Poulidor to the ground.  The unfortunate “Pou Pou” chased furiously for 10 km and lost 2 minutes by the finish.  Poulidor dropped in the overall classification and now trailed Anquetil by 2’52”. 

An Angry Pou Pou and Stage 15
Needing to create something special, Poulidor used his anger from within to fuel an attack on the final climb of stage 15.  Over the Col du Portillon, Poulidor was alone on the road.  Into the finish in Luchon “Pou Pou” earned a 1’09” (1’43” on the Anquetil group) stage win.  With the 1 minute time bonus, Poulidor jumped back into third place overall and trailed Anquetil by only 9 seconds

A Death Struggle on the Puy de Dome
Encapsulating their intense rivalry are the very famous pictures of the two men in a ‘death struggle’ on the Puy de Dome climb.

The powerful struggle for the 1964 TdF victory had developed into epic proportions [photos from Archive]

Raymond Poulidor still had hope for the Maillot Jaune, but he must out distance arch rival Anquetil on the Puy de Dome to attain the goal.  The 10 km climb had an average grade of 9% with the last 5 km at 13%.

Spanish climber Julio Jimenez broke clear of the peloton and set a brutal pace up the Puy de Dome.  Fellow countryman Federico Bahamontes soon joins him in the breakaway.  Few people remember that Jimenez won that day as the powerful struggle behind them had developed into epic proportions.

The weather was brutally hot, the crowd was large and very vocal, and the two Frenchmen were extended to the maximum.  Poulidor was known to be a better climber than Anquetil, but when pitted directly against his great rival, Anquetil would never concede an inch. Bumping elbows, the two men ground their way up the climb with Anquetil looking more ragged by the minute. With the finish line in sight, Poulidor jumped away and Anquetil almost stopped. At the finish Poulidor had closed to within 14 seconds on Anquetil’s Yellow Jersey.

All eyes turned to the final ITT into Paris, which was only three stages away.

The Much Anticipated 27 km ITT from Versailles to Paris
The atmosphere was electric throughout all of France.  Not only was France celebrating Bastille Day, July 14th, but it was the finish of a classic TdF battle.  Huge numbers of Anquetil fans contend with equally huge numbers of Poulidor fans along the race route.  The Parc des Princes Velodrome in Paris, the official finish line, was filled to capacity. 

At the intermediate time check Poulidor had forged a 5 second advantage.  Anquetil, a time trial specialist, was losing time.  Poulidor hit the finish line with the leading time of 37’31” and the Anquetil was the only rider still on the course.  With the clock ticking, “Pou Pou” still had hope of overall victory.  When Maître Jacques entered the Velodrome the crowd roared as he crossed the finish line in 37’10”.  Still the master of the time trial, Anquetil had won the stage and gained his 5th Tour de France victory by a mere 55 seconds. 

Cruel Twist of Fate in 1964
Raymond Poulidor should have won the 1964 Tour de France but for a cruel run bad luck.  A time trial puncture, a broken wheel and clumsy bike change, and a slow descent of the Port d’Envalira all contributed, but remember the stage 9 “bizarre finish” that saw Pou Pou sprint away and cross the finish line with 1 lap of Monaco to go.  The resulting stage win by Anquetil and 1 minute time bonus cost Pou Pou the victory in 1964. 

Despite never even wearing the Yellow Jersey his ability, his grand style, and his great rivalry with the less popular Jacques Anquetil made him a huge favorite of the French public.  He was truly the “People’s Champion”.

NOTE from Graham Jones: In the early 1970s I was traveling through France to Brittany. Overnight we stayed in a classic old French hotel. Next morning as we were loading up our cars I was astounded to see Anquetil and Poulidor happily chatting as they left the hotel. I dropped everything and headed for these two living legends. Anquetil was most polite and almost shy as he suffered my very poor schoolboy French. With his distinctive smile he agreed to autograph a cycling magazine I was carrying. Poulidor meanwhile quietly slipped away to his car. The next time I saw him was in 2000 on Mont Ventoux.  It is true that once they stopped racing the great rivals became lifelong friends.


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