What a Question!
It is said that Raymond Poulidor was unfortunate in that his career coincided with Jacques Anquetil for the first half and Eddy Merckx in the second. But how unfortunate was he in reality?
He was dubbed the “Eternal Second” as a result of coming off worse in so many of his encounters with Anquetil and Merckx, and he was always portrayed as less sophisticated than the somewhat débonnaire Jacques Anquetil (although they were both farm boys). However, he was very popular with the French public and, it is said, made more money than Anquetil as a result, and also invested it more wisely… and is still in high demand!
But how true is the “Eternal Second” nickname? The rough-and-ready analysis below suggests yes, but not just because of Anquetil and Merckx.
- Anquetil was a professional from 1953 to 1969.
- Poulidor was a professional from 1960 to 1977.
- Merckx was a professional from 1965 to 1978.
Poulidor achieved 8 Tour de France podiums: (3 seconds and 5 thirds).
He shared the podium with Anquetil twice (1962 and 1964).
He shared the podium with Merckx three times (1969, 1972 and 1974).
So, prima facie, yes, they did get in his way. His other 3 podiums were as follows:
Second to an unknown quantity, Felice Gimondi, a first year professional aged 25, who caught Poulidor (and everyone else) on the hop by escaping to take the lead on Stage 3 and then beat Poulidor in the critical Stage 18, the 27 km (Aix les Bains – Mont Revard) uphill Individual Time Trial by 23 seconds.
Third behind Lucien Aimar and Jan Janssen. Poulidor was again caught on the hop as Anquetil diverted his effort to help his protégé Aimar to win (Anquetil then did not finish). So, in a way, here too Poulidor was beaten by Anquetil.
Third behind Lucien van Impe and Joop Zoetemelk, in the absence of Merckx. But Poulidor was aged 40 by this time, so perhaps he can be forgiven for coming only third!
And he suffered injuries in the 1967, 1968 and 1973 Tours.
Here’s a summary of the Tour de France outcomes for the period in question:
|1957||1st win aged 23|
|1969||Retires from sport||3rd||1st win aged 24|
|1977||Retires from sport||6th|
|1978||Retires from sport|
*DNC = Did not compete | DNF = Did not finish
What about the rest of his career?
Well, we (older) Brits remember the 1964 Milan-San Remo when Poulidor was second.
And actually he was second, or a top-ten finisher, in an awful lot of races. Does this make him unfortunate? No, of course not.
And of course he won his share of races, including Milan-San Remo (1961), Flèche Wallonne (1963), Vuelta a España (1964), Critérium National (1966, 68, 71 and 72), Dauphiné Libéré (1966 and 69) and Paris-Nice (1972 and 73)…
Poor old Poulidor?
I don’t think so.