Anquetil '65

The Greatest Cycling Achievement Ever?

I refer to Jacques Anquetil’s fantastic 1965 double, winning the eight-day Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré and the 560 km Bordeaux-Paris one-day race the very next day.

It’s an amazing story, and  well documented.  J.B. Wadley tells it beautifully in the July 1965 edition of Sporting Cyclist (where these black and white photos come from).  And there’s British interest in this year’s race, with two Brits taking part: Tom Simpson and Vin Denson.  But this year it was all about Anquetil.  Here’s the story in brief.

The Dauphiné

It’s always a tough race, but this year Anquetil was working hard to prove his supremacy over his great rival Raymond Poulidor whom he beat into second place on two mountain stages as well as beating him in the time trial on the penultimate day.  And whilst by then Maître Jacques was sure to win, the final day was anything but a promenade – Anquetil had a plane to catch.

The final stage finished at 5 pm. But within an hour, with lap of honour, presentations and interviews over,  and after a bath and a meal at the hotel, Anquetil, with manager Raphaël Géminiani driving, was dashing to Nîmes airport under Police escort to catch a charter plane to Bordeaux, arriving at 7.45 pm.  (It is said that the Mystère 20 jet was provided through state funds on the orders of Président Charles de Gaulle.)

What a way to prepare for a 560 km race!

Why?

VV Classics Ford France - Hutchinson merino wool jersey
VV Classics Ford France – Hutchinson jersey

As Géminiani tells it, Anquetil hated the fact that his rival Poulidor was always more warmly regarded by the French public.  So Géminiani urged him to ride the Dauphiné AND Bordeaux–Paris. That, he said, would end any argument over who was the greatest. Anquetil was not convinced, so he asked Anquetil’s wife Janine to persuade him.  After a couple of days she reverted to Géminiani:  “He’s yours.”

The Big Race

Simpson signs the control at 1.30 am

Bordeaux-Paris starts in the dead of night and goes for some 250 km before it converts into a motor-paced race behind Dernys.  Derny: the strange-looking motorcycle being pedalled through a fixed gear, typically of 70 x 11 gearing. The combination allows for smooth acceleration and slowing, important when the rider taking pace is centimetres from the pacer’s back wheel.  Manufactured by Derny et Fils of the Avenue de St Mandé, Paris !

Raphael Géminiani filling Anquetil's pockets
Raphael Géminiani filling Anquetil’s pockets while urging him to keep going.

Usually attracting only a small but select number of participants, there were 11 at the sign-on at around 1.30 am in the Bordeaux Velodrome. A lap of honour and a neutralised procession out of town preceded the proper start at 2.30 am.

However, Anquetil had had stomach cramps and had slept for only an hour, he said.  Thus he ate little during the night and was on the verge of retiring.  Géminiani swore at Anquetil and called him “a great poof” to offend his pride and keep him riding. Anquetil felt better as morning came.

Vin Denson is first to pick up his Derny

Everyone stopped near Poitiers to strip down to proper racing kit, but it was still cold.

Jock Wadley:  “As they approached Chatellerault, where the Dernys were waiting,  suddenly Vin Denson sprinted into the lead, weaving through the narrow streets leading to the take-over point where he connected nicely with his pacemaker and took centre stage in the second act of the drama…”

Behind Stablinski and Anquetil.
Simpson tries to maximise shelter behind Stablinski and Anquetil.

But the others weren’t far behind and the race soon tuned into a battle between Tom Simpson going for his second win, and the Ford tandem of Anquetil and Jean Stablinski who were taking it in turns to attack Simpson to wear him down.

The weather was not ideal, with a North wind in their faces.

 

The Showdown

But Tom hung on, and on the Dourdon hill the cry goes up “Simpson seul en tête”.  At the top he has 20 seconds… but the French pair claw their way back.

Jock Wadley: “And on the Limours hill he flings himself into another attack, but the other two stay not far behind.  On the St Remy hill it is Stablinski’s turn.  It doesn’t come off, but it is another punch at Simpson’s failing strength…  On the Côte de Picardie with 11 km to go the three are jockeying for position, like sprinters.  Anquetil leans over to pull up his toe-strap and his Derny accelerates.  He looks back at Tom Simpson who is now in trouble.  He tries to counter but loses his pacemaker.  Anquetil is away.”

 

Anquetil won at the Parc des Princes in 15 hours 3 minutes and 3 seconds. Stablinski finished 57 seconds later just ahead of Simpson.  Anquetil received the biggest ovation of his career, certainly much bigger than after any of his wins in the Tour. He was mobbed by reporters and photographers but he was tired and really had to get some rest: few people realised it at the time but he had immediately to make the long journey to Maubeuge in north-eastern France where the following day he was riding a criterium!

Vin Denson was 6th at 18 minutes.

A  Brit won in 1891 (George Pilkington Mills) and in 1896 (Arthur Linton) as well as in 1963  when Tom Simpson did triumph.   Other British showings  are Brian Robinson (9th in 1957 and 5th in 1958),   Barry Hoban (6th in 1970) and Paul Sherwen (10th in 1982).

The greatest achievement ever??…

About Tony Varey

Tony Varey took up cycling at school in the 1960s and became an avid follower of the sport. Struggling to understand the rapidfire RTL race commentaries on a transistor radio certainly helped his French! He then left it behind and followed a career in the oil business including time in Latin America and the Middle East before returning to cycling in his fifties. His enthusiasm has recently been invigorated by the rediscovery of the joys of riding vintage steel-framed bikes around the lanes of West Sussex.

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