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La révolution
of Anquetil

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La révolution of Anquetil 01

The story seems to be told every time that the Tour passes from Normandy, Jacques Anquetil’s homeland, a name that rhymes with allure and style, but also with excess and ambition. Perfectly balanced characteristics, object of the attraction for that perversion that lies in a voyeuristic culture, which are reflected in the impatient eyes of who is looking from the castles windows trying to express in other people’s vices the desire to make them their own. Anquetil really owned a castle, even though it was only a manor surrounded by nature a few kilometres from Rouen, at La Neuville-Chant-d’Oisel, a place with an elegant name just like his resident. Guy de Maupassant and Gustave Flaubert lived at Neuville’s castle a long time before the Norman champion decided to buy it and rename it Le Domaine des Elfes. Today it’s simply known as Châteaux Anquetil and it gives hospitality to longtime supporters, rich tourists and wedding receptions.

Anquetil lies a little northward, at Quincampoix Cemetery, a suburb of Rouen as Mont-Saint-Aignan where he was born. He lived along the Seine, the river that cuts the city in two through what is today known as Quai Anquetil and then flows backwards to the place where Jacques’ spirit actually lies: Paris, the Champs-Élysées, where are buried the souls of those who had the fortune to be loved by the gods. To understand Anquetil’s divinity you only need to look at him cycle. He was able to combine strength with elegance, cycling in high gear for long routes without losing one’s composure. History’s most elegant road racing cyclist, as well as the best time-trial specialist. More than the extraordinary Fausto Coppi, than Ercole Baldini called the Forlì Train, than the unfortunate Roger Riviére, than the strong and powerful Miguel Indurain, than the romantic Bradley Wiggins. Above all these champions, within that practice of style which is the race against time, there’s only place for Jacques Anquetil.

La révolution of Anquetil 02

The list of his victories and records it’s only a hint to follow his achievements. Five Tours, he was the first cyclist to do so and the first rider to win four successive times. He twice won the Giro d’Italia, preceded only by Coppi. A Vuelta, and a first place also among the champions of The Triple Crown of Cycling, the six riders able to win all three grand tours in a career. And then a Liegi-Bastogne-Liegi, a Gent-Wevelgem and all he could win in the individual time trial. He won first place nine times at the GP des Nations, the first one when he was 19 years old and the last one 13 years later. Seven victories at the GP of Lugano, three at The Trofeo Baracchi and The GP Castrocaro, and two in the hour record: the first was validated, while the second wasn’t, because in his sincerity he didn’t accept disagreements, neither from doping control officers. When Anquetil put his wheels on the Vigorelli tracks, even the mechanics used to stop and watch him astonished: Alberto Masi, son of the manufacturer who created the bicycles for Anquetil, still remembers him with the same fascinated expression.

It is said that during an individual time trial Anquetil could pedal with a cup of champagne on his back without losing a drop. But this isn’t totally true, because he would probably reach out his arm and drink it as he used to do, even if he was racing. Champagne, smoking, nights spent playing poker have been his companions for life. Without them, Anquetil would never had become Anquetil. Probably he would have won, he always does, just like Eddy Merckx, another imperfect giant, but he wouldn’t become a legend. Cyril Guimard defines Anquetil an inventor: “with him, a new kind of style appeared, a new manner of being”. The keyword was “charisma”. No matter if he was talking or pedalling, whenever Anquetil came on the scene the world would stop to look and listen to him. A magnetic character. Supporters, engineers, journalists, women and rivals, everyone was waiting for him, and he returned this feeling. 

At the Giro di Sardegna in ’67, Jacques insulted those who were far ahead: “Aren’t you ashamed to reach that poor soul who was far ahead all day?”. Nevertheless, the solitary Aldo Pifferi was reached, but at the last climbing slope the Norman champion pushed him, with one last rush of solidarity, before he surrendered to fatigue. The day before one of the GP of Lugano the organizers offered him money in order to lose once again: Anquetil negotiated and took the money, the winner would have been Ercole Baldini. Obviously, on the finishing line the order was inverted, Anquetil raised the stakes and no one said a thing, neither Baldini. How could someone challenge this talent?

La révolution of Anquetil 03

Among Anquetil’s rivals there’s one that stands out. Raymond Poulidor became a runner-up because of the Norman. He defeated him not only running; during the Tour of ’65 an injured Anquetil promised a blank cheque to who would be able to defeat the rival. Once off the bicycle, they were close friends. They shared the passion for gambling and the love for Sophie, Jacques’ stepdaughter who learnt to say “Pou-Pou” before saying “father”. Anquetil opened the doors of his castle to one of Poulidor’s supporters for two days: the man, ill and injured, wanted to discuss with his bitter enemy before it was too late, but Anquetil was about to leave. So, he said to his wife to welcome him and wait until he returned, who knows of what they’ve talked about! Maybe about that time when Anquetil wanted to leave the Tour after the bad prophecy of a wizard from Paris and a barbecue in Andorra on his day off. Twentyfour hours later, on the Envalira he was 4’ late from the leader when his manager Raphaël Géminiani passed him a cup of champagne. After drinking it Anquetil said: “Now I feel better! I’m ready to go”. He won that Tour ahead of Poulidor. A runner-up but also eternally loved, until death, when Anquetil said goodbye to his old rival with these words: “I think you will gain second place again”.

A quarter of a century later, the story passed through the walls of The Domaine des Elfes. There are brief passages but it’s like living in a romance. The young Anquetil fell in love with Jeanine, his doctor’s wife: he seduced her, he made her divorce and married her. He was 24, she was 30 and had two children, Annie and Alain. Once he retired, he wanted a child too, but Jeanine couldn’t have children. Love brought her to persuade the champion to have a child with her daughter Annie, who was 21: Sophie was born from this union. He was handsome and Annie was beautiful, so their story continued. Jeanine was furious about this, so she called Alain to help her restore order, but this was a deadly mistake because he brought his wife Dominique who became Jacques’ new mistress. He had a son with Dominique in 1986, Cristopher. A year later, he became ill of stomach cancer, this put an end to the adventures of a champion, a man, a unique character. His place is higher than this story. His place is in History.

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