Great Cyclists of the Tour de France: Jacques Anquetil
Jacques Anquetil is famous for being the first cyclist to ever win the Tour de France five times. Born in 1934, he would become an exceptional time trial specialist, as well as the only rider to ever wear the yellow jersey for the entirety of the Tour de France, during his 1961 win.
The French-born Anquetil was 17 years old when he first took up cycling, which he did to impress girls. He would go on to win 16 races as an amateur, along with a bronze medal in the 1952 Olympic Games. Then, in 1957, Anquetil would shock the cycling world, if not himself.
Anquetil had raced as a “semi-professional” for a few years when he entered his first Tour de France in 1957. Racing at an average speed of about 34 km/h, Anquetil won four stages while finishing nearly 15 minutes ahead of second place Marcel Janssens of Belgium. During that year’s Tour de France, Anquetil wore the yellow jersey for an incredible 16 days.
During the next three years, he would only compete in the Tour de France once, finishing third overall in the 1959 installment. However, Anquetil was not gone for good. He returned in 1961, boasting that he would take the yellow jersey on the first day and wear it for the entirety of the race.
Incredibly, that’s just what he did. On a difficult course (just over half of the participants actually finished the race), Anquetil won the first stage and never relinquished the yellow jersey en route to winning his second Tour de France by a margin of over 12 minutes. Even though Anquetil only won two total stages, he was consistent enough to dominate the field during the race.
Anquetil was only just beginning, as he would go on to win the next three installments of the Tour de France for a total of four straight wins, which was a record at the time. In 1962, he won at a speed of over 37 km/h, which was not bested for 19 years. In the 1963 Tour de France, he finished at just over 3 ½ minutes in front of Spain’s Federico Bahamontes, and he won his last Tour de France in 1964.
The 1964 Tour de France win was most notable for Anquetil’s small margin of victory, as he only beat the second place Raymond Poulidor by 55 seconds. Spectators were energized at the sight of the two of them battling elbow to elbow as Poulidor attempted a late comeback, only to see Anquetil eventually hold on for the win. That win would be Anquetil’s last in the Tour de France.
The win in 1964 over Poulidor took a lot out of Anquetil, and he never raced in another Tour de France afterward, although he did race occasionally in other events until he retired completely in 1969. Anquetil retired as one of the greatest cyclists of all time, and definitely of his era. He was an inspiration to future greats, such as Bernard Hinault, and set a standard for consistency that wouldn’t be reached until Miguel Indurain’s five-year reign in the 1990’s. Remarkably, Anquetil won five of the six times that he entered the Tour de France, and in the process he raised the standard of greatness for future champions to try to reach.
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