Paris-Nice, episode 80: Jacques Anquetil

February 18 th 2022 - 12:00

Anquetil, a lean, mean winning machine (III/X)

Since 1933, Paris–Nice has been the first major event of the season for the stars gunning for glory in stage races. The balance of power on the Promenade des Anglais or the Col d'Èze, depending on the season, gives us our first glimpse of where each Tour de France favourite stands. To mark the 80th edition, is looking back on how the Race to the Sun shaped the careers of ten riders who shared a special bond with the event.

Jacques Anquetil, the first five-time winner of the Tour, also claimed Paris–Nice five times with an almost identical approach and timing.

Time trialling as a lethal weapon

A combination of raw power, a flawless technique and a smooth riding style enabled Jacques Anquetil to steamroll the opposition in time trials from his very first race in the pro ranks, when he won the 1953 Grand Prix des Nations riding for La Perle. He was already known as a fearsome power rider when he first entered Paris–Nice, renamed from "Paris–Côte d'Azur" in 1954. He lived up to his reputation in the 51 km time trial from Cannes to Nice that wrapped up the race, putting 29 seconds into overall winner Raymond Impanis. Three years later, he returned with his sights on loftier goals. The Norman conquest of the Race to the Sun began in the time trial between Alès and Uzès, both in the Gard department, at the end of which he pulled on the leader's jersey. It was his first stage race triumph. Anquetil's subsequent wins would follow the same template: in his Tour de France debut, he simply held on in the mountains and brought the hammer down with two victories in the race against the clock, first in Barcelona and then in Libourne. The age of Anquetil had begun.

Anquetil versus Poupou, a duel for all seasons

"Maître Jacques" seemed to have found the magic formula for Paris–Nice and the Tour, but even he flopped once in a while. The next three years were marred by petty squabbles with big consequences as his rivalry with Louison Bobet and other feuds left the French national team stuck in the doldrums. However, the clouds parted in 1961, when Bobet and Geminiani's imminent retirements gave Anquetil a free rein again. In Paris–Nice, the Norman made the difference in the 43 km time trial to Vergèze. This second triumph heralded a second yellow jersey in July. Anquetil seized the golden fleece in the time trial of the first day of the Tour and took it all the way to Paris. That year also saw the first round of a long-running duel with young Raymond Poulidor, a showdown that dominated the next few editions of the Race to the Sun and the Tour. In the last gasps of winter as in the dog days of summer, Anquetil ground "Poupou" down almost systematically and capped his series of victories in 1966 with his fifth win in Nice, which was also the last of his career in a stage race. Although his best days were already behind him in his final season, riding for Bic, he still put up a dogged fight in the 1969 edition, which ended with a podium for the ages: Eddy Merckx, Raymond Poulidor and Jacques Anquetil. There was a new sheriff in town.

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