Chris Froome's victory in the 2017 Vuelta a España saw the Briton become only the third rider to win both the Tour de France and Vuelta in the same season. It was a feat that had not been done since 1978 when Bernard Hinault did the double; prior to that, the great Jacques Anquetil achieved the unprecedented feat back in 1963 to head the sequence.
Anquetil, the first rider to win the Tour five times, adding the Giro d'Italia twice and the Vuelta once, is often considered the most perfect pedalling machine in cycling history. He was a rider so calculating he was once described as pedalling like an insurance agent.
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The blueprint of Anquetil's success often laid in containing his rivals in the mountains before smashing them in the time trials – a tactic emulated forty years later by Miguel Indurain, himself the latest official five-time Tour winner. Indeed, Anquetil's trademark flat back, pointed toes TT position would be emulated by generations of cyclists.
Such was 19-year-old Anquetil's prowess against the clock during a time trial in Rouen in 1953, the pioneering radio reporter Alex Virot had questioned on air whether kilometres in the capital of Normandy were in fact only 900 metres long.
The rider's biographer Paul Fournel tells Eurosport that Anquetil – nicknamed Monsieur Chrono – was tailor made for time trialling:
He had a monstrous engine hidden in a thin body. His ratio power-weight was ideal. Long before the invention of the wind tunnel, he had found the perfect aerodynamic position. Last, but not least, he knew how to suffer more than anyone else.
According to Fournel, Cyrille Guimard, the legendary French directeur sportif whose riding career briefly overlapped with that of Anquetil's, said: "For a long while I thought of him as a sorcerer who has found the Great Secret."
Besides delivering him multiple Grand Tours, this TT prowess saw Anquetil win the Grand Prix de Nations – considered the world championships of time trialling – a staggering nine times from 1953.
But he wasn't just voracious for victories; Anquetil was hungry in every domain – whether for food or the fairer sex.
Famous for filling his bidons with Pernod and champagne – he once admitted, "I tried to drink water once; it made me sick." – Anquetil was a notorious gourmand whose favourite platters included peppered steak tartare, sweetbreads in a creamed spinach sauce, and langoustine with slathers of mayonnaise. While he stopped short of eating goose liver pâté on race days, he was known to provoke journalists by smoking small cigars before stages.
This was a man who, after all, once said:
To prepare for a race there is nothing better than a good pheasant, some champagne and a woman.
And when it came to women, Anquetil had a very unconventional outlook: he had an affair and a child with his step-daughter (with her mother's – his wife's – consent) and then followed this up by having a love child with the wife of his step-son (his wife's second child).
In spite of his convivial familial set-up and being the patron of a sport whose protagonists collectively rode together in a peloton, Anquetil was very much an island – mirrored by his being strongest when riding on his own, against the clock.
The enigma is reflected in the title of Paul Fournel's biography, Anquetil, Alone, the prologue of which captures the Frenchman's grace on a bike to a tee.
The way he pedalled was a lie. It spoke of ease and grace, like a bird taking off or a dancer in a sport of lumberjacks, riders who crushed the pedals, gluttons for hard work, masculinity in all shapes and sizes. Anquetil pedalled blond, with supple ankles; he pedalled on points, back bent, arms at right angles, head straining forwards.
Anquetil was synonymous to his sport, created with a God-given gift of turning the pedals. Fournel imagines him thinking, "I don't love the bike, the bike loves me. It will pay the price."
No man was ever better suited than him to riding a bike, never was the harnessing of man and machine so harmonious. He was made to be seen alone on the road, silhouetted against the blue sky; nothing about him suggested the peloton, the crowd and the strength of being united. He was cycling beauty, out on its own.
This icy, calculated, almost emotionless brilliance set Anquetil apart from the more popular riders of his generation, most notably compatriot Raymond Poulidor, whom French fans took to far more easily despite – or because of – his tendency to finish runner-up in the Tour after being outsmarted by the robotic Anquetil.
Setting the scene to the 1963 double
Having won his first two Tours in 1957 and 1961 either side of his maiden Giro scalp in 1961, Anquetil had intended to do the Tour-Vuelta double in 1962, but he pulled out of the Vuelta two days from the end of the race with his German teammate at Saint-Raphaël, Rudi Altig, in the lead.
Some reported that he had been struck by illness while others suggested he was frustrated at not being able to beat Altig: the straw that broke the camel's back being Stage 15, the 82km time trial from Bayonne to Saint-Sebastien, which saw Altig take the lead after the German won by a single second ahead of Anquetil, who subsequently quit.
This was when the Vuelta was a two-week race which ran earlier in the season, late April through to May, well before the shift to August-September in 1995. Despite the Spanish setback, Anquetil won his third Tour in July.
The 1963 season started well, Anquetil winning Paris-Nice (ahead of Altig, making it all the sweeter) and the Critérium National de la Route before heading to Spain as the big favourite for the Vuelta, which started on 1st May at Gijón.
Winning the Vuelta
And so to the race itself, which on the surface of things looked as much as a one-horse race as a Lloyds Bank advertisement.
If Anquetil didn't win the inaugural 45km Stage 1a from Gijón to Mieres on the opening morning, he was in the race lead by the end of the day following victory in the 52km time trial in the opposite direction. His nearest challenger finished 2'40" down as Anquetil established a large lead in the general classification which he would never lose over the following fortnight.
Perhaps in a bid to attract Anquetil back after his 1962 walkout, the route was not particularly mountainous and, at 2,442km in length, it remains the shortest ever Vuelta. All this played into the Frenchman's hands. And with the world champion and former 1958 Vuelta winner Jean Stablinsky as road captain, supported by stage winners Bas Maliepaard, Guy Ignolin and Seamus Elliott, Anquetil's Saint-Raphaël team was clearly the strongest.
The only worry for Anquetil came midway through the race when he was struck down by food poisoning, which took the wind from his sails. Indeed, it was probably responsible for the biggest surprise of the race when Anquetil was beaten in the second time trial, a 52km ride from Sitges to Tarragona, by the Spaniard Miguel Pacheco by 26 seconds.
In fact, Anquetil did not win another stage following his opening day triumph – his lead, the strength of his team, and his consistency enough to see him crowned winner in Madrid by 3'06" over Spaniard José Martin Colmenarejo, and 3'32" over Pacheco.
Dutchman Maliepaard was fourth and won the points classification, with Stablinsky ninth as Saint-Raphaël eased to victory in the team classification.
Image credit: Eurosport
And thus, with little fanfare, Anquetil became the first major big-name rider to win the Vuelta in the 18th edition of the race. He also became the first man in history to have won all three of cycling's Grand Tours. Fournel elaborates:
It was huge because it was the first half of the first Vuelta-Tour double win in the same year. It was huge because of the disappointment of 1962. It was huge because Anquetil's team was just fantastic. It was huge because Pacheco had defeated Anquetil in the time trial. But it was not so huge because it was as boring as the 1961 Tour de France.
What had clearly made the difference was Anquetil's team, who acted as a wall obstructing the obvious truth – that the Frenchman was far from his best. In this respect, the victory was not as easy as it looked on paper, according to Fournel.
The team was perfect – thank you Mr Stablinsky, word champion and devoted gregario! – but the boss was not exactly at his best, hiding his weaknesses, as usual, by looking ultra-dominant in order to deter any strong challenges. The reality is that he struggled in the mountains and even on the TT.
But a win, as they say, is a win.
What happened next
Five weeks after the Vuelta, Anquetil rocked up at the Tour as favourite, having kept his hand in with victory in June's Critérium du Dauphiné.
The Tour organisers had reduced the amount of time trialling to 25km and 54km in the 1963 route, which was designed to favour the climbers and challenge the Anquetil hegemony. In response, Anquetil delivered a climbing masterclass – winning stages in both the Pyrenees and the Alps in between dual time trial victories.
You see, it was always something of a fallacy that Anquetil couldn't climb. Sure, he was no Bahamontes when the road went uphill, but his reliance of establishing big leads against the clock and then taking it easy in the mountains was a careful calculation: Anquetil was a rider who saw no point in racing harder than necessary to win.
By the time the Tour arrived in Paris, Anquetil was 3'35" ahead of Federico Bahamontes and the first Vuelta-Tour double was dans le musette. Weeks later, he was named France's champion of champions by L'Équipe despite finishing behind Stablinsky and Ignolin in the national championships.
During the 1964 Tour, a fortune teller predicted in France-Soir that Anquetil would die on or around the 13th day of the race. This rocked Anquetil, who refused to leave his room on the rest day in Andorra (day thirteen) until a barbecue was laid on by one of the sponsors.
Here, Anquetil allegedly partied heavily and ate so much grilled lamb that he was taken ill. The next day, on the stage to Toulouse, he was dropped on the first hairpins of the Port d'Envalira climb and told his directeur sportif he thought he was going to die.
At the summit, his DS allegedly gave him a make-or-break bidon of champagne in a bid to clear his indigestion. It worked. Maître Jacques caught up with his principal rival Poulidor and stayed on course for a record fifth win.
His victory in Paris – after four stage scalps along the way – made Anquetil the first rider to win the Tour on five occasions.
Why does it matter?
On Tuesday, the 74th edition of the Vuelta sees the peloton enter France for the only individual time trial of the race.
After a rest day following a stage in Andorra – go easy on the lamb barbecues, chaps – the riders will tackle a largely flat 36.2km race against the clock from Jurançon to Pau, the French city which Anquetil visited in each of his five Tour wins.
Trailing the current red jersey Nairo Quintana by just six seconds, the red-hot favourite to take the spoils in the TT is Slovenia's Primoz Roglic, a rider who, like Anquetil, is considered more of a time triallist than an out-and-out climber.
Put a couple of minutes into his principal rivals, and Roglic will put himself in a strong position to survive the remaining four summit finishes and hold on to the red jersey all the way to Madrid. And if he wins this Vuelta, he'll have done it very much à la Anquetil. Champagne all round…
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