Tour Heroes: "Poupou, The Eternal Second"

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07/13/2004| 0 comments
by David Cohen
Jacques Anquetil (left) and Raymond Poulidor (right).
Jacques Anquetil (left) and Raymond Poulidor (right).

Tour Heroes: "Poupou, The Eternal Second"

Raymond Poulidor will be honored Tuesday when the Tour departs from his hometown.

In the history of French cycling, four riders occupy a place above and beyond the others:   Louison Bobet, Jacques Anquetil, Raymond Poulidor and Bernard Hinault.

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These four are the true heroes of the sport in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /?>
France
but, in a paradoxical way, one stands out.

 

This is Raymond Poulidor, who will be honoured Tuesday when the Tour departs from Poulidor?s hometown of Saint-Leonard-de-Noblat for Stage 9.

 

Unlike the others who all were multiple winners, Poulidor never won the Tour de France; nor did he ever pull on the yellow leader?s jersey.

 

It wasn?t for lack of trying.   Poulidor had a long career ? he raced from the early 60?s until 1976.    He was a Tour regular and managed to place second three times and third four times.   He also finished in lesser top-10 positions on several occasions.

 

It was Poulidor?s bad luck to have been born at such a time that his tour career coincided with that of Jacques Anquetil on the front end and with that of Eddy Merckx on the back end.

 

In fact, Poulidor was known as ? l?eternel second? -- but more often, and more fondly, as ?Poupou.?   Commentators in the 60?s often referred to a phenomenon known as ?poupoularite? ? Poulidor?s ability to be the most popular French bike racer of his time in spite of never managing to win the Tour.

 

In this respect, Poulidor?s competition with Jacques Anquetil, winner of the Tour five times, was most intriguing.

 

Poulidor and Anquetil were opposites in almost every respect.

 

Anquetil came from the north of
France
, having been born in
Normandy
. His hair was blonde and he was on the slight side.   His approach to cycling was scientific and innovative.   He was up on the latest advances in training, nutrition and technology.    His philosophy of racing was above all strategic; he did only what was necessary to win, nothing more.   Winning by a second was just as good as winning by an hour.  

 

On the bike and in motion, Anquetil was elegance and technique personified.

 

Poulidor was a man of the
Midi, the agricultural midlands of
France
.  He sprang from the peasantry.   He was dark-haired and complexioned.   In build, he was huskier and taller than Anquetil.   Whereas Anquetil specialized in the ?technical? aspects of racing ? time-trialling, the tactics of the final sprint ? Poulidor was known for his climbing and endurance.

 

 

Poulidor?s peasant origins were first underlined in 1961 after he won the Milan-San Remo race.    He was the subject of a TV interview that took place at his parents? home in rural
Limousin
.  It showed Poulidor working in the fields and in the family kitchen.   Poulidor confirmed that he was up on sheep breeding.

 

In 1972, French TV polled roadside fans at the Tour about why Poulidor was so popular.    An elderly French woman replied, ?He?s a provincial?He [speaks with]

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