Jacques Anquetil’s records speak for themselves, but it was his talent for racing against the clock that really set him on the road to creating history


Jacques Anquetil was one of the greatest time triallists of all time. He was the first man to win the Tour de France five times, the first Frenchman to win the Giro d’Italia, and the second rider ever to do the Giro and Tour double.

All Anquetil’s victories were built on his ability against the clock, and he won the Grand Prix des Nations — essentially the unofficial world time trial championships when there wasn’t an official world title race — an incredible nine times.

Anquetil achieved his record through his unique physiology, which his long-time team manager, Raphael Geminiani described as being made up of: “A jet engine, a distillation plant and a computer.” But he also did very specific time trial training.

UKCE sportive ad bannerBefore every time trial, Anquetil followed a training plan devised by his first and only coach, André Boucher, much of the training being done behind Boucher’s Derny pacing bike.

Old-fashioned Dernys were strange things; they had petrol engines, but the pacers also pedalled a huge fixed gear. This was so their legs could apply extra power when it was needed, more gently than could be achieved by opening the throttle.

Essentially, Anquetil’s paced sessions were designed to test him, stretch his output over long intervals of time trial-type effort. It’s said that no matter how fast Boucher went, not only did he never drop Anquetil, Anquetil never once asked him to slow down.

The big difference between Anquetil’s paced sessions and what other pros did then, and still do now, was that they were split by 5km sections where Anquetil rode ahead of his pacer with Boucher following some 10m behind.

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This was so Boucher could check Anquetil’s riding position, check he was as low as he could be, that his hips were rock solid on the saddle, and that his shoulders stayed still, and that his elbows were tucked in by his side.

How to pace a long time trial

Anquetil knew that good aerodynamics was a key factor in time trials, and he had the most aerodynamic riding position of his generation.

Anquetil also practised another time trial marginal gain. The first time he raced in the GP des Nations he reconnoitered the course a few weeks earlier, with some self-addressed postcards in his pocket. Then, every time he saw a postbox on the route he stopped, wrote down the details of the section he’d just covered, and posted the cards to himself.

In this way he gained a kilometre by kilometre knowledge of the race route. Anquetil’s time trial record stands as a testimony to the effectiveness of his training.

  • John

    Anquetil was stripped of an hour record because he refused to do the dope test afterwards, and he was one of the loudest voices protesting against doping control. Yes, most riders were taking stuff back then, but he seems to have been more comitted to it than others.

  • David Bassett

    It must be so sad for you that everything is always black and never white. I feel sorry for you, or I would if it was not you that seems to bring it on to yourself. For once in your life in your life admit somethings can be good. Everyone knows that from the first bike races SOME people have cheated. But not even you can prove all have cheated. My suggestion to you is if cycling is so crap and full of cheats look for something else.
    I am sure everyone else would miss you.

  • reece46

    You know they were all on the same? Or you just don’t want details get in the way of Lionisation.

  • llos25

    Ever since they have had competitive sport the competitors have always looked for an edge and always will do no amount of testing will stop it unfortunately..

  • llos25


  • yoda_i_am

    Just like the rest of the field at the time.

  • David Bassett

    Hi Ilos25 your mate David Bassett, here is a quote from JA “Leave me in peace; everybody takes dope.” and ” only a fool would imagine it was possible to ride Bordeaux–Paris on just water” and president, Charles de Gaulle, said of Anquetil: “Doping? What doping? Did he or did he not make them play the Marseillaise [the French national anthem] abroad?”

  • Timpacker

    Don’t forgot all the amphetimines he was on as well all the other ” illegal products ”

  • J1

    Ah I see….I’m never sure about some of these stories!

  • llos25

    He drank a little red wine but never saw him take anything he should not, does not mean to say he did not as lot of riders did then just as they do now.

  • llos25

    It was not a Derny as you know one on the road it was capable of around 55kmh depending on the wind and many times he would pass it.I often wonder if this motorised moped still exists I have one of the bikes he rode unfortunately not the quality of his legs.

  • fignon

    Wasn’t he helped by other things as well?

  • J1

    “It’s said that no matter how fast Boucher went, not only did he never drop Anquetil, Anquetil never once asked him to slow down.”

    I thought this was one of those anecdotes that made the legends seem impossibly brilliant but then I realised a modern Dernys top speed is around 30mph with the rider pedalling, so I imagine the dernys back then were slower, so not as crazy as I first thought. Still a legend.

  • Max Smith

    Thanks for an excellent article. Fascinating stuff.

  • llos25

    Fantastic rider.

  • Scott Gee

    I totally agree Steve. Anyone who thinks amphetamines don’t turbocharge your engine to insane levels is totally clueless. I remember racing in the 70’s against a Canadian who was well known to be a user. Before the race he seemed like the rest of us. Halfway through it was if he had a rocket strapped to him. And when you’d see him later his eyes were red and he was jittery. He even looked like a junky.

    As for the posters comment below about Lance – please. He has a huge engine naturally and would have dominated just as easily. All the top contenders in the Tours Lance won were equally on PED’s. Yet Lance still won.