Jacques Anquetil was the first rider to win a career grand slam of Grand Tours. Having already won the Tour three times and the Giro once, the 1963 Vuelta completed the set.
Many of his victories were forged in the time trial stages, where he was virtually unbeatable.
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Although he already had a string of Tour victories to his name, it wasn’t until 1963 that he did the ‘double’ for the first time. It was his strength against the clock that put him into the lead at the springtime Vuelta a España — which lasted just over a fortnight in those days. The previous year he had headed to the Vuelta aiming
to become the first rider to win all three Grand Tours. He was behind his team-mates Rudi Altig and Shay Elliott midway through the race and was angered that Elliott worked for Altig, leaving him to fend for himself. He quit in disgust.
In 1963 he settled the score. There were only four first-category climbs in the whole race and Anquetil set up victory by winning the time trial on the first day by more than two minutes, then riding conservatively to defend his lead for the entire race.
Time trial dominance
By 1963 the Tour’s organisers had grown slightly tired of Anquetil’s dominance against the clock. He’d won the 1961 and 1962 races thanks to his time trialling ability. So, in 1963 there were fewer time trials, but Anquetil was no less dominant as he was also impressive in the Pyrenees and Alps. Finally the French public appeared to be warming to a rider they had previously thought of as a stone-hearted mercenary.
Anquetil had already won the Giro once and he took the 1964 race in typical fashion. The time trial in the first week put him into the pink jersey and he held on to his advantage for the next fortnight as the Italians tried to dislodge him, to no avail. It wasn’t the sort of riding that endeared him to the passionate tifosi but it was effective.
The following month at the Tour he was pushed hard by Raymond Poulidor in one of the greatest races of all time.
Predictably, Anquetil finally took the yellow jersey after a time trial, but it was the stage on the Puy de Dôme that has passed into Tour legend. Poulidor cracked Anquetil and came within 14 seconds of wearing the yellow jersey — something which eluded him throughout his entire career. But Anquetil still had the final time trial to come and he extended his lead to a more comfortable 55 seconds.
GRAND TOUR CLINCHERS – 4 KEY STAGES
1) 1963 Vuelta a España Stage 1b, Mieres-Gijon
It’s the first day of the Vuelta a España. The morning kicks off with a road stage, and then the afternoon features Anquetil’s speciality — a time trial. He wins it convincingly and goes on to defend the leader’s jersey for the remainder of the race. As a result, he becomes the first rider in history to win the Giro, Tour and Vuelta in their career. It may not be an exciting stage, but it is certainly a significant one.
2) 1963 Tour de France Stage 10, Pau-Bagneres de Bigorre
The Tour de France organisers have grown concerned about Anquetil’s dominance in the time trials and cut the amount of racing against the clock from 111 kilometres to 79. What they haven’t counted on is Anquetil’s improvement in the high mountains. In the Pyrenees he is a revelation, outsprinting the Spanish specialists Perez-Frances and Bahamontes as well as the darling of France, Poulidor, to lay down the gauntlet.
3) 1963 Tour de France Stage 17, Val d’Isere-Chamonix
Anquetil trails the best climber in the race, Federico Bahamontes, by three seconds. Although there is still the time trial to Besançon to come, the Frenchman doesn’t want to leave anything to chance. A landslide means the stage route is changed, sending them over the Col de Forclaz, which has an unpaved track with a gradient up to 18 per cent. The rules state no rider may change bicycles except in a mechanical emergency so Anquetil’s team manager, Raphael Geminiani orders a mechanic to snip through the rider’s gear cable. They claim it snapped and Anquetil is handed a bike that has been stripped down to be as light as possible. He switches back to his normal bike, which has been ‘mended’ for the descent. At the finish he beats Bahamontes and the time bonus gives him the race lead.
4) 1964 Tour de France Stage 22b, Versailles-Paris time trial
One of the greatest battles in Tour history is still being digested. Poulidor and Anquetil went shoulder to shoulder on the Puy de Dôme. Poulidor scored a morale-boosting victory, cutting Anquetil’s lead to just 14 seconds. But now it is the final day time trial from Versailles. Anquetil, one of the smoothest riders against the clock, stretches another 21 seconds out of Poulidor to clinch his fifth Tour win.
From the archives: The measure of a champion is not so much what he can do, as what he can do when the going is really rough and when he simply must do well or get out.
And this is the glorious story of Jacques Anquetil, who proved beyond a shadow of doubt in Paris last week that he is the greatest Tour de France winner of all. For, from start to finish in this great race, Jacques was not at his best. This is not starting an excuse, for the marvellous story is that of a win that was, not one that might have been.
Yet, for 27 magnificent kilometres, the Norman, proud of his name, his prowess, his suffering, prepared for once in his life to take risks, dominating his own fatigue in a manner that seemed at times, even to his most chauvinistic fans, unbelievable.
600,000 enthusiastic supporters of the Tour de France lined that road through the forests of the Ile de France which led from Versailles to the Parc.
Nearly 10 people for every yard of the road, campers, hikers, motorists, cheered and cheered the Tour and its riders so that they were carried along on a wave of sound.
And for once in his career, which so far as the fickle public are concerned, has been chequered, Jacques got nothing but cheers all the way.
This was the finest Tour of them all, providing a closer finish than any other, in a time trial that could provide a win for either of the two leaders.
Anquetil, the strong man of time trialling, chose 54/47×13, 14, 15, 16, 17 — and used them all, using 112 on the down grade to the Parc. It was there that he made up his time. There was so little in the race that Jacques insisted on doing his tour of honour at the Parc side by side with Raymond Poulidor.
Even in Italy I have never heard such cheering as the capacity crowd at the Parc des Princes produced.