I am in the midst of enjoying one of my favorite sporting events: Le Tour de France. As far as I am concerned, this is the greatest sporting contest in the world. Three weeks of continuing racing, covering a total of nearly 2,5000 miles, a good portion of which is over the grueling mountains in the Alps and Pyrenees. As far as strength and endurance, I cannot think of another sport which demands as much from the participant as this one.
The Tour is one of the oldest sporting events in the world. First run in 1903, it has had a continuous existence since then, except for during the two World Wars, when it was not run. In that time many great riders have come and gone and made their names famous by winning the Tour. In the U.S., the Tour remains relatively unknown, but in Europe it is a huge event, as the crowds that line the road during each stage of the race attest. Cyclists are huge superstars in these countries.
I myself knew next to nothing about the Tour until I just happened to watch a stage on television about ten years ago with a friend of mine. He was a big fan, and I wondered why he was watching a bike race. I was disdainful that a bike race could at all be interesting to watch as a sporting event. I was hooked on the race after about five minutes of watching. Since then I have been a devoted follower.
One of the things I enjoy about the tour, and cycling in general, is its long history and tradition. As I mentioned, the Tour first took place in 1903. There are even older bike races before the Tour. But since 1903 there has been a sort of unified sense of who the great cyclists are, and many of them prove their greatness by winning the Tour. There are two other great Tours as well: a three week race through Italy (the Giro d’Italia, founded in 1909) and another three week through Spain (Vuelta a Espana, founded in 1935). All these consist of flat stages and high mountain stages. Only five riders in history have won all three Tours in the course of their careers (Anquetil being one, along with Felice Gimondi, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Alberto Contador, all great cyclists), and no one has won all three in the same year. As I mentioned, winning these races, and being a great cyclists, is a great honor in Europe, often resulting in fame and, if lucky, fortune.
One of those Tour winners was a Frenchman named Jacques Anquetil (1934-1987). Anquetil is one of the greatest cyclists of all time, being the first to win the Tour five times, a feet only surpassed by Lance Armstrong. He was known for his extremely graceful and elegant style of riding, and was the dominant cyclist of his generation. Like all great champions he had his rivals, good but not as good as Anquetil. His most famous rival was a fellow French cyclist named Raymond Poulidor. Poulidor is famous as someone who never won the Tour, despite finishing second or third on several occasions, and winning many other races. He was a great cyclist in his own right, but still not as good as Anquetil. One of his nicknames was the “Eternal Second”. In France at the time, the early to mid sixties, a social division arose between those who preferred the more elegant and victorious Anquetil, and those who preferred the more rustic and less successful Poulidor. Friends, families, and neighborhoods were divided on these allegiances. Anquetil represented France as a successful and important nation, Poulidor as a noble but no longer great nation. The term “Poulidor complex” was actually coined by sociologists to describe the post-War image that France held of itself. Yet Poulidor, despite or due to his image as a sympathetic loser, was always more popular in France than the champion Anquetil.
Anquetil retired from cycling in 1966. His post-cycling life has a rather interesting turn, something which ties in with the general the theme of this blog.
Apparently Anquetil wanted to have a child with his wife, Janine, a woman whom he had seduced from his own doctor and married in 1958. No children were produced from the marriage. So, a rather unusual solution was found. Janine offered to Anquetil her own daughter, Annie, from her previous marriage for procreation. Of course Anquetil did not refuse. Not only that, but her daughter was more than willing. As she said (according to Wikipedia):
“When my mother asked that [I should become impregnated by my step-father, Anquetil]…. I was totally breathtaken by the proposition…. But, mind, I accepted willingly. I have to admit that at the time, despite being 18 years old, I was in love with Jacques. And I knew that I pleased him. What do you expect? That’s life. And that’s how I found myself in his bed in the sacred mission of procreation.”
She admits she was in love with the great cyclist. She also said:“Nobody thought it strange that Jacques Anquetil joined me in my bed each evening before returning to the marital bed beside my mother. Everybody was comfortable with it”
The story gets even more interesting. Eventually a daughter was born to Annie, a girl named Sophie. However, Annie and her mother Janine developed a jealousy over Anquetil, the result of which was Annie leaving the house. Janine then invited her son and his wife to live in the house, which they did, and Anquetil eventually started an affair with his own step son’s wife, a woman named Dominique. He even had a child with her as well. He and his first wife, Janine, eventually divorced and Anquetil died at a early age, 53, from stomach cancer.
Great champions in sport usually display alpha traits: a certain degree of narcissism and a ruthless determination to succeed at what you want to achieve. You need these to be a winner, especially in something as highly competitive and arduous as cycling. Anquetil was such a man. A pursuit and enjoyment of various women is often a by-product of such a personality, and since sports stars tend to have easy access to many women, it is not surprising they often take full advantage of such situations. Anquetil’s victories in races, his detached and enigmatic champion persona, and his enjoyment of the women in his life, reveal such characteristics.
Oh yes, and let me not forget to mention that the French have always been known for their appreciation and enjoyment of feminine beauty. It is no accident that Paris is still the fashion and beauty capital of the world.
Vive Le Tour!!!
Vive La France!!!