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Echoes' Cycling Biography #2: Raymond Poulidor
« on: August 19, 2013, 19:05 »

A complete Raymond Poulidor biography looks like a mission impossible for the rider’s career was so long and prolific. When he signed his first pro contract late in 1959, Fausto Coppi was still officially a pro rider. Before that as an amateur he already raced against pros as will be shown. When he officially retires at Christmas 1977, Sean Kelly had already completed his first pro year. It says a lot about the depth of his exemplary career. Two decades at the top level. How great an evolution hadthe sport of cycling undergone while Poulidor maintained himself at the top of World cycling! How many riders have come and gone!

This biography would rather intend to bust myths that are associated with the Limousin. A first one to debunk would be the Eternal Second myth. The myth is based on his Tour of France record and yet on the Tour of France he would rather end 3rd than second. He often came 2nd in the classic due to his lack of a sprint, though and often behind Merckx. Marc Jeuniau from RTBF would argue that in Belgium, when Merckx won, nobody cared about who was second but if it was Poulidor. Belgian comedian François Pirette in the 90’s would suggest that Merckx’s effigy be placed on 200BEF notes and Poulidor at the back “because Poulidor was always at the back of Merckx.” The French remembered his battle with Anquetil but the Belgians, his with Merckx which lasted for much longer.

But truth to be told – as Yves Jean showed in his ‘Les victories de Poulidor’ – Poulidor won many races. 75 wins at official pro races (many more if you include criteriums). Only a handful of present-day sprinters could ever dream of reaching that figure, which, of course, outnumbers his 2nd place figure which goes up to 72. Among those victories are top classics, one week stage races, time-trials. Nine times Anquetil was in the top3 when Poulidor won. 8 times was Ocaña, who seemed to be really overrated when we look at these figures !

Already at Pro level in 1956

In 1956 Poulidor was aged 20. He would turn pro 4 years later and yet he already impressed that year. He was farm boy from Masbaraud-Mérignat, close to Limoges. At that time he would work the land 15 hours a day in the week. Only on Sunday he could cycle. Could he follow a more specific training he would have turned pro. However Poulidor already had a reputation in the Limousin and during the most famous race of the region, the Bol d’Or des Monédières, which is technically a criterium open to amateur riders but with decent climbs to pass, Poulidor would be the only rider to hold Bobet’s wheel at half-race. One lap further he would attack himself, Bobet and Geminiani couldn’t respond. He finished 6th. Geminiani won. Bobet was embarrassed and asked who is that rider who got more applauses than me and who is nicknamed the ‘Pouliche’.

Military service during the Algerian War

Between 1954 and 1962 France was stuck in dirty war in Algeria. The military service that had been reduced to 18 months in November 1950. Due to the war it would be extended again. The French already had 200,000 men in Algeria in January 1956. On April 11 the Socialist Prime Minister Guy Mollet decided to extend the military service to 27 months so that they could reach a figure of 400,000 in December. Unfortunately for Poulidor that was his period. He would be mobilized, first in Koblenz, West-Germany and then in Bône, now Annaba, Algeria. Unfortunately he could enter the Battalion of Joinville, which allowed soldiers to take part in sporting events on days off. So that when he came back he was 15kg overweight.
The good news is that his parents had moved to another farm where the soil was richer, where they had draught horses instead of cows, so that he was no longer needed on the land and he could be strictly dedicated to cycling.

1961: win in Milan-Sanremo

Poulidor signed his first pro contract after a criterium in August 1959 when former Bordeaux-Paris great Bernard Gauthier recommended Antonin Magne – Mercier manager – a new “poulie d’or” (‘golden pulley’). In 1960 Poulidor was selected by Magne to race Milan-Sanremo but in this pre-Schengen era Poulidor was denied a stay in Italy due to an invalid passport. So much the better on the day after that Milan-Sanremo he won the Bordeaux-Saintes classic with a rather French field but important for French riders and his career took a flyng start.

In 1961 he would take his revenge. Team director Antonin Magne told him that “this race suits you because it fits very well with your climbing abilities” (the ‘you’ and ‘your’ are translation of ‘vous’ and ‘votre’, which is the polite form of the 2nd person singular. It does not translate into English but Magne would always address his riders with this polite form, which is part of his personality). It seems very odd for the observer of the 21st century who had seen a series of sprint wins in the Primavera that this experienced team director thinks Milan-Sanremo suits a climber but if the Poggio climbs is not especially hard it appears after 280km making it very hard for sprinters. The first edition with the Poggio was the previous one and the win was for an attacker, René Privat. The addition of the Poggio stopped a series of two consecutive sprints won by Van Looy and Poblet. The sprinters were favoured by the constant asphalting of the road which considerably changed the landscape in Europe and had its influence on all races. “They paved paradise, put up a parking lot” as said Joni Mitchell.

Poulidor crossed the border (with a valid passport) in Magne’s Peugeot 404 after finishing Paris-Nice in 9th place (but King of the Mountains). Magne did the course of Milan-Sanremo in reverse. First showed him the ‘new’ Poggio but more importantly the Capo Berta, which in Magne was to be the decider. He was right. Poulidor came back from a puncture (forced by Magne to stay in the race) just in time for the Capo Berta. Van Looy made a first attempt but to no avail. Then the French Fleming Annaert escaped. Poulidor would join him with Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner Geldermans in his wheel. He dropped them in the Poggio and had 25” lead on top of it but only three remained on the Via Roma. How come? Simply down the descent the Frenchman took the wrong way and went to the sea instead of the Via Roma, wrongly directed by the signalman. Magne hooted and Poulidor got back on track, just in time to resist the sprinters like Van Looy and Darrigade. For the second edition with the Poggio, the sprinters almost nailed it even though Poulidor’s lead would have been much bigger without the course error. Was the Cipressa already needed? In 1965 organizers added the Ponte di Merlo but it was the only edition with a 6th climb to the route before 1982 and the Cipressa.

1963: Second classic win at the Arrow

In the sixties as Barry Hoban recalls the Walloon Arrow was not as hard as the present-day route and was more famous for the danger that the tram rails represented. In 1963 the sister race Liège-Bastogne-Liège was held on Saturday and the Arrow the next Sunday to form the Ardennes Weekend. The Arrow had every year an undeniably much better field than Liège, which was relatively local, with a handful of foreigners who doubled up. Only by 1967 when Paris-Brussels disappeared from the calendar as well as the Ardennes weekend would Liège become the great classic that it now is.

In 1963 Poulidor races both Ardennes classics. On May 5 he could certainly have won the race but a gear-shifting problem (according to Marcuola) or toe-clip problem (according to Jean) stopped him with 200m to go, which profited his teammate Frans Melckenbeeck. He finished 5th. Yves Jean talked about a finish on top of the Citadelle of Namur for this edition, which seems weird.

The next day the Arrow would start from Liège and reach Châtelet close to Charleroi in the rue de la Blanche borne (215km), which is slightly uphill but hard enough for him to attack at the foot of it from a group of 9 riders that included Jan Janssen (2nd), Peter Post (3rd) and Georges Van Coningsloo (4th). Simpson is 10th. Due to his 5th place in Liège Poulidor wins the Ardennes weekend.

1963: Two prestigious ITT wins

Since 1956 the GP des Nations had been reduced to 100km in the hilly Chevreuse Valley in Versailles. It is the real equivalent to present-day ITT World Championship. In 1963 defending champion Ferdinand Bracke had the fastest start. After 10km he was 6” ahead of Poulidor but the Limousin would then put the hammer down and overtake the Spaniard Pacheco, the Dutchman Geldermans and the Swiss Rolf Maurer who had started 2’, 4’ and … 15’ before him respectively. At half race he was 1’30” ahead of Bracke. In the last part of the course he would overcome a face wind and a puncture to extend his lead ahead of Bracke up to over 3’. Aldo Moser, former winner and Francesco’s brother, is 6th at more than 7’.

The Lugano GP was held on October 13. The course was a lap of 15km to be covered 5 times (75km). This time the fight with Bracke would be much tighter but it eventually went again in Poulidor’s favour for 56’. The former Italian prodigy Ercole Baldini who started to be overweight was 4th, 3’ slower. Moser was 4 minutes behind. Tom Simpson who was not known for his ITT skills was 9’ behind, at the 8th place. He actually battled with Poulidor for 2nd place at the Superprestige Pernod (behind Anquetil), which he eventually will get. He actually suggested to share the prize for 2nd and 3rd place: 10,000 and 5,000FF respectively. In the cycling world, it will be called the “Million Affair” (because 10,000FF – the price for 2nd place – means 1M French cents). Poulidor refused, which was honourable but he could regret it because Simpson eventually got the 10 thousand franks.

In any case Poulidor beat Bracke twice in a row in an ITT, the future Hour Record holder. In Lugano he beat a future and a former hour record holder.

1964: Incident at Paris-Nice

Poulidor took a flying start to the 1964 season with a win in the very hard Cannes GP. 180km after which he led the German Winfried Bölke by 1’. Anquetil was 7th 1’30” behind and Dutchman De Roo was 9th.

In 1964 Paris-Nice visited Corsica for 2 days. In the 7th stage – 180km from Ajaccio to Porto-Vecchio – Poulidor wins 4” ahead of Altig, 6” ahead of Janssen and 7” ahead of the two Brits Simpson and Ramsbottom.
In the ITT the next day – 34km from Olmeta di Tuda to Bastia with the Teghime – Magne decided to follow Annaert, 2nd in the GC (place that he kept). In the Teghime Poulidor overtook Anquetil and two other contenders. Anquetil was 3’ behind. In the descent though a badly parked car from the race caravan made him fall. The frame of his bike is broken. In his book ‘Poulidor intime’ he would consider himself rather lucky not to have been disabled for life because he hit it at the speed of 80km/h. The mechanic from the neutral car that followed him had no reserve bike, only wheels in case of a puncture (a bike was planned but another guy took the place in the car instead) and when Magne passed by, nobody in the car noticed that he was waiting. “Tonin, don’t let me down, here” he shouted. In vain. He lost 18 minutes in an ITT that he dominated head and shoulder. It’s a miracle if he eventually could finish 4th in the GC. Jan Janssen won and Jean Forestier was 3rd.

1964: Strongest in Milan-Sanremo

The 1964 Milan-Sanremo had 232 starters (amazingly high), of which 138 would finish. The story is well described on
The 1961 Sanremo winner, Frenchman Raymond Poulidor (Mercier-BP) instigated the move on the Capo Berta taking Simpson, the Belgian Willy Bocklandt (Flandria- Romeo) and Vincenzo Meco (Cite) with him. Willy Bocklandt would go on to take the Liege-Bastogne-Liege a few weeks later.
The pace set by Raymond Poulidor sees Meco struggling at the back and he is soon dropped.
The break is down to three with Poulidor still setting the pace.
On the Poggio Willy Bocklandt is unable to maintain the pace leaving Simpson and Poulidor to battle it out. Tom Simpson out-sprints Raymond Poulidor on the via Roma to win the 1964 Milan-San Remo. Poulidor lives up to his nickname as the "eternal second". Willy Bocklandt would arrive 61 seconds later to take third. Rik Van Looy, wearing the Belgian champions jersey, takes the sprint for fourth place. Rudi Altig had finished three seconds earlier but was de-classified for an irregular wheel change.

The website also tells us that Simpson rode an average speed of 43.420 km/hour, which was the new course record at that time. Van Looy arrived 1’09” after Simpson and Poulidor, which thus placed Altig 1’06 behind them before his disqualification.

The race was typical of what would occur to Poulidor in the classics from then on. Often among the strongest but betrayed by his sprinting liability.

1964: The Andorran controversy

Poulidor already showed at Paris-Nice that he was getting stronger than Anquetil. In the Tour of France stage from Andorra to Toulouse. During the rest day the local radio organized a ‘méchoui’, which means a barbecue of a whole roast sheep and Anquetil was a part of it. The next day in Envalira – though by far the easiest side – Anquetil understandably could not put one foot before the other. Poulidor on the other hand attacked with Jimenez and Bahamontes. Behind Anquetil received pushes from Louis Rostollan (Thomas’ grand-father) before Goddet’s eyes. In order to go unnoticed Rostollan would pass his right arms under Anquetil’s left but Goddet still sees it. On top of the climb Anquetil was 4’ behind. He would only get a 15” penalty for this. Some were disqualified for less than that. Suddenly a thick mist falls on Envalira and in the descent the leaders could not see 10 meters ahead of them while Anquetil had the lights of all the cars that were driving ahead. In the valley a general reassembling of about 20 riders with Anquetil would occur. But when Mercier rider Poulot sees that Poulidor’s rear wheel is buckled, Magne told him to stop and change it straightaway. But in the group they didn’t wait. Jealous of Poulidor’s popularity in criteriums and of his skills. Furthemore on the incident, his mechanics pushed him back too quick before he puts his feet in the toe-clips. He fell again and eventually finishes in the chase group, 2’36” behind Ward Sels – Van Looy protégé who wins the stage.

His reaction was that of a champion winning the stage to Luchon with an attack early in the Portillon. Only Gabica was in less than a minute on top of the climb but Poulidor even increased his lead in the descent. Anquetil is 8th 1’43” behind Poulidor. Bahamontes at more than 2’.

In the subsequent 43km ITT the Mercier would again show their lack of professionalism that characterized the team since Paris-Nice. After 31km Poulidor was still only 7” behind but the last part was hilly and in Poulidor’s favour but he punctures again. The mechanic had already open the door and was ready to take the reserve bike but Magne brutally put a brake on and the mechanic fell down on the road. Poulidor picked up the reserve bike that laid down on the side of the road but also had to re-align the bars and start again without pushes from the mechanic who forgot about it. He finished 37” behind Anquetil. Certainly the time that he lost due to the mishap.

The French would remember the duel between the two in the Puy de Dôme though none of them were at the top of their form that day. They were far behind Jimenez and Bahamontes who finished 1st and 2nd. An elbow-to-elbow after all isn’t rare in cycling. However the misfortune of the Pyrenees definitely cost Poulidor the overall win along with Anquetil cheating on Envalira. Anquetil was a master time-trialist but Poulidor was more complete.

What was right about Poulidor’s “legend” is certainly the amazing bad luck.

1964: Disunited French Team at the Worlds

Poulidor was the only Mercier in the French team and none of Anquetil’s teammate would work for him, least of all the Norman himself. Yet in the last climb of the very hard Côte de Passy, Poulidor attacked with Adorni in the wheel but in a dangerous descent under heavy rain they wouldn’t take risk and some French riders brought Jan Janssen back who wins. Poulidor finished 3rd.

1964: World Number One

His consistency in 1964 brought him the #1 rank at the Superprestige Pernod, which is also due to his victory at the Tour of Spain but it should be said that the Tour of Spain at that time had a very poor field mainly local with two foreign teams, Mercier and Solo Superia. The poor standard of Spanish cycling in the sixties enabled riders from these two teams to make a whole sweap. Poulidor wins and Van Looy was 3rd with a huge stage count. In 1965 Poulidor would be betrayed by his own teammate, German cyclocrosser Rolf Wolfshohl who disobeyed team order while Poulidor had the leader’s jersey.

In the Superprestige ranking he was ahead of Janssen, Anquetil and Van Looy.

1965: State of grace on the Ventoux

In 1965 at the Tour of France Poulidor would be surprised by a young Italian talent who would go on to make an outstanding career with the name Felice Gimondi. But on the Ventoux he made an irresistible attack with 200m to go, leaving Jimenez at 6”. Anglade was 3rd and Gimondi 4th.

1966: Controversial Paris-Nice

This time Poulidor wins the ITT in Corsica, 35.7km from Casta to L’île rousse. Anquetil is 36” behind, Adorni 1’17” and young Merckx 1’31”.

In the last stage, back on the continent Antibe-Nice, Geminiani would ask all his riders to attack in turns. Poulidor and his teammate would get exhausted bridging the gaps but their behavior wouldn’t be those of gentlemen. Wuillemin, Gem’s rider, would push Hoban fair and square in the ditch and when Anquetil attacked, Poulidor was blocked on the side of the road by his opponents, from Gem’s team and occasional allies. He would eventually catch him but exhausted by all these attacks from an alliance against him, he would surrender.

1966: Start of the rivalry with Merckx

In 1966 Milan-Sanremo took back its normal sixties course with only the Capi and the Poggio as main climbs of the finale. Poulidor chose again the Capo Berta to place his attack on and again a Peugeot rider would counter his move but this time it was no Simpson but Merckx. The attack extracted 11 riders from the peloton with also Van Springel, Durante, Zilverberg, Maurer, Dancelli, Passuello, Balmamion, Aimar and Poggiali and they would battle it out in the sprint. In 1964 only one rider could follow Poulidor, this time 9 riders could follow him and Merckx who set the pace. In 1965 the Belgian-Italian singer Salvatore Adamo asked Poulidor what he thought about Belgian cycling. Poulidor replied “if we only had the Belgians it would be stress-free.” The following years would be a lot different, with not only Merckx but also Van Springel (from the same generation) already present.

1966: Aimar’s unclear attitude at the Nurburgring

In the World Championship on the relatively hilly route of the Nurburgring Anquetil and Poulidor were part of the 8-man lead group with Motta, Zilioli and Stablinski among others. Quite strangely Aimar brought back the lightning fast Rudi Altig, despite having two teammates in front, including one from his brand team: Anquetil. Whether it be personal ambition or a financial arrangement is still unclear but Anquetil would end 2nd and Poulidor 3rd behind Anquetil who had Motta as teammate, from Molteni.

1968: Flying over the Kapelmuur

Poulidor has always been true to the classics and the Tour of Flanders in particular despite it being less prestigious back then than at present. In 1966 he already climbed the Kapelmuur as second behind Willy Planckaert but was hit by a puncture and finished 36th. In 1968 He came as 1st on top of the famous climb and hence decided over the group that will battle it out for the win. On that Flanders’ course to Gentbrugge, the Kapelmuur was 50km from finish and only minor climbs were left so that the race couldn’t escape fast men like Godefroot. Merckx would always remember the course to Gentbrugge as terrible and always consider Milan-Sanremo as much harder.

Poulidor was 14th out of the 16-man group outsprinted by Godefroot, in that Tour of Flanders. His best result was 9th back in 1963. Poulidor would start the Tour of Flanders 16 times and finish 11 times (the stormy edition of 1969 being one withdrawal). Testament of his dedication to the Belgian classics, which wasn’t his type of races.

1968: Run over by a motorbike

In the Tour of France 1968 Poulidor had a decent shot at victory. After two weeks of racing he was 3rd in the GC with only two obscure riders ahead. In the stage from Font-Romeu to Albi, a heavy side wind accounted for echelons and the French team succeeded in bringing Poulidor and many teammates in the front peloton, which was a great chance to extend the lead over Janssen and Van Springel. Unfortunately with 50km to go a motorbike deviates from its trajectory and takes Poulidor in its crash. His face hurts the asphalt. He would heroically finish the stage but retire two days after, deeply in pain.

Always favoured Dauphiné and Midi-libre over the Tour of Italy

In 1969 Poulidor again beats Ferdinand Bracke at the Dauphiné (called Tour of the 6 Provinces that year).
For Émile Mercier the Dauphiné and the Midi libre are important and it’s vital for him that Poulidor rides them because they’re French. That is why Poulidor never raced the Tour of Italy.

As he quoted in ‘Poulidor intime’: “Mercier’s economic interest is in France” (Mr Mercier) and the quote by Magne: “Poulidor is French and he participates in French races”. Raymond agreed with these comments.

1969: Magne sacked by Mercier

On October 29 Magne’s contract ended with Mercier. He wished to extend for one more year in order to celebrate his jubilee, 50 years dedicated to cycling as a rider and then as a team director but the Mercier cycles sacked him on the precise date his contract expired. Poulidor remained true to Magne for his whole career until then. A peculiar character who always addressed his riders with the polite form ‘vous’, always wore a white smock to be recognized by his riders when handing down the foodbag, who had a passion for dowsing, using his pendulum to motivate credulous riders, who would always write letters to his riders preceded by the motto: “Glory is never where virtue is not.” Magne would consider Poulidor as his own son. He recognized in him, the farm boy that he also was. Poulidor would say about Magne: “Despite my absent-mindedness at the start of my career Magne never attacked me frontally. He always found the suitable words towards me and the journalists, to forgive my youth errors.””If I made such a great career it’s thanks to Antonin Magne”. At the moment Magne was sacked he said about Poulidor: “He never got his results with the help of accommodating opponents, he was always proud to wish his victories were his work.”

Louis Caput would be the next Mercier TD and Poulidor remained true to him as well. A change of an era. Many careers from the sixties were broken at that period while still relatively young but cycling was swept away by a new Belgian-led generation who was better prepared and whose intensity put the sport to a new level. If Poulidor wants to remain a good rider at the age of almost 34, he will have to adapt.

1971: Renaissance at the Catalan Week

The Catalan week in the early seventies was a preparation race for the classics with a very strong and international field. Probably the strongest field among Spanish stage races. The race will last until 2005, destroyed by the Pro Tour. In 1971 it was held between March 21 and 25, which means one week before the Tour of Flanders but still is a good option for preparing the classic. Godefroot raced it and won a stage. It all happened in the 3rd stage – 187km from Sabadell to Malgrat del Mar – when nine riders escaped from the peloton and fooled the then GC leaders – Ocaña, Zilioli and Pintens. The nine riders included stage winner Lopez Rodriguez, Miguel-Maria Lasa, Gösta Pettersson, Lucien Aimar, Jos Van der Vleuten, Jean Jourden, Poulidor, Sahagun (who decided over the breakaway with 36km to go) and Raymond Riotte. They had a 22” lead over a chase group that included Domingo Perurena, Georges Pintens and Luis Ocaña. In the overall ranking, Poulidor had a 9” advantage over Pettersson, Ocaña and Pintens were 3rd, 15” behind.

But in the last stage – 169km from Manlleu to Andorra-la Vella – all the top guys would aggress the GC leader. Ocaña, Pettersson, Zilioli who finally nails it for the stage win, with the Dane Mortensen one second behind and Poulidor 2” behind with Pintens, Ocaña and the Swede Pettersson would finish 5” behind. The Frenchman also gets the Mountain classification.

Three days later Poulidor wins the National criterium, one of his five wins at that race, which wasn’t international until 1981 and that year was a one-day race. The caricaturist Pellos would draw a memorable picture of Poulidor getting out of a ‘Youth Bath’, probably inspired by Cranach. He was close to his 35th birthday.

1971: honouring the late World Champion

On April 4 Poulidor races the Tour of Flanders which he humbly finished at a 65th place. He agreed to stay in Belgium the next day for a meeting on the Ghent velodrome as a tribute to World Champion Jean-Pierre Monseré, who was killed 3 weeks before while racing a kermess in Retie. The aim was to raise funds to support the Monseré family and to erect a memorial on the place of the accident. Poulidor agreed to appear for free on the velodrome along with other champions like the Italians, Bitossi, Zandegu, Gimondi and Basso, the Dutchmen, Zoetemelk, Janssen, Post and Karstens and all the big Belgian stars of the time. Only Frenchman Charly Grosskost asked for a compensation of the travel. They’ll race a team pursuit, not really the kind of race Poulidor likes but it’s for a good cause. Beyond borders cycling remains a family !

1971: Poulidor and Brassens

The next stop was Paris-Roubaix, that he finished 11th, 4’26” behind Roger Rosiers. At the start of that race Poulidor met with his close friend René Fallet, a novel writer who has a passion of cycling. His novels would often be adapted for the cinema, most famous being the hilarious La soupe aux choux, whose film starred Louis de Funès. The two had met during the 1967 Tour of France that Fallet followed in its integrality. In Chantilly Fallet introduced Poulidor to his own friend, the singer-songwriter Georges Brassens, whom Poulidor didn’t know personally but whose songs he loved. Brassens was a pipe smoker but didn’t smoke in front of Poulidor, he probably was informed that the rider hated it. Poulidor would tell Brassens “Mr Brassens beware because you’ll be particularly shaken in the car.” The three laughed their head off.

1972: Dr Mabuse

It should be said that from 1972 on Poulidor and the Mercier would work together with a certain Bernard Sainz, later called Dr Mabuse, as he treated the suspicious Frank Vandenbroucke.

Sainz's Wikipedia page says it all:

Bernard Sainz returned to cycling in 1972, joining the Mercier team when Louis Caput replaced Antonin Magne as manager. Caput approached Edmond Mercier, the bicycle-maker behind Poulidor's team, and asked to bring Sainz into the team management. Mercier agreed, said Sainz, because he was already treating Mercier for his own health problems. Mercier had also brought in the insurance company, GAN, as main sponsor. GAN, said Sainz, wanted Raymond Poulidor, who had said the previous year that he would not race any more. Sainz said:
Louis Caput couldn't stand the idea that such a monument of cycling could leave the sport by the back door. Poulidor agreed to meet me, although insisting that his decision to stop was irrevocable. In the style of a true Limousin, Poupou was reserved and careful, even defiant, but very quickly I sensed that he was attentive to what I was suggesting. I took his pulse for a long time as is the tradition in acupuncture, I examined the iris of his eyes according to the principles of iridology, and the soles of his feet according to the principles of reflexology
Sainz continued:
From the moment he started training again at home, in the Limousin, he rediscovered lost sensations... He called me three times a week. When he got to the traditional training camp on the Côte d'Azur, far from still believing as he had three months earlier that his career was over, he insisted on riding the races that opened the new season. I was obliged to intervene, to dissuade him, and then in face of his determination, to persuade him not to finish them.
The source for the authors of the page being: Sainz, Bernard (2000)Les Stupéfiantes Révélations du Dr Mabuse, J.C. Lattes, France, pp 97–98.

The end of the 1971 season for Poulidor wasn’t that great but a victory at the Catalan Week can be considered a renaissance as such. Yet it was still lesser than the following seasons which were glorious. Whether Sainz provided new drugs to Poulidor, explaining the glorious second part of his career is still a matter of discussion but which drugs available at that time could explain such a renaissance.

What is sure is that the late sixties was an era of radical change in training methods and diet and that some riders were lagging behind. Did Poulidor finally discovered the virtues of diet and modern training methods?

In 1971 Caput said about Merckx’s era:

“The race is faster and faster and the escape harder. […] Anquetil won a Tour of France against [Marcel] Janssens and I believe Pettersson and Zoetemelk are better riders than Janssens. Today Kübler and Magni would probably not win the Tour of France. In my era only three or four riders did the job. The others did not, including myself, out of ignorance. Today, with care and diet, many good riders are doing their job very well. They have to deal with the greatest rider of all time. […]”
(Marc Jeuniau in Mes carnets de route de la saison 1971, Arts & voyages, collaboration with Merckx, quoting an interview with Caput in L’Équipe)

A disruption in the chronology is needed to show that in 1974 Caput stood by what he said:

“In the days of his rivalry with Anquetil Poulidor did not care for himself and did not follow any particular regime. Now he bows to disciplines that he did not know about and that enables him to be a better rider at the age of 38 than he was a few years ago, without – I repeat – resorting to any artificial methods.” (artificial in this case should certainly not be understood as drug taking, even though it seems ambiguous)

1972: Beats Merckx on the Col d’Eze

As mentioned by Bernard Sainz in his book “Les Stupéfiantes Révélations du Dr Mabuse” Poulidor surprised Merckx in the ITT ascent of the Col d’Eze (also calle La Turbie) with a time of 20’04” on 9.5km.

Everybody expected a rivalry between Merckx and Ocaña who was more aggressive in the interviews than on his bike for the whole week. On La Turbie, Poulidor was … 44 seconds behind Poulidor. Merckx 22” which placed him 6” behind in the final ranking.

Merckx’s reaction (Plus d’un tour dans mon sac -  Arts & Voyages: his diary from the 1972 season):
“I was stunned to learn that Poulidor made a 22” better time than I did. I had the feeling that I climbed the Turbie very well. Proof? My time was 22” better than Ocaña’s but Poulidor’s ITT was simply outstanding. It was breathtaking.

Lost for lost I would rather lose to Poulidor, a correct opponent. What a win for Raymond ! At age 36 ! At his age it would’ve been long time since I returned all my bikes.

Even though Poulidor is very nice to me I would lie if I told you I was happy in Nice. Beaten in an ITT, beaten in Nice which was my first important meeting, I’ve really had more shining season openers.”

Yves Jean argued that Poulidor beat Merckx at the top of his form, because the latter would go on to Milan-Sanremo. It looks like it’s not accurate, though it’s true that he won Milan-Sanremo. Jean knows that Merckx made a terrible crash with Gerben Karstens in the sprint of the stage to St-Étienne. He was advised to retire but typical of Merckx, he refused but back in Belgium after Sanremo Merckx passed radiographies revealing a cracked apophysis of the 4th lumbar vertebra, consequence of the fall.

This should not take anything away from Poulidor’s performance.

His ITT might be compared to 2013 results on the Col d’Eze, which was 9.6km, the start was 100m further away. If you argue that 100m are covered in 9” Poulidor’s time would be the 7th of the 2013 stage ranking: Spilak’s time was 20’11” (6th) and Ulissi’s time was 20’16” (7th). Given the fact he was almost 36, he raced on a bike that was 2kg heavier (without tri-bars like Porte’s) and that he wore an uncomfortable woolen jersey (conceding he had no helmet, which helps), this performance is still stunning. Michel Wuyts was right to consider it a reference during the live coverage of the 2012 similar stage.

1972: “Easiest Paris-Roubaix I’ve ever raced”

That quote was probably exaggerated. The Paris-Roubaix’s of his early years had much less cobbled sections. The years “they paved Paradise” and “put up a parking lot”. By the late sixties, Stablinski discovered more and more stretches and the course was completely changed. The riders were better trained too. But so was he ! That year he raced the Tour of Belgium, which was held the week of Paris-Roubaix and played the same role as Paris-Nice/Tirreno for Milan-Sanremo, the Catalan Week (where he was beaten by Lasa after winning a stage) for the Tour of Flanders. Poulidor was in a better shape than Merckx the morning of that Paris-Roubaix because Merckx did not race the Tour of Belgium. In the 3rd stage of that Tour of Belgium – 205km from Waregem to Gosselies – Poulidor finished 5th behind Frans Verbeeck, André Dierickx, Roger Rosiers and Willy De Geest but before Leif Mortensen, Herman Van Springel and Alain Santy, the 8 riders finishing at the same time, 8” before the German Dieter Puschel.

He was ready for Paris-Roubaix. In that edition of the Queen he would be a part of the chase group behind De Vlaeminck. However like everybody he expected a move from Merckx but Merckx crashed heavily in the Arenberg Forest and was really in pain. That’s how he did not appreciate Poulidor’s post-race comment, “the easiest Paris-Roubaix I’ve ever raced.” “Then why didn’t he give it all?”
In the end Poulidor battled it out with Karstens in a sprint for 6th place and the Dutchmen would pull the Frenchman’s jersey in order to get it and was hence disqualified to 13rd place. Poulidor is 10th.

1972: Incognito in the Arrow

In 1972 the Arrow changed its route again. It was now a 249.5km race from Verviers to Marcinelle with the Mur de Thuin as decider (500m – 9.4% av. gr.).

The Arrow was still not very hard as a course but in terms of field and distance it was a true classic. Only problem is the absence of Italians, who’d rather race criteriums in their own country, which Merckx found unfortunate.

A group of 16 men were in the lead, which Merckx just joined. He would ask Swerts to ‘ride’ on at the moment he joined but Swerts understood ‘attack’. He attacked and Merckx himself countered and so found himself in the lead with 1000m to go, in a small cobbled climb in Marcinelle but he held it through.

He was surprised when later told that Poulidor was second because he had never seen him all day. “He’s getting clever with age. He’s wisely waiting for the right moment to make his effort. You have to believe he’s got some solid reserves to finish in my wheel in Marcinelle.”

These comments by Merckx debunk another myth associated with Poulidor, his ‘so-called’ lack of tactical skills. Marcel Bidot already said in 1970: “Raymon probably made mistakes at the beginning of his career but afterwards he showed his mastery and clear-mindedness. There are a great many truth to be re-established about him.”

1973: Second win at Paris-Nice against Merckx

The decider is again the Col d’Eze. The times set by the riders are considerably longer, which probably means that the start was further from the pass. The morning of the ITT Merckx was leading the ranking with an 11” lead over Mortensen, 22” over Poulidor, 33” over Zoetemelk and 49” over Ocaña but after 4km Poulidor had already made up for the lost time and on top of the climb he was 34” ahead, which means 12” in the GC. Nobody realized that Zoetemelk made a 7” better ascent and eventually came 2nd in the overall while Merckx is 3rd.

In his ‘carnets de route’ Merckx in collaboration with René Jacobs headlined the chapter dedicated to Paris-Nice “the admirable veteran” but it still has to be said Merckx was not at the top of his form. The morning he had a fever, first signs of a pharyngitis that will keep him from Milan-Sanremo.
1973: Peugeot’s scuttling at the Catalan Week

In 1973 the Catalan Week became a Superprestige event and was raced the week of the Tour of Flanders, making it the ideal preparation race, as was Paris-Nice for Milan-Sanremo and the Tour of Belgium for Paris-Roubaix, argued Merckx. In Stage 1 the late Delisle (RIP) brilliantly won and Poulidor was 30” behind but Ocaña and Merckx were further behind. Yet on the last stage Merckx and Ocaña attacked and the Peugeot – Delisle’s team – would rather lose the race than favouring Poulidor – the Limousin’s popularity at criterium still caused jealousy – and they lost 28’.

1973: destroys his legend again at the Midi-libre

The Midi-libre has become throughout the years the sister race of the Duaphiné as May/June stage race. It’ll survive until 2005, destroyed by the Pro Tour. It’s usually race in the South of France, West of the Rhone between Alps and Pyrenees – region we call the Languedoc (the final edition was called the Tour of the Languedoc – , with usually a hard stage in the Cevenne.

In 1973 the first stage was divided into two sections. The first one had a finish at the top of the Mont St-Clair in Sète – climb comparable to the Mur de Huy. Zoetemelk nails it. Poulidor was 4th, 15” behind, but after the 2nd section won by Danguillaume, Poulidor takes the overall lead. Zoetemelk would try to attack him in the queen stage to Rodez and wins the stage but Poulidor finished in the same time. Zoetemelk is starting his own legend of eternal second, though he also won a lot.

In the final GC Zoetemelk is 52" behind. Agostinho is 5th at 1'29. Thévenet is 9th and Maertens 11th.

1974: 5th in a Paris-Nice with Eastern Euros

1974 shows the first signs of an Östpolitik in cycling with several races being ‘open’ to amateur, based on the tennis model. Paris-Nice is one of them. The Poles gave a team that would defy the Western pros for the first time as a team. They would do reasonably well until the Mont Faron where at 38 years of age Poulidor only conceded 30 seconds to Zoetemelk and two seconds to Thévenet and leaves Merckx, Agostinho, the recently deceased Delisle and Kuiper behind him. Zoetemelk gets the overall win.

Poulidor is 5th (1’33”) overall behind Zoetemelk, Santy, Merckx and Thévenet. Gimondi is 14th. The first Pole is future amateur World Champion Janusz Kowalski 13’18 sec behind Zoetemelk and the reigning amateur World Champion and multiple Peace Race winner Ryszard Szurkowski is 28th (14'39"). The Colombian Martin Emilio ‘Cochise’ Rodriguez is 46th 30’54” behind Zoetemelk. Globalization is marching on.

1974: Incredible Feat on Pla d’Adet

The Pla d’Adet is a climb for climbers. 10km is relatively short but it’s very steep (8%). The kind of climbs that Merckx hates, he being 72kg is less explosive than pure climbers. Goddet knows it and that’s why he would make use of it in order to sink Merckx. But there were no real climbers on this Tour of France and the only decent opponent to the Brusseler is good old Raymond. When the peloton nicely packed approached the Pla d’Adet Lasa and Vanneste were ahead. Poulidor attacks with 8km to go. He saw that Merckx wasn’t feeling well – constantly trying to readjust his saddle. Poulidor overtook Lasa with 5km to go and Vanneste, two km further. Merckx is more than 2’ behind.

It seems that every time Poulidor beats Merckx, the latter has a good excuse but that’s the way it is. Merckx had a cyst on the saddle during the last stage of the Tour of Switzerland, he had to pull out of the national and underwent an operation in Belgium 5 days before the prologue, but 5 days were needed for closing up. During the prologue the pain woke up and for the whole tour, he would be badly sat. On Pla d’Adet Merckx’s leg was blocked, says Théo Mathy.

Merckx would never look for an excuse and always congratulate Poulidor  on his victories over him despite the injuries. Besides when you see that Lopez-Carril had to give in 41” and Pollentier 1’02” you can consider it a great performance.

1974: Defying Merckx on American soil

For the first time in 1974 the World Championship would be held outside Europe, in Montreal, Canada, with the ascent of the famous Mount Royal (262.5km), that has been revived in 2010 for the Montreal GP.

Thévenet made a 120km long solo breakaway but behind the Belgians were for once united around Merckx. With two laps t go Merckx attacked with the late Giacinto Santambrogio, Poulidor, Mariano Martinez (the latter two wouldn’t cooperate, Thévenet being in front) and Van Springel who did a made a great job at keeping Thévenet’s break under control and was soon to drop. With 6km to go Thévenet is caught and Merckx attacked on top of the Mount. Poulidor who was fresh from not collaborating took his wheel, having a hard time, only in the descent he could finally take it. In the last lap Merckx would just need to control his opponent and wait for the sprint, with a camera on a sports car filming the sprint in traveling, way too close to the riders, in Théo Mathy’s opinion but that’s it, Poulidor stops winning, and finally gets second, as many people thinks he always is.

1976: A Sunday in Hell

At age almost 40 Poulidor will take part in what will not be his last Paris-Roubaix and not his last season. But it was the place to be for leaving a trace for posterity. The Danish producer Jörgen Leth made a 90 minutes film to follow the performance of his compatriot Ole Ritter: he brought 30 cameras, 25 at the start, 3 on motorbikes and 1 on the helicopter for a budget of about 25,000€.

The film by Leth shows an aspect of Poulidor that was opposed to his myth: too kind, too much of a gentleman to be a true winner/champion.

In 1975 after the Tour of Romandy, René Van Nedervelde of the ‘Soir illustré’ said: “if Raymond Poulidor would sometimes get angry, perhaps he wouldn’t have remained the Eternal Second.”

Truth is Poulidor was not an eternal second and he could get angry. The documentary shows Poulidor puncturing on the section of Wallers to Helesmes (one of his five punctures that day) with the narrator – David Saunders – saying at 1:05’15”: “and Poulidor is furious. He wants a wheel and now.” Perhaps his attitude was classless but it at least showed that Poulidor was a fighter.

When Godefroot made the ‘undoubtedly decisive’ (Saunders words) escape in Nomain with 30km to go, he only had De Vlaeminck, Demeyer and Kuiper in his wheel. Poulidor was in the chase with Danguillaume. It showed once again that he could ‘feel’ a race but only at age 40 the leg could not respond as he wanted. Then suddenly he got a windblow as rider from behind joined the two and passes them at high speed. It was Francesco Moser, who would be able to make it to the front group. Poulidor finishes with the chase group with Merckx at the 13th place though he had let a small group escape in the streets of Roubaix to battle for the sprint, with Godefroot – dropped from the lead due to a puncture – Merckx, Raas and Danguillaume.

1976: The last battle with Delisle

In the 1976 Tour of France Poulidor was 4th after the Pyrenees, only 30” behind Raymond Delisle. The overall victory could no longer escape Lucien Van Impe and the second place could no longer escape the new (?) so-called eternal second Joop Zoetemelk but in the Puy de Dôme stage won by Zoetemelk, Poulidor ended 6th 32” behind and exactly gained 30” from Delisle. The two were in the exact same time before the last 6km ITT in Paris. Poulidor was 3rd in that ITT behind Maertens and Zoetemelk, at a speed that exceeded 45kmh. He gained 9” from Delisle. He was 3rd in the GC at age 40. A revenge against all journalists who said the previous year he was over while he actually was sicked. He proved that Caput was right when saying “on his true value Poulidor is still worth top5.” And it’s also a revenge against the rider who sank him at the Catalan Week three years earlier.

1976: Unexpected at Paris-Tours

Between 1974 and 1988 Paris-Tours was not Paris-Tours. The race went in opposite direction with different towns as start or finish over the years before the UCI decided that in order to get World Cup status the race had to get its traditional route back. In 1976 it was Tours-Versailles. The idea was to place the relatively hard climbs of the Chevreuse Valley in the finale, in order to avoid bunch sprints, which worked. De Vlaeminck made a brutal attack in the Côte de Dourdan, main climb of Bordeaux-Paris, too and all the top guys including Poulidor were ahead. An obscure French rider Bouloux would then escape in the Côte de Port-Royal, he was contractless and wanted to impress Sponsors. Poulidor followed the move with De Witte in his wheel. De Witte was De Vlaeminck’s teammate and the Gipsy played his card and it would prevail. De Witte – who also won a Liège before being disqualified for doping – outsprinted Poulidor in the sprint. At the end the crowd wanted Poulidor to appear on the podium. He said “no! I did not win. De Witte did.” These were the good old days when only the winner could be celebrated on the podium in the classics and not the top3. The law of the sport, ‘you win or you lose’.

1976: Rivalry with young Hinault in Lombardy

After Paris-Tours Poulidor was still in contention for the Promotion Pernod. It’s a ranking comparable to present-day Coupe de France, even though it also included the major races. His biggest rival was young Breton Bernard Hinault (aged 22) who got most of his points in the small French races. Before Lombardy Hinault would say “the old man won’t drop me.” The old man did drop him. On the first ascent of the Intelvi, Thévenet attacked. Top favourite countered and Poulidor followed the move along with Wladimiro Panizza and Joop Zoetemelk. Nobody really dared to attack De Vlaeminck in the second ascent or on San Fermo della Battaglia and the Gipsy nailed it easily in the sprint. Poulidor finished 5th. He needed a 3rd place to overtake Hinault in the ranking. That was a miss but Hinault ended 17th 1’44” behind. Moser outsprinted the first chase group 1’12” behind.

1977: Last performance in Paris-Nice

On the race that gave him what he considers his greatest victories (the 1972 one against Merckx) Poulidor couldn’t say farewell without style. He finished 6th overall behind Freddy Maertens, Gerrie Knetemann, Jean-Luc Vandenbroucke, Joseph Bruyère and Bernard Hinault but ahead of Dietrich Thurau, Jan Raas or Lucien Van Impe only 15th.

On the climbing ITT – 7km on the Col d’Ampus, near Draguignan – he finished 4th behind Knetemann who made an amazing performance not being a climber, Thévenet and Maertens but before Hinault who was 6th and Merckx 11th, who in 1977 was just the shadow of his own self.

1977: A record 18th Paris-Roubaix

18 times Raymond Poulidor showed his passion for Paris-Roubaix, he who was not a cobble specialist, raced it more often than anybody in history. He ‘only’ finished it 14 times. That’s not a record but is still amazing. He wouldn’t leave the Queen without giving it something of his own, a last solo attack by the end of the section of Orchies – Chemin des Prières/Chemins des abattoirs. He eventually finished the race at the 12th place, just behind Merckx but in the same time as the 3rd Maertens, 1’39”behind De Vlaeminck who made history with his 4th win. Actually the second Willy Teirlinck – final km specialist – finished only 9” ahead of the group.

Poulidor could recognize De Vlaeminck’s skills on the cobbles: “Roger always found the best trajectory as if he undulated in order to make his bike safe from jolts.” (in Paris-Roubaix, une journée en enfer – L’Équipe 2006)
1977: Victory at age 41 and 2 months.

In 1974 the village of Sérénac near Albi organized for the first time a climb race comparable to Montjuich (also with one ITT and one ‘in line’ race) that was called Trophée des Cîmes (Peak Trophy). The last edition was held in 1978 near Toulouse.

But in 1977 Poulidor won the 12km ITT beating Van Impe with 22” (Van Impe was then at the peak of his career) and Ocaña with 37” (Ocaña was even more the shadow of his own self than Merckx in 1977 but he was still 9 years younger than Poulidor).

Was he really the eternal second? Yes if you remember that Van Impe still beat him in the ‘in line’ race, Ocaña still being 3rd – supposedly Merckx’s fiercest opponent.

Poulidor actually loved those climb races. Hadn’t he won Montjuich three times?

1977: The never-ending career

Poulidor’s 1977 season at age 40/41 was remarkable.

6th in Paris-Nice, 12th at Paris-Roubaix, 11th at the Walloon Arrow, winner of the ITT at the Trophée des Cîmes, 11th at Amstel Gold, 12th at the Midi-libre (just ahead of American Jonathan Boyer!), 17th at Paris-Tours (Tours-Versailles), 7th at the Tour de l’Aude, decent preparation for the Tour of France in those years. Only Danguillaume, Peeters, Schuiten, Hinault, Vandenbroucke and Baronchelli were ahead of him. Zoetemelk came far behind: 20th.

Poulidor told a story from the Worlds in San Cristobal, Venezuela, Poulidor was penultimate and Merckx dead last. The French and Belgian teams stayed in the same hotel and in the Belgian team nobody could get on with each other and Merckx would rather train and eat with the French riders. Anquetil, Poulidor and Merckx had a memorable poker game in which Poulidor could win with a miserable pair. He was amused to see those two champions having an argument with each other while he packed his chips.

His last road race was the Nations GP and its 90km ITT but that one was a martyrdom. Still 8th after 50km, he was still ahead of riders like Maertens, Thévenet or Ocaña but was heavily in pain in the last part and eventually stopped his effort. He finished 16th.

1977: a special cyclocross at Christmas

On December 25 1977 the local newspaper La Voix du Nord organized a cyclocross in Wambrechies, close to Roubaix. They had the honour to turn a page in cycling history in inviting Raymond Poulidor for the very last race of his exemplary career. For this occasion the star and his family were offered a trip –back and forth – by plane at the newspaper’s expense.

In the seventies Wambrechies had organized an unofficial (?) cyclocross for several years in the park of Robersart with De Vlaeminck, Hinault and Godefroot as contenders among others. It then disappeared for 3 decades before the town of Wambrechies and the neighbouring one of Marquette tried to revive it, with La Voix des sports, in October 2012 with Bouhanni as guest star: .

In the background of the cyclocross the Chateau du Vert-Galant, named after Henri IV though it was built right after the 1870 Franco-Prussian War. One of the last single-ridged castle in France.

Poulidor has a past in cyclocross. Ten years before he was 2nd to Rolf Wolfshohl (three-time World Champion) in a cyclocross organized in Chanteloup-les-Vignes near St-Germain-en-Laye, Yvelines. He still kept too young departed Michel Pelchat (3rd at the 1968 Worlds) and Renato Longo (5-time World Champion) behind him !

The results for the Wambrechies cyclocross are hard to find. Perhaps they were unimportant. It was a cyclocross raced by pairs as was often the case in the Seventies. Poulidor partnered national champion Alex Gérardin. They ended 7th just behind the pair Vandenbroucke-Wilhelm (André Wilhelm was 3rd at the 1973 Worlds). But the winning team is nowhere to find.

First interview as a retired cyclist: “Now that’s it. It’s over. It’s a bit heartbreaking, you know. I’m leaving the sport a happy man. I know the first moments will be hard. Paris-Nice and Milan-Sanremo seen on TV. Not fun ! But you’ve got to be able to stop !”

Post-Cycling Career

After his career Poulidor had been a PR for many companies. Among other thing he had to ensure to sales of France-Loire Mercier bikes. He’s also made some commercial spots, for Radio channel RMC and the famous one for the warehouse “La Samaritaine” where everything could be found, including a yellow jersey, thereby sustaining the myth of the eternal second, which is based on errors but since it gave him fame …

He could be present at numerous book fair, signing his two autobiographies ‘Poulidor par Poulidor’ (2003) and ‘Poulidor intime’ (2007), and wine exhibition. He loves the contact with the public and enjoys his popularity that never left him, 36 years after the end of his career. Of course he’s still deeply involved in cycling having jobs in the organization of the Tour du Limousin, Bessège Star, the Mid-August in Brittany and the Mediterranean Tour.


Poulidor’s daughter Corinne got married with Dutch champion Adrie Van der Poel, which caused sarcasm when Adrie got 4 consecutive 2nd places at the Cyclocross World Championship. But he won more than 100 races …

Poulidor’s two grandsons David and Mathieu Van der Poel are also cyclocross riders.

When these lines are written David is a U23 rider racing for BKCP Powerplus. He won the Junior national title, World Cup and Superprestige in the 2009/2010 season.

Mathieu is a multi-talent dominating the cross as beginner in 2010/2011, as junior in 2011/2012 and 2012/2013, when he almost never lost. He of course won the two Junior World titles. And on the road he won in 2011 and 2012 the climb race Harzé-Aywaille (near Huy) as beginner and junior respectively, in 2012 the Tour of the Low Countries and the Circuit of the Meuse Valley. In 2013 as U23 a stage the General Patton GP in Luxembourg among other wins.

In his book ‘Poulidor intime’ he says he often go to Belgium – traditionally at Christmas – where Adrie and Corinne now lives, and where his grandsons were born (When Mathieu speaks he has a distinct Campine accent!) and at same time visits some cyclocross in Belgium or the Netherlands. He would tell the French reader how surprising it is that in those countries cyclocross is considered true competition, which usually gathers 15,000 attendants who paid for the entrance on the circuit.

He also said that he attended the Beginners’ Dutch nationals where Mathieu got the title and was so glad to see that David was as proud as if he had won the title himself. It’s weird because the book was published in 2007 and by then Mathieu was only 12. Mathieu surely got that title in 2010.

In any case, Mathieu can at this moment not be considered an “eternal second.”
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    "Paris-Roubaix is the biggest cycling race in the world, bigger than the Tour de France, bigger than any other bike race" (Sir Bradley Wiggins)


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    Another masterpiece of research and somehow, like a small miracle, a reference to Joni Mitchell. Well done, Echoes!  :ohu
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    A great interview of Raymond Poulidor in Sport Foot Magazine (on July 13 2016) and its translation in Dutch in Sport Voetbalmagazine (published on the same day).

    Here below, you may find scans of both articles

    In French:

    In Dutch:

    Translation of a few parts of it (no time to translate the whole thing):

    How do you explain your popularity?

    A lot of people approached this issue. The truth is there’s no explanation. Perhaps my name has contributed to it. It seems that General De Gaulle once said “Poulidor” sounded a good name for a Prime Minister. Already when I was an amateur rider and was only known to my region I had a fan club called “La Pouliche”. It was my nickname. Later on it had become “Poupou”. It was easier for roadside spectators to shout. Emile Besson, a journalist for “L’Humanité” used it for the first time. Later on Roger Pingeon was nicknamed Pinpin and Laurent Jalabert “Jaja”. Being nicknamed enhances popularity.

    [In the yellow frame on the second page:]
    Eternal second, really? Raymond Poulidor, the eternal second, has won 188 races [75 of them were official races] among the pros including the Tour of Spain, Milan-Sanremo, the Walloon Arrow, the French Nats, two Paris-Nice and two Dauphiné. At the Tour of France, “Poupou” finished third more often than second. Nobody podiumed it more often than he did, a total eight times.[…]

    [On the final page]
    Merckx was amateur World champion [in 1964] in Sallanches. In 1966 he readily won Milan-Sanremo but I did not consider him a future winner of the Tour of France yet. I raced Paris-Nice with him and he seemed to suffer a lot in the mountain. He was no climber. That same year I won the ITT in Vals-les-Bains at the Tour of France. On the podium I met with [Salvatore] Adamo [Belgian singer with Italian heritage]. He asked me whether he saw a Belgian able to win the Tour of France in the years to come. I answered “no I don’t see any.” Five years later I met Adamo again. “What did you tell me at that time?” […]

    Unlike Merckx, Anquetil was glad if he won with a 1” gap. He had a chrono in his mind. He created gaps in the ITT’s and then controlled the race. Merckx’s riding style made him hard to counter. He could attack where he wanted. He even took risks to grab a few time bonuses. Merckx also was a maniac about his equipment: everything had to be measured by millimeters. When Anquetil was asked by his mechanic what gear should put on, the former would reply: “do as though it was your own bike. You could give Anquetil every kind of bikes, he would find the best position. […]

    Raymond Poulidor considered his grandson Mathieu Van der Poel as a future winner of the Tour of France. Did Poupou let his heart speak in an emotional way or did he seriously believe it?
    “For the moment, Mathieu is deeply focused on cyclocross. Will he ever win the Tour of France? Future will tell. But I don’t rule it out. Mathieu is a good climber, a good sprinter and he can handle ITT’s. He’s a complete rider. He’s outstanding and very promising. He’s a champion already. At age 21, he’s already a 4-time World champion, 3 times in the fields and one on the road. The only thing that annoys me is that he’s constantly referred to as my grandson while he should first and foremost be regarded as the son of his father. It seems forgotten that Adrie also has built up a fantastic palmares.”
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