Tour de France 21 Stories: Anquetil and the Hangover from Hell

Stage 10: Escaldes-Engordany–Revel

There are many potential ways of losing the Tour. One of them is to start a mountain stage with a hangover.

Fifty-two years ago there was another rest day in Andorra. Jacques Anquetil, who was hoping to win a record-breaking fifth Tour, should have known better: instead of going for a gentle spin, nibbling on lettuce and lolling around reading the papers, he went off on a barbecue bender chez Radio Andorra with his boss, Raphaël Géminiani, during the course of which they got nicely plastered.

What were they thinking? Anquetil was knackered, having started the Tour only a fortnight after winning the Giro. Arch rival Raymond Poulidor, riding for grimly abstemious DS Antonin Magne, was at his most threatening. And over the previous two weeks of racing, Anquetil had been fretting about a well-known astrologer’s prediction that he would either kill himself in a crash the following day, or abandon. You can hardly blame him for needing distraction.

The next morning a small gang featuring Poulidor attacked from the start. Anquetil lost contact straight away. Crawling through dense fog up the second cat Porte d’Envalira, his morale evaporated into the mist. He lost minutes. Then decided to abandon.

Only his team-mate, Louis Rostollan, a 1.87m tall giant with a talent for powering up mountains with unfeasibly large gears, wasn’t having it. “We’d spent 15 days riding for him and we didn’t want to lose our prize money,” Rostollan recently recalled. Eight million francs per rider were at stake. A few well-chosen insults and some carefully applied elbow nudges, and the champion was on his way again. Cresting the summit, he surrendered to destiny, plummeting through the fog with only the rear lights of cars to judge where the road lay. He caught up with the yellow jersey group, which then caught up with Poulidor.

But that’s not the end of the story. 24k from the stage finish in Toulouse, Poulidor had to change a wheel. Mission accomplished, his mechanic gave him a hearty shove to send him on his way—and he hit the deck. Now Anquetil attacked. Riding into a stiff headwind, Poulidor lost more than two and half minutes, and dropped from third to sixth place on GC. That’s another way to lose the Tour.

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