Tour de France 21 Stories: Lost in France

Stage 4: Saumur—Limoges
1963 would be Anquetil’s fourth victorious Tour. To break the deadlock the race organisers had shortened the time-trials and made more of the mountains. But so far, on stage 7, the race was still in the plains, and frankly, plain boring. It looked like the Angers-Limoges stage would end in a big bunch sprint – again.
Then, shortly before the race reached the Parc des Sports in Limoges, a 23-year-old Dutch rider in his first Tour, Jan Janssen, shot off the front of the peloton and somehow managed to keep away from the sprinters to win the stage.
All the more remarkable was the fact Janssen and his fellow countryman Dick Enthoven had missed the start of the race and were forced to spend much of it time trialling their way back to the peloton.
“Normally, a stage would begin in the same spot the previous day’s stage had finished,” Janssen recalls over the phone from his home in the Netherlands. “I set off for the start in the morning with a Dutch friend on the same team, but when we reached the square where the stage had finished there was no one there! Some spectators said, ‘They’ve left! They’ve gone!’ I was like, ‘Shit! How?’ They said, ‘They’ve gone towards Limoges!’ So we set off, we didn’t even try signing in, we just set off. It was signposted, and then we saw spectators along the route. I think we rode at least 60 kilometres, just the two of us, trying to catch up. After about one and a half or two hours, I said, ‘Look, we messed up, let’s go home.’  But my friend said: ‘No, look!’ In the distance something was moving: ‘Look, that’s the peloton, with the cars behind.’ So we caught up with them and the riders were all laughing, ‘Ah, Janssen, he missed the start!’ I was soaked with sweat. I said to them, ‘wait till this evening!’
“I’d looked in the book and just before finish in Limoges there was a short but very steep climb. When we reached the bottom of it I shot off, I took 30, 50, 60, 100 metres… all on my own. I entered the cinder track in Limoges and crossed the finish line on my own with the peloton 100m behind. The others, Van Looy, Desmet, all the other big sprinters, had to sprint for second place.
“I was 23, it was my first Tour. I was happy as Larry. Of course my directeur sportif was furious because we’d missed the start, but after the finish we had a glass of champagne!”
A few stages later Janssen broke his femur descending the Tourmalet and ended up watching the rest of the race on his TV at home. “It’s the worst thing for a cyclist who’s abandoned the Tour, to see all your mates on TV still in the race. I felt sick. I resolved I’d never abandon a race just because I was tired. An accident you can’t do anything about, but for no other reason would I abandon, and it’s the only Tour I never finished.”
Janssen’s tenaciousness won him the Tour in ’68 on the very last day, which finished with a time-trial in to Paris. Only two and a half minutes separated the top nine riders, and only 16 seconds separated Janssen, in third place, from yellow jersey wearer Hermann Van Springel. By the end of the stage Janssen had won with a 38 second margin, the shortest in Tour history (subsequently broken by Greg Lemond in ‘89). He became the first Dutchman to win the Tour – and the first champion who wore glasses.

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