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Sex, Lies And Handlebar Tape, by Paul Howard

Sex, Lies & Handlebar Tape

Title: Sex, Lies And Handlebar Tape - The Remarkable Life Of Jacques Anquetil, The First Five-Times Winner Of The Tour De France
Author: Paul Howard
Publisher: Mainstream Publishing
Year: 2008
Pages: 316
Order: Random House
What it is: The life and times of Maître Jacques.
Strengths: Good contributions from the likes of Philippe Brunel and Howard's willingness to quote liberally from earlier versions of Anquetil's life - such as Raphaël Géminiani's Les Années Anquetil - make for a good read.
Weaknesses: One chapter on Anquetil's doping, four chapters on his love life.

Let's begin with an easy question. There's no point scaring you off early with something heavy, now is there? That's the easy question. Let's follow it with a hard one: at what point do we forgive the dopers of the past, get over their drug taking and talk up their genius on the bike? It's a relevant question for the times we're living in. If we can get over the doping of Fausto Coppi and Jacques Anquetil and Tom Simpson, how long will it be before we get over the doping of the heroes of our own age?

You ponder on that awhile and I'll get back to it later. First, we'll celebrate the cycling genius of one of our sport's most famous dopers. Let's begin by donning our statto anoraks a moment and taking a gander at Anquetil's palmarès. Not all of his wins, that'd be too boring, just the important ones:

Tour de France 1957, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964
Giro d'Italia 1960, 1964
Vuelta a España 1963
Paris-Nice 1957, 1961, 1963, 1965, 1966
Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré 1963, 1965
Quatre Jours de Dunkerque 1958, 1959
Liège-Bastogne-Liège 1966
Ghent-Wevelgem 1964
Bordeaux-Paris 1965
Grand Prix des Nations 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1965, 1966
Barrachi Trophy 1962 (w/ Rudi Altig), 1965 (w/ Jean Stablinski), 1968 (w/ Felice Gimondi)
Super Prestige Pernod Trophy 1961, 1963, 1965, 1966
Hour Record 1956 (46.159km), 1967 (47.493km - not ratified)
French Pursuit Championships 1955, 1956

Depending on your views of cycling, you'll be taking different things from that list. You might be looking at the five Tour wins and going wow. Anquetil was the first to win five. Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Induráin equalled that record. Only one man has surpassed it. You might also be looking at Anquetil's other Grand Tour victories and noticing how he doubled the Giro and the Tour and doubled the Vuelta and the Tour. Twice to win two Grand Tours in one year, that's impressive.

Alternatively, you might be looking at that sole victory in one of cycling's monuments - Liège-Bastogne-Liège in '66 - and thinking that Anquetil wasn't a man for all seasons if he only won one once. But then you'd have to look at the four Super Prestige Pernod trophies. They suggest he was certainly a consistently good rider all year round.

Or you might be looking at the GP des Nations, a lost classic, the unofficial time trial championships, and going gosh, eight, that's rather a lot. Add in the three wins in the Barrachi - a two-up time trial - and you can see he was the dominant time trialist of his era. It's that dominance in the contre-la-montre that causes a lot of people a problem with Jacques Anquetil. There's no passion in the time trial. It's a cold, calculating, clinical discipline.

Of course, the statto view of Anquetil's career only takes you so far. That's the problem with stats. Let's add a little bit of colour to the story. Sex, Lies And Handlebar Tape has lots on many of the races Anquetil rode, especially the Tours and the Giri, and the book is well worth the read just for those tales. Here's one yarn I like, from a lesser race, told to Paul Howard by L'Equipe's Philippe Brunel:

"Anquetil won the Grand Prix de Lugano seven times, I think. After he'd won it six times, the organiser said to him it would be better if he didn't come back next year, as he was finding it difficult to get sponsors because Anquetil kept winning. Then in the winter, he changed his mind and said he could come after all, as he was a star, an important rider, but if he were to let [Ercole] Baldini win, it wouldn't be a bad thing. 'I've got nothing against you. It's for the good of cycling,' the organiser explained. Anquetil said, 'OK, but you have to pay me at the start. I don't want to wait around after to be paid and have to face the journalists. And it's double the normal rate. If not, I won't come.' It was all agreed, but when he arrived he went to see Baldini and said, 'Listen, don't say anything to the organisers, but if you want to win today, you must give me your appearance money.' Baldini agreed and gave him the money up front, so he took all three fees, and he went and won the race. Just for a laugh. It was just a game to him. He got on really well with Baldini. They were very good friends. In fact, Baldini is still a good friend of [Anquetil's widow] Jeanine. It wasn't about the money for Anquetil. It was about having fun. Anquetil just wanted to have fun."

There are a few things I like about that story. You can take it as a tale about the interplay between race organisers and cyclists. You can take it as a tale about money affecting the outcome of races. And you can take it as a tale of a rogue and a rascal who, despite what he does, you just have to like.

There's another thing the cold stats don't tell you. In Anquetil's day, French cycling was ruled by two men: Roger Piel and Daniel Dousset. They were the real power brokers of their day, because they controlled the critériums you got into - and how much you'd be paid to appear - and thus had a major impact on how much you earned. You have to remember, big salaries didn't come until the eighties. Before then, even the likes of Anquetil made a lot of their money on the critérium circuit, especially the post-Tour races. You tore around the country in the Tour in July and then tore around the country again in August, clocking up as many critériums as you could - here one day, there the next, speeding (yes, in that sense too) from this village to that, driving overnight and through the day - and then wondered why you had no form come the Worlds. Their control of the critérium circuit also gave Piel and Dousset a degree of control over what happened in other races, as they could dictate who their riders rode for and against in on-the-road alliances. They managed - massaged - the value of their stars. Dousset was Anquetil's agent.

Raphaël Géminiani, Anquetil's directeur sportif, tells a story of a conversation he had with his rider in 1964, before the Tour: "I've just had a long conversation with Roger Piel," Gém reported Anquetil telling him, in Les Années Anquetil. "He made me understand that winning the Tour for the fifth time would be meaningless. The public would still be against me. On the other hand, if [Raymond] Poulidor won, it would be great for me, as I'd become much more popular. Poulidor and [Fiorenzo] Magne know nothing about it, but Piel has guaranteed me fifty well-paid after-Tour contracts as well as fifty-thousand francs [about five-thousand pounds in old money]."

Brunel explains the point of that story for Howard: "He didn't see a victory in the Tour for its intrinsic value or for its contribution to his palmarès. For him the notion of a palmarès was absurd if it didn't add value commercially. That was Anquetil."

Despite Piel's tempting offer, Anquetil rode and won the Tour in 1964. He extended his own record in the race to five victories and - with the last four of them back-to-back - beat Louison Bobet's record of three-in-a-row. But Piel was proved correct and it was second-placed Poupou who received the more post-Tour critérium contracts. So in 1965 Anquetil skipped the Tour. Skipped all three Grand Tours. He wasn't ill or injured, he wasn't taking a year off the bike. He just didn't want to ride a Grand Tour, especially not the Tour de France ("My contracts won't increase if I win a sixth Tour. And if I fail, I've everything to lose.")

The problem Anquetil had was that he wasn't really liked by the fans. The metronomic monotony of his victories put a lot of them off. He wasn't one for the grand attacks in the mountains that would get your blood pumping. He wasn't one for the major défaillances that could warm the cockles of your heart. He calculated what was necessary for a victory. Limited his losses. And then did what he needed to do in the time trials. No more, no less, just enough.

Anquetil also suffered from rivals who simply weren't up to the task. In the 1961 Tour, Jacques Goddet twisted Henri Desgrange's 'giants of the road' epithet to lambaste Anquetil's rivals. Dwarves of the road, he called them: "Yes, fearful dwarves," Goddet wrote in L'Equipe, "either impotent, as [Charly] Gaul has become, or resigned to their mediocrity, content simply with a good placing. Little men who have managed to save themselves, to avoid inflicting pain - cowards who above all are scared of suffering." But it was Anquetil the fans took their ire out on, not the men he made look small. When he rode into the Parc des Princes at that Tour's end, resplendent in the yellow jersey he'd won on the first day and never relinquished, they whistled and jeered him.

The antipathy toward Anquetil partly explains why the cycling media latched on to Poulidor and talked him up as an equal to Anquetil. The polemica between Anquetil and Poulidor was not the same as between Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali. For one, the two Italians were equals on the bike, or near as damn it. Poupou was never the equal of Maître Jacques. For another, Anquetil grew to genuinely dislike Poupou. You can imagine how, even after winning five Tours, still being less popular than the man who couldn't beat you must have galled Maître Jacques.

In a later age, Anquetil might have won the fans around by doing some good deeds beyond the bike. Adopted an African orphan or the like. But in his age that was not the done thing. With no Grand Tours on his schedule in 1965, Géminiani saw a need for Anquetil to do something special to win their applause, and to stop being eclipsed by whoever would take his place on the Tour podium. Especially if, as everyone believed, that man would be Raymond Poulidor.

In his day, Gém had been one of Coppi's gregari and, after il campionissimo's death, he became a prime source for many of the myths that grew up around Coppi. He knew the sport's need for stories the cycling press could tell and retell. He also had a shrewd business head. He gave his name to a range of bicycles and then, when he inked a deal with the apéritif company Saint-Raphaël, helped bring extra-sportif sponsors into cycling. That the team he created was named Saint-Raphaël Géminiani also suggests he had a mischievous sense of humour. It's that mix of media savvy and business acumen that dreamed up the idea of one of the greatest exploits in Anquetil's whole career: "Looking at the calendar," Gém wrote, "I noticed something that made me sit up. The Dauphiné Libéré was followed immediately by Bordeaux-Paris."

The Dauphiné you know. A weeklong pre-Tour stage race, mostly in the Alps. Bordeaux-Paris is now long gone but was one of those super-long races which used to give cycling so much character, a real throwback to our sport's earliest years (it dates back to 1891), years when fans wondered which would break first, the bike or its rider. A five-hundred-and-fifty-something kilometre race, starting at stupid-o'clock. The peloton would race through the night, stopping around dawn to strip off their leggings and ski-tops. Here they also picked up their Derny-mounted pacers, who would set the tempo for them the rest of the way to Paris (back in its early days, the pacers in Bordeaux-Paris rode on four- or five-man tandem-like contraptions, reminiscent of something in a Heath Robinson cartoon, or Alfred Jarry's Supermale). It really was an insane race. It's no wonder people loved it.

What was even more insane was that when Gém said Bordeaux-Paris started immediately after the Dauphiné ended, he really meant immediately. The Dauphiné would finish on the Sunday afternoon. Bordeaux-Paris would start Sunday night. Seven hours would separate the two races. Oh, and with the Dauphiné finishing in Avignon, six hundred kilometres too.

To sell the stunt to Anquetil, Gém enlisted Jeanine, who knew her husband well enough to know what buttons to press. Her tactic? She told him she didn't think he could do it. Men are so easy. Dumb as dogs. Tell Anquetil he couldn't possibly race the Dauphiné and Bordeaux-Paris back-to-back and he'd feel he had to prove his wife wrong.

Ford, Anquetil's sponsor, loved the idea, wanted to provide one of their cars - the then new Ford Mustang - to solve the logistical problem of getting him from Avignon to Bordeaux. Think of the publicity they could have milked from that. Vroom vroom indeed. Then Charles de Gaulle - the president himself - stepped in and offered a government jet to do the job. (De Gaulle also intervened in Anquetil getting the Légion d'Honneur. When told by one of his flunkies that Anquetil wasn't getting it because of his public stance on doping, De Gaulle showed how much he cared about that: "Doping? Don't know what you're talking about. Has he made La Marseillaise be heard abroad, yes or no?")

The key to Gém's exploit wasn't just about Anquetil riding both races. He had to win both of them. Maître Jacques pulled off the first bit with a one-minute-forty-three margin. All bar thirteen seconds of that being won in stage-finish bonifications. The thirteen seconds came in the time trial. After the usual podium duties, a quick dinner of steak tartare and the sixty kilometre drive to the airfield in Nîmes (with a police escort and at rally speeds in a Mustang - Ford managed to get some extra value from the stunt), De Gaulle's jet whisked Anquetil - accompanied by Gém, the soigneur Tarcisio Vergani and Anquetil's team-mate Louis Rostollan - to Bordeaux, where the second half of the exploit would be rolling off an hour or so after midnight.

At one point in Bordeaux-Paris Anquetil had had enough and wanted to abandon. Gém had to smooth-talk him into continuing. "I should never have put my trust in such a big girl," he told Anquetil, "You're nothing but a big girl, Jacques. A big girl and no more." Screw all this wussy 'we might as well win' crap. Call your star-rider a big girl's blouse, that's the way you motivate real winners. Kim Andersen should try it with the Schlecklet.

Anquetil, his team-mate Jean Stablinski and Tom Simpson - the man who hadn't wanted to ride in Anquetil's shadow and so passed on a chance to join his team a few years earlier - broke away as the race moved into its final phase. Stab and Anquetil were able to do Simpson over and, late on the Monday afternoon, Anquetil rode into the Parc des Princes nearly a minute clear. Nine days and a night on the bike, two thousand kilometres of racing and two victories. Incroyable. And he did it all on bread and water.

Of course he didn't. What do you think I am, a muppet? This is Jacques Anquetil we're talking about, the man who upbraided a French sports minister on live TV over his naïve belief that you could pull off something like Bordeaux-Paris without doping. Unlike many of the stars of recent years, Anquetil openly admitted he doped, didn't try to hide behind Clintonesque semantics or cite the number of times he'd been tested without producing a positive.

When it came to doping, Anquetil was caught between two worlds. The first anti-doping legislation was brought in by the Belgian government in 1964, with the French following a year later. Anquetil had grown up doing it one way and was now being told he'd have to do it another. The UCI had no anti-doping provisions in those days, had in fact, in 1962, rejected a suggestion that they take responsibility for doping. They'd also fought against the Belgian and French legislation.

Where the story of Anquetil's doping becomes complicated is whether you think he was pro- or anti-doping, whether you believe he was defending his right to dope or trying to pull the whole edifice down from within. In an article he wrote after Tom Simpson's death he said: "That we should undertake to prevent or manage doping I agree." But the follow-up here is key: "But it's through education and training of young riders that we'll succeed, rather than through adopting police methods and treating us like criminals." History has, I think, put the lie to that. The judicial authorities have done more to make cycling start cleaning up its act than the cycling authorities have ever achieved.

Worse, Anquetil felt, was that cyclists were being singled out: "How would you react," he asked in the French newspaper Lui, "if a doctor and a police officer turned up at your house and told you to pee into a flask in their presence? The same way as me, I'm sure - that it's an affront to my dignity and my personal freedom." He believed that the authorities had no right to restrict what cyclists could take, they didn't restrict what ordinary citizens could take to get them through their daily grind.

Another problem Anquetil had was the manner in which the cycling authorities enforced the rules. You're probably familiar with the story of his 1967 attempt on the Hour Record and how the UCI refused to ratify the result after Anquetil refused to submit to a doping control. Why did Anquetil think he could get away with that sort of behaviour? Because he'd been allowed away with it three times in the previous year, and one of those was at the UCI-organised World Championships. What was the point of following rules that weren't being enforced fairly?

One weakness - for me at least - of Sex, Lies And Handlebar Tape is that Howard gives over only one chapter to this aspect of Anquetil's life and times. It deserves more space. But Howard is more interested in another facet of Anquetil's life. If Fausto Coppi shocked Catholic Italy by shacking up with his mistress, Jacques Anquetil's sexual shenanigans made even the shoulder-shrugging French with their cinq à sept lovers sit up and take notice. Here's the summarised version for you:

"The public may not have become aware of the story until after he had died [in 1987], but even now [Anquetil's] domestic arrangements can still inspire shock, even disgust, possibly admiration. First he seduced [Jeanine] the wife of his doctor, at the time not just his physician but also a friend. Then he lived happily with her for more than ten years, acting for at least part of that time as stepfather to her two children [Annie and Christopher]. Once retired from cycling, however, he desired a child - the problem being that his wife could no longer conceive. In an effort to keep the family unit together, his stepdaughter acted as a surrogate mother and bore him a daughter [Sophie]. More than this, though, she also became his mistress, and another dozen years were spent living in a ménage à trois à l'Anquetil. Inevitably, the set-up proved unsustainable. When this unique arrangement eventually collapsed, Anquetil's final companion was [Dominique] the former wife of his stepson. A woman with whom he then had a son [Christopher] less than two years before he died, at the age of only fifty-three, of stomach cancer."

If you want more on that side of Anquetil's life, you've got multiple chapters in which Howard goes into it in depth (in chapters titled Chercher la Femme ...; Femme Fatale; The Cyclist, the Wife, Her Daughter and His Lover; and The Cyclist, the Stepson, His Wife and Her Lover. Howard loves his pop culture riffs). Anquetil's daughter, Sophie, and his widow, Jeanine, were important primary sources for Howard in writing Sex, Lies And Handlebar Tape.

Let's wrap this up by returning to the question I began with: at what point do we forgive the dopers of the past, get over their drug taking and talk up their genius on the bike? The truth is, I don't know. But I do know that it happens, and will continue to happen, even for the dopers of our era. Maybe that priest who turned the little chapel atop the Madonna del Ghisallo into a cycling shrine had the right idea. Cycling really is the most Catholic of sports. We may hate the sin of doping, but eventually we learn to forgive the sinner.