Blazin' Saddles

On This Day in 1963: Jacques Anquetil becomes first cyclist to win Tour de France four times

Blazin' Saddles

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French cycling legend Jacques Anquetil became the first man to win the Tour de France four times on this day in 1963.

The individual sprint specialist won despite organisers trying to end his supremacy by reducing the time trial sections that had earned him the nickname Monsieur Chrono.

He finished three minutes and 35 seconds ahead of Federico Bahamontes despite the Spaniard dominating the more important mountain stages for a record fifth time.

Anquetil’s blistering pace on flat terrain helped him overcome his rival’s superiority in the Alps and Pyrenees.

Nevertheless, the 29-year-old Frenchman managed to stay close to Bahamontes in the mountains – and even managed to win two of the stages.

On one occasion he even faked a mechanical problem in order to get a bicycle that was more suited for the terrain. He completed the 2,571-mile race in 113 hours, 30 minutes and five seconds.

British Pathé footage shows him crossing finishing line at Paris’s Parc des Princes stadium, which was the official end before the Champs-Élysées took over in 1967.

Anquetil went on to win the race for a fifth time the following year – a feat that has now been matched by three other men, Frenchman Bernard Hinault, Belgian Eddie Merckx and Spaniard Miguel Indurain.

American Lance Armstrong won the Tour a record seven consecutive times between 1999 and 2005 – but was stripped of all his titles after his drug use was discovered.

Yet Antequil, who first won the Tour in 1957, was the first man to truly dominate the prestigious race – and was also one of the earliest big personalities in the sport.

His brash character, winner-takes-all attitude and his perfect yet machine-like riding style ensured he was a deeply divisive figure.

He also fostered a fierce rivalry with a more humble Frenchman and fans’ favourite, the perennial runner-up Raymond Poulidor.

Antequil’s attitude was best summed up by his boast in 1961 that, despite having not won the Tour for four years, he would win the yellow jersey on day one and keep it throughout the race.

He succeeded – but his cockiness would also earn him enemies, not least the race’s organisers, who although French, felt their champions should be better sportsmen.

French cyclists had won roughly half of all the races since the first ever Tour in 1903 – when it became an instant success that has been repeated every year except during the two world wars.

Maurice Garin won the initial 1,509-mile, six-stage competition, which was launched as a way to boost sales of the L’Auto newspaper.

The victorious Frenchman, who fittingly had a handlebar moustache, won 12,000 francs – the equivalent of £132,000 today – after beating 77 other entrants.

His margin of victory – just under three hours – remains the widest in the history of the contest, which involves riding around the perimeter of France.

The contest gradually became more internationally popular, with the first truly foreign winner being Belgium’s Odile Defraye, who won the 1912 edition.

In all, cyclists from 13 different nations have won the race, with France top with 36 wins, followed by Belgium (18), Spain (12) and Italy (nine).

But until Bradley Wiggins in 2012, no Briton had ever won the Tour de France. His compatriot Chris Froome won it the year after.

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