Great Escapes (Part 1)
|In Pursuit of Yellow
|xIl Diablo 1992
Claudio Chiappucci earned his nickname “Il Diablo” (the devil) for good reason.
Laurent Jalabert, “Jaja”, is remembered for numerous exploits over a long career.
|xMaitre Jacques 1966
“Maitre Jacques” Anquetil's numerous achievements are legion.
Special Note: As this article was being written the news that Floyd Landis had tested positive with his ‘A' sample after his epic Stage 17 ride shocked us all. At this time there is chaos in the media, denials by the rider and his team and a war of words going on between the UCI and WADA. Unlike the prevailing fashion of ‘guilty until proven innocent' we take the stand that Floyd is innocent until proven guilty. Unfortunately it will probably be a long and ugly battle until a conclusive and fact based decision is achieved. So against this backdrop we will honor Floyd's ride which rekindled memories of other ‘great escapes' which have become legends in the history of cycle racing.
On July 20th the Tour de France awoke from a long slumber. After relinquishing his Yellow Jersey in a surprising collapse on the road to La Toussuire, Floyd Landis appeared to be a beaten man now over 8 minutes down on the new race leader Oscar Pereiro. The next day, Stage 17, Landis decided to recoup his loss and get back in the running for race leadership. In a stunning and bold display of riding Floyd spent just over 128km alone in the lead. After scaling two Category 1 and two Category 2 climbs alone, many expected to see him crack on the final climb of the hors categorie climb of the Joux Plane. Instead he powered his way to the finish line in Morzine and got within 30 seconds of the Yellow Jersey. His exploit evoked memories of Tours long past when courage and the champions will to win set the stage for epic performances.
It is a pointless exercise to try and identify the greatest escape of all time. Every example in our review stands on its own merit. When comparing the Landis escape to those made by Coppi, Anquetil, Gaul or Koblet the first obvious difference is that of technology. With GPS, helicopters hovering overhead, TV and team personnel to rider communications, everyone in the race convoy knew exactly where Floyd was in relation to the field and how he seemed to be coping with his effort every inch of the way. This was not so in the past. The important thing is that with technology, weather, course profile, team dynamics and a multitude of other variables aside, the Landis ride awoke memories of other legendary escapes. To be compared to those great champions of the past is the greatest of all compliments.
In our three part review of “Great Escapes” the common denominator is that every one of them is in pursuit of the Yellow Jersey of race leadership. We start with the relative recent Tour de France escapes of Claudio Chiappucci in 1992 and Laurent Jalabert in 1995. We then step back to 1966 and recall the astounding escape made by Jacques Anquetil on the final stage of the Paris-Nice.
Part two (to be published August 8th ) of our review will capture great escapes made by three legendary icons of our sport; Fausto Coppi, Hugo Koblet and Eddy Merckx. In each case their incredible attacks helped seal a Tour de France victory.
We finish our review with part three (to be published August 15th ) which looks at Charly Gaul's 1958 escape which is generally considered to be the closest parallel to the Landis epic. Gaul , like Landis, set out to eradicate an apparently impossible time deficit. After battling severe adverse weather conditions Gaul 's escape got him within striking distance of the Yellow Jersey. Again like Landis, Gaul sealed his victory by winning the final time trial.
Claudio Chiappucci earned his nickname “IL Diablo” (the devil) for good reason. He was an unpredictable and explosive rider who would attack at the most unexpected times. It seemed as though even his own team never knew when he would launch himself from the front. His apparent reckless riding however was built on a foundation of great class with climbing being his greatest ability. Amongst his many accomplishments were two Giro d'Italia second places (1991 and 1992) and in the Tour de France two second places (1990 and 1992) and third place (1991).
His great escape came on Stage 13 of the 1992 Tour from St. Gervais to Sestrieres. The previous year Miguel Indurain had won the first of his five consecutive Tours . Now one year later IL Diablo was close to the big Spaniard on GC and he had decided to make his bid for the Yellow Jersey in his favorite terrain. After scaling the Iseran and Mont Cenis, IL Diablo attacked and rode away alone. In Sestrieres after 200km (120m) of brilliant riding all Chiappucci could claw back from Indurain was 1:45 minutes. His epic ride is remembered for its audacity and swashbuckling challenge for race leadership.
There are two riders who are forever close to French hearts. Raymond Poulidor ‘the eternal second' is most remembered for his classic battles with Jacques Anquetil. Today as he rides around France in the Tour race convoy this white haired icon is enthusiastically greeted by his legions of fans.
For the modern generation the recently retired Laurent Jalabert, “Jaja”, is remembered for numerous exploits over a long career that appealed to the very core of French sensibility. Perhaps the greatest thing that a French rider can achieve (besides winning the Tour) is to win the stage on July 14th (Bastille Day). Jaja did this twice (1995 and 2001).
Jaja's great escape occurred on Bastille Day in 1995 on what was considered a transitional stage between the Alps and Pyrenees . At the time Jalabert was a member of the mighty ONCE team and they had decided to make an all-out attack on race leader Miguel Indurain. With the whole of France (and much of the world watching on TV) Jalabert produced an epic 198km (123m) break. Urged on by huge crowds he forced his body along hot, steamy roads to finish along the seemingly never-ending runway of the airport at Mende. But like Chiappucci before him, he could not gain enough time over the imperious Indurain who went on to win his fifth (and last) Tour. However Jaja was a feted throughout France as a national hero in the true mold of the patriots of the French Revolution.
When it comes to Jacques Anquetil, “Maitre Jacques”, his numerous achievements are legiondary. He was the first rider to win the Tour five times and he was the first Frenchman to win the Giro d'Italia. For much of his career he battled with the great Raymond Poulidor and their endless, and sometimes epic, struggles riveted the French nation as well as cycle racing fans elsewhere. Proud and with aristocratic aires, Anquetil would never let Poulidor win a race that he was in. If he could not win Anquetil would find ways for other riders to neutralize Poulidor. Unlike our other examples this great escape did not take place in a Tour de France but in the early season Paris-Nice stage race.
In the 1966 Paris-Nice it looked as though Poulidor was finally about to tip the scales to his favor. Three days from the finish Poulidor did the unthinkable and beat Anquetil, the greatest time triallist the world had ever seen, by 36 seconds over a 33.5km technical time trial course. France was in shock and Poulidor was delirious with joy. Anquetil, like Landis after his shocking collapse on Stage 16 of this years Tour, accepted defeat with grace but quietly he started to plot a fearsome revenge.
The day after the time trial a very difficult route through the Corsican mountains saw a now inspired Poulidor attempt to finish off his nemesis for good. Being the better climber, Poulidor dropped Anquetil on the final ‘col'. Anquetil plummeted down the mountain taking almost reckless chances and managed to rejoin Poulidor in time for the finish.
One stage remained and Anquetil launched possibly the most dramatic great escape of all time. It has been said that Poulidor answered no fewer than 38 attacks from Anquetil and his team that day. The 39th and last attack came on the last ascent of the race, the relatively mild climb to Tourettes-sur-Loup. At first Poulidor desperately hung on to his tormentor as the two of them rode away from the field. Finally the hapless Poulidor cracked and left Anquetil alone in his majestic glory and obsessed with victory. On his own at last, Anquetil faced 21 miles - downhill at first and then dead flat along the sea - in which to regain the 36 seconds and hand Poulidor another crushing defeat. One observer saw Anquetil pedaling a huge gear ratio like the fury and at a rate normally associated with derny races. He was riding at his limit, his hollow, sweat-streaked face with eyes reflecting his remorseless soul seeking vengeance. Those fortunate to have witnessed this performance say that they would never forget it.
Soaked in sweat, Anquetil crossed the line in Nice to be pounced on with uncontrollable joy by his famous directeur sportif, Raphael Geminiani. It was 1 minute and 24 seconds later that the bunch arrived with the poor disillusioned Poulidor, his face a mask of despair. Anquetil won the race by 48 seconds.
Had GPS timing been around in 1966, the opinion of many could be confirmed: Anquetil rode the fastest 21 miles ever recorded on a bike. The exploit was immediately elevated to ‘campionissimo' level with direct comparisons to Coppi's best. The crowds at the finish created a mob scene with everyone wanting to get near the great man.
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