The Legend, the D.S., the Domestique and an Englishman
[Bordeaux-Paris Part 3]
In this third part of our look back at the now defunct derny paced Bordeaux - Paris, we go to the 1965 edition. The race itself was a fantastic event, however it is the story surrounding it that elevates the exploit to possibly the most audacious and astounding accomplishment in the history of cycle racing.
Part 1:The Derby of the Road xxx Part 2: Les Enfants Terribles
Anquetil-Poulidor on the Puy de Dome [photos from Archive]
“More than once, I saw him crying in his hotel room after suffering the spitting and insults of spectators. People said he was cold, a calculator, a dilettant,” said Raphaël Géminiani of Jacques Anquetil. By 1964 Anquetil had won his fifth Tour de France, a race that is generally remembered above all of his previous victories because of his battle with Raymond Poulidor. In particular the now iconic photographs of Anquetil riding shoulder to shoulder against his great rival Raymond Poulidor up the Puy de Dôme was an illustration of a great moment in their historic rivalry. For years the two men had battled and Anquetil would always do all in his power to never let Poulidor win a race. Poulidor was, and still is today, a much beloved figure of French history. Anquetil grew to be admired but certainly was not taken into the hearts of the French.
Anquetil is of course a legend. He won eight Grand Tours and a handful of classics. Most of his victories however were built on his incredible power in individual time trials. He won the Grand Prix Nations (when it was considered as the unofficial World TT championship) nine times. In 1956 he claimed the hour record on the track. Using this same skill he took out many other races and this account of the 1966 Paris-Nice (an article published on Pez Cycling News) is not atypical.
Left alone, Anquetil would have ridden out his career and returned to live a luxurious life as a “gentleman farmer” in Normandy. Although deeply saddened by the attitude of the general public, he would have simply hidden himself away from view.
The D. S.
But Anquetil was not left alone. His Directeur Sportif was Raphaël Géminiani, a mercurial character with a deepsense of pride and Gallic honor. Once an Anquetil adversary, Géminiani had an impressive set of palmares himself and what he did not know about cycle racing was simply not worth knowing anyway. He ran his teams with an iron fist and was frequently seen blowing his top with impassioned tirades. It was he that came up with a sensational idea to bring Anquetil to the hearts of France and establish an enduring legacy.
His plan was to have Anquetil ride and win the eight day Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré and then less than twelve hours after the final stage start the 557km Bordeaux-Paris ‘derny paced’ race. The experts decried the idea as madness, but the general public was captivated. To get Anquetil to agree to the project took every ounce of Géminiani’s not inconsiderable persuasive powers.
In putting his plan together, Géminiani meticulously harnessed all of his resources to maximum effect. For the Dauphiné he assembled a team dedicated 100% to Anquetil’s quest for victory. Much of this centred on a group of gifted climbers, whose job it was to ensure that Raymond Poulidor would not gain advantage from his superior climbing abilities.
The Bordeaux-Paris strategy demanded a special approach. Unlike his competition, which would be specifically prepared and rested for the marathon to Paris, Anquetil would have to deal with the accumulated fatigue of the Dauphiné in his legs and mind.
The English rider Vin Denson and the French National Champion Jean Stablinski were chosen as Anquetil’s ‘domestiques’ for the great race to Paris. Stablinski was the 1962 World Road Race Champion, he won the French RR Championship three times and had a string of other significant victories. Yet throughout his career Stablinski was mostly noted as a highly dedicated Anquetil domestique.
Denson had become a close friend of Anquetil on the Ford France team. A rider with an affable character and a huge motor was often called upon to set up races for the stars on whatever team he was with. In terms of comparison, Vin was similar to the great Sean Yates and Jens Voigt who followed his wheel tracks several decades later.
While Stablinski certainly played a major role in Anquetil’s Bordeaux-Paris victory, a deeper analysis reveals that Denson can be credited with turning Géminiani’s dream into a reality.
Only 11 riders were contracted to take part in the 1965 Bordeaux-Paris, “quality over quantity.” Although Anquetil headlined the list, it was Englishman Tom Simpson who was considered the most dangerous rider and favored to win. At that time Tom was at the peak of his powers. Like Anquetil, Simpson was a gifted road time trialist and track pursuiter. The most significant fact for this day was that Tom had already tasted the Bordeaux-Paris with a beautiful victory in 1963. Later that year (1965) Tom’s form was confirmed when he won the World Road Racing Championship and shortly after the Giro di Lombardia.
Phase I - The Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré
Then, as now, the Dauphiné was a significant event on the annual race calendar. In May 1965 the weather was very cold and wet in France. These were exactly the conditions that Anquetil despised. As the stages rolled on it came down to yet another fierce “Anquetil – Poulidor” battle. As the superior climber, Poulidor often managed to escape but he was usually neutralized by Anquetil’s team. Adding to his frustrations, Poulidor twice came second to Anquetil in stage end sprint finishes and then Anquetil added a third stage win in the time trial on the penultimate day.
With the race all but wrapped up, the final 142 mile stage should have been a ‘promenade’ for the victorious ‘Maitre Jacques’. The Ford France team however set a very brisk pace as they needed to get their man to the airport in order to fly the 250 miles to Bordeaux.
At five o’clock in the evening Van Conigsloo won the final stage. Twenty minutes later, with the victory formalities completed, Anquetil was back at his hotel for a bath and quick meal. By six o’clock he was in a Ford Taunus driven by Géminiani and led by an escort of police cars and motorbikes. They covered the 38 miles in 35 minutes. (Special Note: This by the way was another detail in the plan and was designed as a PR exercise to demonstrate Ford’s new Taunus car.) When they arrived in Bordeaux another Ford Taunus was awaiting them and again Géminiani and a police escort raced Anquetil to his hotel.
The significance of the entire operation was underlined by the fact that a private Mystere 20 Business Jet was chartered for the occasion by none other than French President Charles de Gaulle.
Phase II - Bordeaux-Paris
At 7:45PM the chartered jet touched down and Anquetil was duly whisked away to his hotel. He had until 1:00AM to eat, sleep and have his pre-race massage. Due to the magnitude of the race, professional riders knew it as the ‘race that kills’. Bernard Gauthier, who won it four times, described it as a race ‘you can’t improvise’. The great Francis Pelissier (the wizard of B-P) sacked Ferdi Kubler because he rode a criterium two days before B-P. As he usually did, the fiery Kubler ignored Pelissier and everyone else, rode the event, and won it ‘just to show him’. Ignoring this collected wisdom, Géminiani focussed on the task at hand by keeping Anquetil inside a quiet and undisturbed space within the hotel. His man needed every possible second of rest and recuperation.
At 1:15AM the ceremonial start was scheduled at the Bordeaux Velodrome. In past years very few spectators turned out at this early hour to see very little action and a small bunch of cyclists bundled up against the cool night air. This time it was different with about 5,000 people cheering the 11 cyclists as they emerged out of the tunnel and did their lap of honor. The previous year Anquetil had been wearing the Yellow Jersey as he rode around this very same track. Then, over 2,000 people raucously booed him. On this dark morning Anquetil was now being greeted by an enthusiastic crowd, an indication that his great exploit was paying off.
Everyone signed on and the bikes were subjected to close examination. In particular the wheelbase length was a major focus. A short wheelbase brings a rider closer to his derny pacer and the specifications for this measurement were very strict.
At 1:50AM the mini-peloton circled the track, left the stadium and headed out of town on a long neutralised stretch.
At 2:30AM the race officially started. Conventional wisdom and gentlemanly agreements stated that the first 160 miles of B-P, which was unpaced, saw virtually no action. Typically, the media crew would ignore this ‘glorified club run’ to get a good night’s sleep at Chatellerault, where the junction would be made with their waiting derny pacers. Not so on this day as the media were as fired up about this race as the general public.
The benefit of great media interest for the riders was more light piercing the night time darkness from following vehicles than normal. Unfortunately the night time gloom was enhanced by a steady rain. Having just completed a week of racing in dismal weather, Anquetil was now looking increasingly depressed. Few of the media ‘experts’ expected him to survive until Chatellerault. In fact Anquetil was quite the pathetic sight. Vin Denson spent hours pushing him and trying to motivate him as Anquetil literally slept on his shoulder.
Taking nature breaks and changing into dry clothing, often saw the group stop. On one occasion everyone stopped except Anquetil who ‘noodled’ on and found himself in the lead! Tom Simpson rallied the troops and soon Jacques was back in the fold. Other breakaways of a similar nature occurred but they too were soon brought to heel.
If you have ever seen a derny race you will understand how the excitement mounted as 22 of them (each rider had a back up derny riding just behind the race) were kicked into life with the rapidly approaching peloton. To initiate even more action the organisers posted a prime just outside of town. A second prime was also awarded to the first rider to connect with their derny. Vin Denson grabbed both prizes.
As the race roared out of Chatellerault about 300kms of serious derny paced racing faced the small peloton. Adding to the challenge, the predicted north-easter, blowing straight into the riders’ faces, had arrived. Denson’s aggression was part of the Ford master plan and having been the first to join his derny continued on to press home an advantage. However, and as expected, he was soon reeled in by three other riders.
About 45 seconds back Anquetil and Simpson were glued to each other. Anquetil had been having a bad time with the early hours, the cold, the wet and his fatigue from the Dauphiné and he had wanted out. Géminiani had been using all of his skills from the kid glove approach to outright threats to keep Anquetil pedalling towards Paris.
A regroupment saw everyone back together before François Mahé launched the next serious attack. His effort lasted 200kms. Initially Denson went with him but eventually he thought better of it and drifted back to the bunch. Behind them various little dramas took place. Anquetil was coming out of his general malaise and had his derny increase the pace significantly. Simpson went with him and Stablinski was right on Tom’s back wheel.
Suddenly Anquetil had to stop for a front wheel change. Simpson attacked while Stablinski riveted himself to Tom’s back wheel. Then it was Simpson who was suddenly sitting up as his derny had broken down and his spare machine was not back where it should have been. Calmly he waited for the derny and then set off in pursuit of Stablinski. After a long and furious chase Simpson reconnected with Stablinski who then simply sat up to make it easier for the still chasing Anquetil to get back with them. Even though Mahé was still over 5 minutes up the road, it was clear that this Bordeaux-Paris was going to be between his three chasers.
With Paris still about 60 miles up the road the Ford team sent Stablinski on the attack. Anquetil soft pedalled and the onus was now on Simpson. When Stablinski’s advantage stretched out to 30 seconds over Tom and Jacques it was Tom who had to put his head down. Meanwhile Mahé was holding his advantage as the ‘stop and go’ game played out behind him.
The Chevreuse Valley is a very famous B-P obstacle. The course climbed out of the valley on the road that eventually spills out on to the Parisian plateau. It had been the scene of many dashed B-P hopes. Sure enough Mahé started to succumb on the unforgiving ascent as Stablinski chased just two minutes back. A further minute back Simpson had disconnected himself from Anquetil and was chasing furiously.
But this was Anquetil country as these roads were used for the Grand Prix des Nations and the great man knew every inch of the route from here to Paris. This knowledge did not concern Simpson as he succeeded in catching Stablinski. But once again Stablinski simply eased up and in no time Anquetil was back with them.
The Junction [Archive]
The Final Act
By now the riders had been on the road for 14 hours and they were heading into the ancient town of Dourdan. After passing through its narrow cobbled streets the trio hit a mile long hill heads out of town and into the woods beyond. Normally, and especially for professional racers, this hill would be of little consequence but at this stage of the marathon it would feel like an Alpine ascent.
Simpson launched a vicious attack and left Anquetil and Stablinski struggling in his wake. This was a carbon copy of his victorious attack at the same place that netted him the 1963 B-P. However this time the chasers were of a very different quality. Over the top a tiring Mahé could be seen by Simpson and Anquetil, who were in full fury chasing. To the surprise of those lucky enough to witness the drama, Stablinski seemingly had been dropped. At least that is how it looked. However Stablinski’s derny pacer had crashed going up the Dourdan hill. Anquetil’s teammate started the case back.
Simpson finally caught the poor Mahé with about 18 miles to go. In turn they were both caught by Anquetil. A lull in the frenetic pace enabled the valiant Stablinski and his back-up deny to also rejoin the action.
The two Ford France teammates now took it in turns to soften up the Englishman. In the process Mahé cracked and eventually finished over seven minutes back. Passing the Versailles Palace the three leaders were just 11kms from the finish and jockeying for position like track sprinters.
Anquetil leaned down and pulled on his toe straps as his derny accelerated. Tom struggled to hold the pace while Stablinski sat back and watched him suffer. Agonisingly Simpson could do nothing as the gap to Anquetil slowly increased. In his best time trial mode, Anquetil elegantly followed his pacer over the Seine and into the Parc des Princes Velodrome to be greeted by a tumultuous roar of approval inside the sold out stadium. Just 57 seconds later Stablinski outsprinted Simpson for second place.
History had been made in the process of the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré / Bordeaux-Paris double, and as planned by the master mind Raphaël Géminiani, Anquetil had won over the hearts of France.
Forty five years have passed since this great race. Many cycling experts consider Anquetil’s 1965 Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré / Bordeaux-Paris double to be the greatest feat in all of cycle racing history. In a sport rich in legends and iconic racers, this is high praise indeed.
SPECIAL NOTE: The faithful Vin Denson came home for sixth place, but ever the professional he was looking to grow his bank account. Coming into Paris he was just two minutes behind Mahé. He told his pacer to ease off for now his target was to win the prime for the fastest final lap at the Parc. Putting on a great crowd pleasing show he swooped off the banking of the track and claimed his prize. Thus he had won all three B-P primes and this money was bolstered by all of the prize money given by Anquetil and Stablinski to be shared equally between Vin and the pacers. Denson claims that this was his best pay day ever as a bike racer.
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