Raymond Poulidor never won the Tour de France – but that's why the cyclist and farmer's son became the most popular athlete in France. Now he died at the age of 83 years.
In France, not a proud eagle or a strong bear is the national symbol, but the rooster. Why, a proverb says, "Because he's the only animal singing with his feet in the dung." This word probably does not apply to anyone like Raymond Poulidor.
Poulidor was, this can not be concluded from his nickname "l'eternel second" (the eternal second), a very successful cyclist. He won big races like Paris-Nice, Milan-Sanremo and the Tour of Spain. Only he stood just at the biggest race in the world, the Tour de France, eight times only on the podium, five times in third, three times in second place. Not once did he strip the yellow jersey over. But this story made a simple cyclist probably the most popular athlete in France.
Simple is probably the adjective that Poulidor best described, and it's not meant to be disrespectful. "Poupou," as his compatriots called him, grew up in the department of Creuse, one of the poorest areas in central France. Far away from Paris and economically prosperous cities. The parents were farmers. He himself helped as a child in the yard.
One who had to cope with life's difficulties like everyone else
Poulidor was emblematic of being famous and yet standing with both feet in life. The counter-example was his great competitor Jacques Anquetil. An incredibly elegant and attractive driver who – unlike Poulidor – won the tour five times. Anquetil was like his opponent French, but he seemed aloof and arrogant. Poulidor was Poulidor. A man who had to cope with the difficulties of life like everyone else.
The rivalry of the two Frenchmen culminated in 1964 on the Puy de Dome, elbows on elbows they rushed up the volcano in the Massif Central. Anquetil was more tired than Poulidor, but he had misstated the translation and had to step harder than he wanted. Poulidor took his opponent anyway time, but missed the yellow jersey by 14 seconds. At the final time trial in Versailles 600 000 spectators were excited, and when Anquetil finished the race, they celebrated Poulidor. For a moment he even thought he had finally won the tour. But the best time driver of his generation had not given him a chance. With an advantage of 55 seconds, Anquetil, once again, relegated him to second place.
After Anquetil's resignation, the still-young Poulidor was his natural successor. But again and again something came in between. New talents like compatriot Roger Pingeon or Italian Felice Gimondi, for example. In 1968, Poulidor looked like the winner, but then a motorcyclist overcame him, he had to give up. After all, sport is always a matter of timing, and Pechidor's bad luck was that he was dealing with two hundred-year-olds in his generation. The resigned Anquetil was the first, starting in 1969, then the age of Eddy Merckx. Against the "cannibals", "Poupou" had repeatedly failed, no matter how loud they screamed at him up the mountains. Nevertheless, he still tried it into old age: in 1976, at the age of 40, he even made it to the podium again. It was a worthy tour farewell that suited him: no victory, no yellow, but exploring one's own limits.
His ability at this age explained to Poulidor that he had never doped. In a TV interview three years ago, however, he admitted to having swallowed amphetamines. Not much, just to keep the morale going. Poulidor did not know that the camera was still running. In honor of his rescue, it can be said that in 1966 he was the first professional cyclist who was subjected to a doping test. Others refused and revolted.
After his active career Poulidor remained true to his home and cycling. He moved about 30 kilometers to the southwest, to Saint-Leonard-de-Noblat and worked in a bicycle factory, which built, inter alia, wheels of its own brand. The passion radiated to the family. One of Poulidor's daughters married the successful professional Adrie van der Poel, their son Matthieu is today one of the most promising talents of his sport.
Since 2001, Raymond Poulidor has been attending the Tour de France on behalf of a sponsor of the Yellow Jersey every year. Poulidor was often noticed in the mixed zone by a bright yellow polo shirt. It was his way of singing with his feet in the crap, and one of the reasons why even decades after his active work the French never forgot and loved him. On the night of Wednesday, Raymond Poulidor died at the age of 83 in his native Saint-Leonard-de-Noblat.