December 02, 2016
Doping has unfortunately been around almost as long as professional cycling. A famous early trainer of champion cyclists, "Choppy" Warburton, was rumoured to carry around performance enhancing chemicals in a black doctor's bag that he would give to his ailing cyclists during races. Here he is pictured with the Welsh champion Jimmy Michael, who he first started training in 1894.
Flash forward to the 1960s and the stimulants were still around, but tolerance towards them was beginning to wane. In 1964 Jacques Anquetil made history by becoming the first cyclist to win the Tour de France five times, a record not bested until the nineties by… ahem… Lance Armstrong. But unlike Lance, Anquetil was open about his use of performance enhancing chemicals, even going so far as to exclaim whilst being questioned on the topic during an interview, “Leave me in peace; everybody takes dope.”
Anquetil took the unapologetically controversial view that doping was like medicine for cyclists, who, he said, had to endure tough conditions and deserved some relief from them. And his statement that ‘everybody takes dope’ may not have been far from the truth, as shown by the fact that many riders went on strike in 1966 to protest against drugs tests being introduced to the Tour. Yet over the course of the sixties Anquetil’s open attitude towards drug-taking became less and less tenable, as attitudes changed and especially after British rider Tom Simpson died during the 1967 Tour, with amphetamines found in his back pocket.
Perhaps because he was one of the only professional cyclists of the time to be so publicly honest and open about it, the issue of doping has come to define Anquetil's career. But he is still a well-remembered character in French cycling history, as much for his turbulent personal life and reputed tour diet of champagne and langoustine as for his now-tainted athletic success. And as well as Tour wins, he also gained fame (and the nickname ‘Monsieur Chrono’) for his solo time trial abilities, which won him many fans in the U.K., where time trials were the most popular form of racing. For better or for worse, he’s an indelible part of professional cycling history, and part of that history now resides in our shop, in the form of a lovingly restored, hand-and built early-sixties racing bike from Anquetil’s heyday. We may not agree with his methods or his morals... but we certainly like this bike...
Also, if you have a bit of time on your hands, this is a great documentary that covers Anquetil's success amongst other greats:
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