Raymond Poulidor, Cycling’s ‘Eternal Second,’ Is Dead at 84

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Four years later he seemed well placed to finally win until the 15th stage to Albi, when a motorcyclist in the race caravan swerved to avoid spectators and crashed into Poulidor’s rear wheel, knocking him to the ground. His face and body covered in blood, Poulidor still finished the stage, losing only a little more than a minute. But his injuries, which included a broken nose, forced him to abandon the Tour.

Poulidor was often undermined by a cautious riding style that caused him to miss opportunities, apparently out of fear that he might lose positions he had gained. Modest and unassuming, he was far from a win-at-all-costs athlete. After placing third to Merckx in 1969, he said, “Perhaps if I had pushed a little harder I could have finished second.” (Roger Pingeon of France was the second-place finisher.)

In his rivalry with Anquetil, one of the most famous riders in cycling history, Poulidor won the popularity contest. While both men came from farms, Anquetil had a suave and urbane manner and a fondness for publicity stunts. His wins came largely through his exceptional ability at time trials, solo races against the stopwatch. Poulidor was shy, abstemious and frugal, making him the cycling hero of rural France.

At a time when fans and the cycling press conferred nicknames for stars, Poulidor became Poupou, while Anquetil was Maître Jacques.

“He would have preferred to be called Pouli, as he was early on, but he came to accept his absurd nursery nickname as a compliment,” Geoffrey Nicholson wrote in “The Great Bike Race” (1977). “Nobody ever devised an affectionate diminutive of Anquetil’s name.”

Raymond Poulidor was born on April 15, 1936, in Masbaraud-Mérignat, in the Creuse department of central France. His parents, Martial and Maria (Montlaron) Poulidor, worked as sharecroppers on a farm that is now the grounds of a hotel and restaurant.


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