Many of the 'against-the-clock' fraternity in the United Kingdom sincerely believed that the British time triallists were as good as, if not better than, their Continental counterparts and here was the chance to prove it. When the final result was known the British fans were disappointed and saw the race as a total failure for Britain as both Englishman had finished nearly 20 minutes down. To rub salt in the wounds, the event had been won by an unknown, curly-haired teenager from Normandy.
Anquetil passed his qualifications in light engineering and went to work for 50 old francs a day at a factory in Sotteville. He left after 26 days following a disagreement with his boss over time off for training. The AC Sottevillais, founded in 1898, was run by a cycle-dealer, André Boucher, who had a shop in the Place du Trianon in Sotteville. The club had not just Anquetil but Claude LeBer, who became professional pursuit champion in 1955, Jean Jourden, world amateur champion in 1961, and Francis Bazire, who came second in the world amateur championship in 1963.
In 1941, his father refused contracts to work on military installations for the German occupiers and his work dried up. Other members of the family worked in strawberry farming and Anquetil's father followed them, moving to the hamlet of Bourguet, near Quincampoix. Anquetil had his first bicycle – an Alcyon – at the age of four and twice a day rode the kilometre and a half to the village and back. There he was taught by a Teacher wearing clogs in a classroom heated by a smoking stove.
He was 17 and he took out his first racing licence on 2 December 1950. He stayed a member the rest of his life and his grave in the churchyard at Quincampoix has a permanent tribute from his clubmates.
Boucher trained his group first from a bicycle and then by Derny. Anquetil made fast progress and won 16 times as an amateur. His first victory was the Prix Maurice Latour at Rouen on 3 May 1951. He also took the Prix de France in 1952 and the Tour de la Manche and the national road championship the same year.
Anquetil rode in the French team in the 100 km time trial at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki and won a bronze medal. Impressed by his protégé's progress, André Boucher sent an envelope of Anquetil's press cuttings to the local representative of the Perle bicycle company and asked him to send them to the firm's cycling team manager, the former Tour de France rider, Francis Pélissier.
Pélissier wanted Anquetil for the 1953 Grand Prix des Nations, a race started by the newspaper Paris-Soir which since 1932 had risen to the status of an unofficial world time-trial championship. It was held on a 142 km loop of rolling roads through Versailles, Rambouillet, Maulette, St-Rémy-les-Chevreuse and then back to Versailles before, originally, finishing on the Buffalo track in Paris.
On 22 September 1954, Anquetil started two years' compulsory Service in the army, joining the Richepanse de Rouen barracks as a gunner of the 406th artillery regiment. The army accorded him few great favours but there was an exception:
Should he break the record, he and the army agreed, he would give half the rewards to the army and the rest to the mother of a soldier, André Dufour, who had been killed while fighting at Palestro, in Algeria. The chances of breaking it were far from guaranteed, not only because Coppi's record had already defied Gerrit Schulte and Louison Bobet but also Anquetil himself, on 23 November 1955, when he had started too fast, faded and finished 696 m short of Coppi. His second attempt also flopped. He again started too fast. After 54:36 his helpers called him to a stop after 41.326 km. His legs failed him when he got off his bike and he had to be carried to a chair in a corner of the Velodromo Vigorelli, the velodrome in Milan, Italy. The Italian crowd chanted: "Coppi! Coppi! Coppi!"
At 7:30pm on 29 June 1956, riding a lighter bike made in three days to the same design as Coppi's, and using a 7m40 gear (52x15), Anquetil tried again and finally broke his hero's record, riding 46.159 km. Coppi was the first professional to give Anquetil his autograph. When the two next met, Anquetil was also a professional. He went to Italy to meet Coppi and, for reasons never explained, dressed as a simple country boy rather than in the smart clothes that he normally wore.
The French film Amélie may contain an indirect reference to Anquetil. A long-lost box of souvenirs found by Amélie reminds an aging estranged father of the time he cheered Federico Bahamontes' win of the 1959 Tour de France (Anquetil, a long-time rival of Bahamontes, placed third in the same race). Amélie is later romantically pursued by Nino Quincampoix, who shares a very rare surname with that of the village where Anquetil is buried.
In 1960 Anquetil stayed away from the Tour, returning in 1961 and winning the Tour de France thereafter until 1964. He won in 1962 at a speed not bettered until 1981. He was the first rider to win four successive times, breaking the record of three set by Philippe Thys and Louison Bobet. He was also the first to win five times in total, a feat since emulated by Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain.
Anquetil was fascinated by Britain because of the country's enthusiasm for time-trialling and because in 1961 he presented prizes at the Road Time Trials Council evening at the Royal Albert Hall to honour Beryl Burton and Brian Kirby. The pair had won the women's and men's British Best All-Rounder competitions (BBAR) for, respectively, the highest average speed in a season over 25, 50 and 100 miles (women) and 50 and 100 miles (160 km) and 12 hours (men).
Anquetil's most humiliating race was the Trofeo Baracchi in Italy in 1962, when he had to be pushed by his partner, Rudi Altig, and was so exhausted that he hit a pillar before reaching the track on which the race finished.
In 1963 Tour de France, at the top of a mountain, Anquetil faked a mechanical Problem, so that his team Director could give him a bicycle that was more suitable for the descent. The plan worked, and Anquetil overtook Bahamontes in the descent and won the stage, taking over the lead in the general classification.
Anquetil took part, with Tom Simpson, in an afternoon of exhibition racing at the Herne Hill track in South London, on 13 June 1964 – three weeks before starting in the 1964 Tour de France.
Anquetil was upset, said Raphaël Géminiani in his autobiography, that his rival, Raymond Poulidor was always more warmly regarded even though he had never won the Tour de France. In 1965, when Poulidor was perceived to have received more credit for dropping Anquetil the previous year on the Puy-de-Dôme than Anquetil had received for winning the whole Tour, Géminiani persuaded him to ride the Dauphiné Libéré and, next day, the 557 km Bordeaux–Paris. That, he said, would end any argument over who was the greater athlete.
Anquetil was named France's champion of champions by L'Équipe in 1963. He was also appointed Chevalier de l'Ordre national du Mérite in 1965 (cross of merit) and Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur on 5 October 1966.
Anquetil argued that professional riders were workers and had the same right to treat their pains, as say, a geography Teacher. But the argument found less support as more riders were reported to have died or suffered health problems through drug-related incidents, including the death of Tom Simpson, in the 1967 Tour de France.
He rode his bike only three times in retirement, saying he had already ridden enough. He rode the Grand Prix des Gentlemen in Nice, a race in which old riders were paired with current competitors; he went out for an afternoon with friends in Normandy; and he joined his daughter for a bike ride on her birthday. Other than that, he did not ride his bike after 1969.
Their marriage produced no children. Janine had two children, Alain and Annie, from her previous marriage. Janine had two failed pregnancies and Anquetil grew upset in 1970 that he wasn't a father. The couple considered a surrogate mother before Janine thought of her daughter, Annie. Janine said: "We didn't use the parental authority that we could have had over her. It was a request that I addressed to her. Gently. Annie always had the choice of refusing." Annie confirmed her mother's recollection. She said:
The Jacques Anquetil Sports stadium at Quincampoix was dedicated in 1983. There are moves to open a museum in his memory.
On 18 November 1987, Jacques Anquetil died of stomach cancer in his sleep at 6 am at the St-Hilaire Clinic in Rouen. He had been there since 10 October. A statement from the clinic said: "His state of health had visibly deteriorated over the last hours and he died in his sleep after showing great courage throughout his illness." Anquetil is buried beside the church in the village of Quincampoix, north of Rouen, where a large black monument by the traffic Lights lists all his achievements. There is a further monument at the Piste Municipale track in Paris, where the centre is named after him.
Annie said she should have left the house after her daughter, Sophie, was born (in 2004, Sophie Anquetil published the book Pour l'amour de Jacques in which she confirmed what had been rumoured but what Anquetil had always tried to hide: that she was Anquetil's daughter). Instead, she grew jealous of her own mother and demanded that she leave instead. When Janine refused, Annie left instead. To fill the gap in the house, Janine invited her son, Alain, and his wife, Dominique, to return to live there. Anquetil began an affair with Dominique, to make Annie jealous. Dominique had Anquetil's child but Annie still refused to return. Dominique still lives in the house, Les Elfes, where she organises conferences. Janine and Anquetil divorced. Sophie moved in with Janine, although she lives now in Calenzana, near Calvi. Both Janine and Dominique wrote their life story: neither mentioned the link between Sophie and Anquetil.
The Tour visited Rouen on the 10th anniversary of Anquetil's death. There to remember his first victory in the race were his teammates, Gilbert Bauvin, Louis Bergard, Albert Bouvet, André Darrigade, Jean Forestier, André Mahé, René Privat and Jean Stablinski. There, too, was the team car from Anquetil's first Tour, driven by the man behind the wheel that year, william Odin.
Anquetil was a correspondent for L'Équipe, consultant for Europe 1 and then on Antenne 2, a race Director for Paris–Nice and the Tour Méditerranéen and in Canada, directeur sportif of French teams at world championships, and a member of the managing committee of the Fédération Française de Cyclisme. His radio analyses were considered especially sharp and he gained a notoriety in Belgium for telling Luis Ocaña, the Spanish rider living in France, how to beat the Belgian star Eddy Merckx during the Tour de France.
Anquetil caught Joy — the moment he realised he was going to win the race — even though Joy had started 16 minutes earlier. At 19, Anquetil had become unofficial time-trial champion of the world.