Part II of the series looking at the 1964 Tour de France is a stage-by-stage account of the race to show race unfolding from stage wins to accidents, punch-ups to punctures. There are the oddities of the time such as using cabbage leaves to protect against the heat, and the infamous incident of a fortune teller predicting Jacques Anquetil’s death mid-race.
The race starts in Rennes and Edward “Ward” Sels (Solo-Superior) wins Stage 1 and takes the yellow jersey. The Belgian keeps it on Stage 2, a stage described as “as locked down as a safe” in the pages of L’Equipe and so far no breakaway has managed get a gap on the bunch. André Darrigade, one of the all time sprint greats, wins the sprint.
Stage 3 is a split stage and sees the race cross into Belgium in the morning for what should be a triumphant homecoming for Sels, only his modest team mate Bernard Van de Kerckhove joins a breakaway, wins the stage and takes the race lead, accidentally steal his leader’s thunder. The afternoon has a 21.7km team time trial with a convoluted formula for times but KAS-Kaskol wins and Poulidor’s Mercier-BP-Hutchinson team finishes 14 seconds faster than Anquetil’s Saint Raphaël-Gitane-Campagnolo team while Van de Kerckhove stays in the lead. Sels and Van de Kerckhove aren’t just team mates, they’re room mates that evening and things are frosty.
Stage 4 is a 292km jaunt to Metz where German rider Rudi Altig (Saint Raphaël) wins the stage and gets plenty of applause from the local population, some of whom were born German and became French after the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Thanks to the substantial one minute time bonus Altig propels himself up the GC on the eve of the Tour’s visit to Germany.
Stage 5 and the big news is the race is going to Germany for the first time. Decades before, Tour founder Henri Desgrange loved to take the race to France’s eastern border with Germany and ride into areas that were once German, a sporting version of revanchisme explained in more detail in Nationalism, Psychogeography and the Tour de France. Now the race is actually going into Germany with a finish in Freiburg and Desgrange’s edgy tone is gone, instead gendarmes and Polizei cooperate and L’Equipe describes the stage as a shared endeavour between France and Germany.
It’s 161km, dubbed as short stage for “le cyclisme moderne” by the TV commentary, designed make the racing more lively as opposed to the “interminable randonnées which made up the large part of old editions”. The stage crosses the Vosges mountains and the hero of the day is Altig who takes the yellow jersey on home soil, he’d broken away with young French rider Georges Groussard (Pelforth-Sauvage-Lejeune) with over 100km to go and they’re later joined by three more including Joseph Groussard, brother of Georges, and Willy Derboven (Solo-Superior) who joins as a “policeman” to mark Van de Kerckhove’s yellow jersey and sits on all day which allows him to stay fresh and he wins the stage, a consolation for his team as they lose the yellow jersey.
Stage 6 and a link between 1964 and 1989 as Dutch racer Henk Nijdam (Televizier) takes the stage to Besançon with a late attack. His son Jelle would win two stages of the 1989 edition, also with late attacks.
Stage 7 begins after a short bus transfer from Besançon to Champagnole. Today it’s normal and deliberate to have a finish in one town and a start the next day elsewhere but in 1964 this is is a rarity. The transfer is portrayed as modern, and so is the racing, the talk on TV is of the high speed of this edition and how close riders still are on the general classification when in the past they’d have lost or gained minutes so far thanks to splits and mishaps. The 195km route crosses the Jura mountains where Julio Jimenez wins the mountains points on the Col de la Faucille, showing his ambitions for the mountains competition. After the descent a thunderstorm breaks on the race and the conditions get dangerous. The peloton splits with Poulidor and Georges Groussard among the front group of about 20 and they take time on Anquetil with Jan Janssen (Pelforth) the stage winner (pictured above at a later point in the race).
Stage 8 is 248.5km and in the Alps, a giant stage. After an early start at 8.20am they cross three light passes: the Sixt, Marais and Tamié. Then the scale changes in the Maurienne valley and they scale the giant Col du Galibier via the Télégraphe. Anquetil and Poulidor slide into a move mid-stage which is the equivalent of poking a wasps’ nest. Federico Bahamontes (Margnat-Paloma-Dunlop) slips away on the approach to the Télégraphe with Henry Anglade (Pelforth) who is an outsider for the overall classification. Bahamontes floats away from Anglade as soon as they start Télégraphe to lead by 1m30s at the top of the climb but on the short descent Anglade reclaims thirty seconds, a reminder that Bahamontes seemed to climb faster than he could descend. The “Eagle of Toledo” extends his lead on the Galibier with enough time to enjoy the descent to Briançon and the stage win. Behind, Poulidor sets off in pursuit on the Galibier seemingly worried by Bahamontes taking so much time, and finishes second, taking the thirty second time bonus to move up to third overall with Georges Groussard in the same group who takes the yellow jersey. Anquetil had struggled on the Galibier but rejoins on the descent and only to puncture with one 1km go. Who is the favourite to win the race? Poulidor “without a doubt” announces TV commentator Robert Chapatte.
Stage 9 is 239km with the Tour going from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean in just two days. Bahamontes is first over the 2,802m Col de La Bonette-Restefond with Anquetil and Poulidor close behind and the rest of the race is scattered down the mountain. Things regroup on the descent with a lead group of 22 riders coming into the finish in Monaco on the ash-covered Louis II athletics stadium. Riders jostle for position ahead of the stadium’s entrance knowing it’ll be hard to overtake on the loose surface. Anquetil wins the battle to enter the track but Poulidor overtakes him and sprints for the line… Only the bell rings out and there’s another lap to do, allowing Anquetil to win the sprint for the stage ahead of Tom Simpson (Peugeot-BP-Englebert) and take the minute’s time bonus. Groussard stays in yellow.
Stage 10 is a split stage and the morning’s race is along the Côte d’Azur. Poulidor attacks from the start, presumably his wounded pride is smarting but he is quickly caught. A move containing Nijdam, Altig and Janssen goes clear with 17km to go and Janssen wins the stage to extend his the lead in the points competition.
Stage 10’s second half is a 20km time trial and Anquetil wins, 36 seconds ahead of Poulidor who get 20 seconds and 10 seconds respectively in time bonuses. Groussard finishes 24th and loses 2m51s to Anquetil but stays in yellow.
Stage 11 to Montpellier ends with a sprint finish but it was a lively day in roasting heat. Many riders put cabbage leaves under their caps or better still, put one under the cap and a second is tucked under the back of the cap and hangs out to shade the nape of the neck. Hydration is important and Anquetil reportedly got by with two bidons of tea, six bottles of Coca Cola… and two bottles of beer. The bunch split due to a crash, Anquetil tried a late attack but in the end Ward Sels took his second stage.
Stage 12 sees Nijdam in a late move again but he’s joined by compatriot Jo De Roo (Saint Raphaël) who wins the sprint for the stage win in Perpignan with the Pyrenees on the horizon.
Stage 13 goes to Andorra via the Col de la Perche and the seemingly endless combo of the Col de Puymorens and the Port d’Envalira. Julio Jimenez (KAS) takes off solo at the foot of the Perche and his lead goes up and up and he wins the stage by over eight minutes and closes in on Bahamontes for the mountains competition. Behind Anquetil and Poulidor trade soft attacks but the two big climbs are hard to exploit, the gradual gradients suit sitting on a wheel. Groussard is still in yellow with his Pelforth team mate Anglade now up to third overall.
The race reaches Andorra for the rest day but this is far from benign. A bored Anquetil decides to break with his habit of total rest and goes for a ride and drops by a party held by Radio Andorre for an interview. He’s tempted by some méchoui or a whole roasted lamb where he eats plenty, washed down with plenty of of sangria.
Stage 14 is out of Andorra to Toulouse. Before the Tour had started a fortune teller called Marcel Belline had a column in France Soir, a newspaper, and he had predicted Anquetil would die on Stage 14. Wacky? Yes, only Belline had called various world events and celebrity deaths, for example he foresaw Marilyn Monroe’s suicide in 1962 and President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 and plenty more, presumably he had his share of false alarms but newspapers adored his predictions while businessmen and politicians paid beaucoup for private sessions. As soon as the stage started Anquetil was in trouble. Was it nerves about this prophecy or was yesterday’s méchoui misfiring inside or a sangria hangover? Maybe it was all three but what was certain is that he’s dropped on the Envalira as Poulidor and his Mercier team set a fierce pace. It turns out they’d ridden 40km before the stage as a warm-up and their attack was pre-meditated. Yellow jersey Groussard is dropped too but Anquetil is further back and feeling dreadful, ready to quit even. Team mate Louis Rostollan is there to encourage him and push him back on his bike, literally as Anquetil would get a 15 second time penalty for being pushed by up the Envalira. Anquetil’s directeur Raphaël Géminiani hands up a drink, some accounts say it’s whisky, others champagne, but it’s just the tonic and, amid dense fog on the descent, Anquetil picks up Sels, then Groussard and the chase is on. Poulidor is still ahead in a group of seven as they exit the Pyrenees with Anquetil and Groussard’s group about a minute behind and the pursuit lasts 88km during which Poulidor seems to break a spoke in his wheel but he can’t afford to stop for a bike change or a spare wheel. Eventually Anquetil makes it back to Poulidor’s group and things ease up. With 24km to go Poulidor does get a new bike but his mechanic seems too excited and, instead of a helpful push to get going, shoves him to the ground. Anquetil and the others spot this, accelerate and Poulidor is left battling into a headwind and loses 2m36s. The stage is won by Ward Sels. Having hitched a ride to Anquetil Groussard stays in yellow with Poulidor slipping from third to sixth overall.
Stage 15 goes back into the Pyrenees with the Portet d’Aspet, the Col des Ares and the Col du Portillon before a descent to the finish in Luchon. After a calm start there’s a flurry of attacks with Bahamontes and Julio Jimenez duelling for the mountains points. More riders launch moves to win the stage with Tom Simpson and Francisco Gabica (KAS) looking strong. Only for Poulidor to burst out of the peloton on the Portillon, ride straight past Simpson and Gabica, and take the stage by 1m43s on the peloton with Anquetil and Groussard, with Bahamontes a few seconds behind having struggled on the descent. With the attack and the time bonus Poulidor is up 2m43, the misery of the previous day erased.
Stage 16 and more Pyrenees, 197km and the Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet, Soulor and Aubisque. On roads lined with people and reports of the densest crowds ever Jimenez and Bahamontes take off again out of Luchon and battle for the mountains competition. Jimenez is dropped and fights back but Bahamontes is the superior climber and out on the road is the virtual yellow jersey. He clears the Soulor solo and wins the stage. Groussard stays in yellow but Bahamontes is now just 35 seconds behind only the Pyrenees are done and Bahamontes has run out of road. Anquetil is at 1m26s, Poulidor at 1m36s.
Stage 17 is a 42km time trial in the Basque Country with a technical, hilly course. Anquetil wins the stage while George Groussard implodes, losing 5m59s and the yellow jersey. Anquetil is the new race leader but Poulidor “only” loses 37s on the stage to keep him in contact on the general classification, he’s less than a minute down with Bahamontes at 3m31s.
Stage 18 is almost a home start for André Darrigade, the top sprinter in his day. Only his day was a few years ago, he is 40 now. In a hectic finish he surges past Barry Hoban (Mercier) who looked to have the stage and wins in Bordeaux. It’s Darrigade’s 22nd career Tour de France stage win and his last.
Stage 19 is marked by tragedy. A vehicle in the publicity caravan skids on a tight bend in Port-de-Couze, a town on the banks of the Dordogne river. Seeing the danger the waiting crowd are moved to the other side of the road, only for a police tanker truck to lose control on the same bend but this time it swerves to the other side of the road, hitting the crowd and falling into a canal, taking many people into the water with it. Nine people die and many sustain grave injuries. People in the crowd spontaneously start a rescue mission, one spectator plunges into the canal to rescue the driver and more lives are saved. The race reaches the drama within a few minutes and the Tour’s medical staff work to help the victims as stunned riders look on, grizzly reports write of body parts in the canal. It’s the Tour de France’s worst tragedy and there is a memorial plaque beside the road today.
The riders resume the route but in a slow procession at first and a few kilometres later someone beside the road, presumably unaware of the tragedy, insults the riders for being lazy. Pierre Everaert gets off his bike to punch the man and the police are required to pull him off. The racing gets frantic for the final 20km and it’s a sprint and there’s a big crash within sight of the line which takes out plenty and Ward Sels wins again ahead of Mario Minieri (Salvarini) who broke his cleats just as he launched his sprint.
Stage 20 is the defining stage of the race, the battle between Anquetil and Poulidor on the Puy-de-Dôme that gives rise to the iconic photo which stands out as a highlight of the decade, possibly of a century of the sport. Only material from the time is rightly marked by the previous day’s tragedy. Poulidor is just 56 seconds down on Anquetil and better suited to the punchy summit finish with the final 4.5km at 11% and there’s a minute’s time bonus waiting at the top. Poulidor’s Mercier team get to work with a high tempo and as they start the final climb the lead group is down to 11 riders and as they reach the double-digit gradients with 5km to go it’s down to four riders: Bahamontes and Jimenez as the best climbers in the race and still locked in a contest for the mountains jersey, plus Anquetil and Poulidor as first and second overall. At 4km to go Jimenez attacks and moments later Bahamontes takes off in pursuit. It’s advantage Anquetil now as the time bonus Poulidor needs starts to look out of reach. The two match each other, riding side by side at times. With 900 metres to go Poulidor attacks and Anquetil’s bluff can last no longer and he cracks, conceding 42 seconds to Poulidor. It leaves Anquetil in yellow but only by 14 seconds, “13 seconds too much” he quips out of exhaustion at the summit but he’s tiring with the Giro in his legs.
Stage 21 and a 311km trip north to Orléans, transfers may be a new thing in 1964 but they’re still rare and the riders have to reach Paris under their own steam. The start sees Bahamontes send a team mate up the road early right at the start to take the mountains points at the Côte du Cratère and it’s job done for Joseph Novalès who wins the points making it arithmetically impossible for Jimenez to win the mountains competition, thus Bahamontes will win his sixth mountains competition. A break forms with 40km to go and the peloton sits up, letting the six quickly take time and it’s from the move that Jean Stablinski (Saint Raphaël), in his French champion’s jersey, wins the stage.
Stage 22 is a 118km morning spin from Orléans to Versailles. Still just 14 seconds down Raymond Poulidor tries an attack but it’s too obvious. Instead it’s the world champion Benoni Beheyt (Wiel’s-Groene Leeuw) who wins the stage, a prestigious win for a rider whose rainbow bands are not as illustrious as he’d like after being accused of “betrayal” in the Worlds where compatriot Rik Van Looy is the big favourite only for Beheyt to pip him in the sprint, a touch of lèse-majesté but Beheyt’s supporters say Van Looy was too confident, launching his sprint from afar and was fading so Beheyt’s move ensured a home win. Van Looy has abandoned this Tour in the first week but is a giant in the sport at the time with a prolific palmarès featuring every one day race worth winning.
The second part of Stage 22 is the final time trial from Versailles to Paris, 22km and on big boulevards lined by dense crowds. Anquetil is still just 14 seconds ahead of Poulidor with a 20 second time bonus up for grabs. It’s advantage Anquetil as the time trial specialist of his era but he’s deep into the third week of the second grand tour of the year, and besides a puncture is sufficient to spoil things. The duel is close with only a few seconds in it with Poulidor catching and passing Bahamontes and able to profit from the draft. It’s close between the pair until the final minutes when Poulidor starts to fade. Anquetil wins the stage with Rudy Altig second at 15s and Poulidor third at 21s.
The final classification sees Anquetil win his fifth Tour de France and his fourth consecutive victory with Poulidor second overall at 55s, the closest ever winning margin in the race so far (and still the ninth closest Tour today). Bahamontes is third at 4m44s and wins the mountains prize. Jan Janssen wins the points competition. Pelforth-Sauvage-Lejeune win the team competition thanks to Anglade, Groussard and André Foucher finishing fourth, fifth and sixth overall respectively. 132 riders started, 81 finished and the average speed was 35.4km/h.
Stage wins by team:
- St Raphaël: Anquetil x 4, Altig, De Roo, Stablinski = 7
- Solo-Superior: Sels x 4, Derboven, Vandekerckhove = 6
- Margnat-Paloma: Bahamontes x 2, Darrigade x 2 = 4
- KAS: Jimenez x 2, team time trial = 3
- Pelforth: Janssen x 2 = 2
- Mercier: Poulidor
- Televizier: Nijdam
- Wiel’s-Groene Leeuw: Beheyt
That’s the stage-by-stage processional account and if this is a long post, well it was a three week race. Indeed the events each stage are edited and abbreviated. The racing was often lively with moves surging clear, being caught, new attacks going and so on and this piece is long enough already without detailing all of each stage’s action from KM0 to the finish and listing the crashes and abandons. Even the flat stages could see a lot of action, only of course there was little TV coverage.
The point of this blog post is to put a bit more structure to the race and to view it day-by-day, to see how the Tour slowly unfolded rather than just look back at what made it such a good race. These days we equate the 1964 Tour to the Anquetil-Poulidor duel but there was a lot more going on, whether Jimenez and Bahamontes in the mountains, Groussard’s strong ride, Sel’s stage wins and more. The next and final part of this mini-series will try to look back at what made this such a good race and why it stuck in the memory.