Those who saw him ride say France’s Jacques Anquetil, the first rider to win the Tour de France five times, had the most sublime of cycling techniques. Elegant. Effortless. Pedal-powered poetry in motion.
In more modern times, thousands of media hours have been spent gushing over the way Alberto Contador dances on his pedals every time the road kicks upward. People like Contador and Anquetil are the David Gowers and the Mark Waughs of cycling. The naturals. That rare and annoying breed of sportsperson who, even when they’re dying on the inside, appear to be floating on air without a care in the world. They achieve great things and look great doing it.
“The sight of Jacques Anquetil on a bicycle gives credence to an idea we Americans find unpalatable, that of a natural aristocracy. From the first day he seriously straddled a top tube, “Anq” had a sense or perfection most riders spend a lifetime searching for. Between 1950, when he rode his first race, and nineteen years later, when he retired, Anquetil had countless frames underneath him, yet that indefinable poise was always there.”
American journalist, Owen Mulholland.
But for every artisan on the roads of the UCI WorldTour, there are many others who possess what might be politely described as ‘less refined’ approaches to their work. Top of the list is surely polarising Frenchman, Thomas Voeckler. Whilst the French public adore him, by his own admission, the Europcar mountain goat’s niggling style and melodramatic grimacing has won him few friends in the peloton over the years. In 2012 he famously told Cycling News “nine out of ten riders don’t like me.”
Of course, this hasn’t stopped Voeckler from becoming the most decorated French rider of his generation. He’s won four stages of the Tour de France, the KOM title in 2012 and has worn the maillot jaune for a remarkable 20 days in a career that isn’t yet over. That’s more than Fausto Coppi (19 days in yellow) and only two less than Greg LeMond and Laurent Fignon. Of current riders, only the Swiss TT machine, Fabian Cancellara, has more with 28 days in yellow.
So what do people like Voeckler teach us? Well, apart from how to really annoy your rivals, that professional sport is no beauty pageant. It’s about getting the job done with whatever skills you have at your disposal. Finding a way. I think they also remind us that on those rare occasions when substance and style do converge in the sporting arena, it’s something to be truly cherished. Because it doesn’t happen often.
In case you’re wondering…
Eddy Merckx holds the all-time record for days in yellow with 96. Phil Anderson and Stuart O’Grady share the lead for Aussie riders with 9, just ahead of Cadel Evans on 8.