BRUSSELS — Raymond Poulidor, known as the “eternal runner-up” behind five-time Tour de France winners Jacques Anquetil and Eddy Merckx, has died. He was 83 years old.
Arguably France’s most popular cyclist, Poulidor secured a record eight podium finishes at cycling’s showpiece event during his career but never won it, and never wore the race leader’s famed yellow jersey.
Tour de France organizers confirmed Poulidor’s death on Wednesday after Tour director Christian Prudhomme spoke with his family.
Poulidor had been hospitalized last month after a bout of fatigue he suffered this summer during the Tour, where he worked every year as an ambassador for the yellow jersey’s sponsor. Quite ironically, considering he never got to wear it during his racing career, he wore a yellow shirt every day for this activity during the grueling stage race.
Poulidor, who took part in 14 Tours from 1962-76, finished in second place three times and was third five times. The fact he never quite got the better of the elegant but tough Anquetil made him a firm favorite with fans.
The son of sharecroppers, Poulidor’s popularity was unmatched despite never winning the Tour.
Nicknamed “Poupou” by his adoring fans, Poulidor was a loveable and down to earth competitor. He kept the same warmth and approachability after his career ended, always up for a chat with his admirers and ready to sign autographs or pose for pictures.
Poulidor turned professional in 1960 and achieved much success with the French Mercier team before he retired in 1977, a year after he finished third in his final Tour de France behind Lucien Van Impe and Joop Zoetemelk at the age of 40.
Poulidor’s career appeared somewhat cursed by ill fate, since it came during an era of greatness in cycling and wedged him between incredibly strong riders Anquetil and Merckx, who both won a record five Tours.
Despite falling short at the Tour, he was more than merely a second fiddle. He was an all-rounder graced by great climbing skills and posted prestigious wins at the Milan-San Remo and Walloon Arrow classics, the Spanish Vuelta – his only Grand Tour win – and the Paris-Nice stage race.
His rivalry with Anquetil in the 1960’s dominated the sporting agenda, splitting France into two camps, and his Tour ambitions were later frustrated by Merckx’s sheer dominance.
It did not prevent him from taking the spotlight and making headlines. In 1962, he made his Tour debut with a broken finger and put on a great show in the Alps to win a daunting stage featuring five climbs with a commanding three-minute lead.
Two years later, Poulidor started the `64 Tour with the favorite’s tag on his back, having won the Vuelta earlier that year. After dropping Anquetil during a Pyrenean stage, he reached the top of the port d’Envalira climb with a three-minute lead over his nemesis. But Anquetil rode at breakneck speed in the descent to catch up with his rival, before Poulidor hit the tarmac in the fog and eventually lost two minutes.
At the `68 Tour, he was involved in a serious crash after a motorbike knocked him over and fell on top of him.
“I was unlucky, but the bike brought me more than it cost me,” Poulidor once said, reflecting on his mishap with typical wry humor.