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Cycling in France

One of the most popular sports for both men and women in France is Cycling. The country has many holidays in different types of environments that are tailor made for cycling holidays, and cycling as a family past time is a favorite activity. However, it is the major races that are being held within the country that really grasp the public’s attention. Cycling has always been popular on the European mainland, but over the last 20 years it has spread more evenly across the globe. This is especially true in Britain where the likes of Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins have become household names, whereas previously the average Brit would have had problems recognizing a cyclist.

This is not the case in France, and the summer months are often dominated by the headlines being made in the country’s favorite race, the Tour de France. Over a three-week period, the race is televised to a global audience of 3.5 billion people, and during the race period over 12 million people actually attend the event.

Bernard Hinault in the 1985 race

The race has been running for 110 years and it is now so big that it visits other countries for a number of legs to be completed. However, it is the weeks that the cyclists spend in the mountains that capture the public’s imagination. Completing the flat rides is tough enough but when the mountains are involved, the riders have to contend with scaling sheer heights and then coping with terrifying speeds when going downhill.

The race is seen as the ultimate test of the athlete’s endurance and those that win are seen as heroes. This is especially true of the French riders, as they have to cope each year with the country’s high levels of expectation. It is the dream of every French child to be riding along the Champs-Elysees on their way to victory. So far, the race has been won by French riders on 36 occasions. The last time the race was won by a home rider was in 1985 when Barnard Hinault won his 5th victory in the race. In all of the Tour de Frances he finished, he was either in first or second place.

Anquetil and Poulidor in battle elbow to elbow

In his career of racing competition, he won 28 different stages. He also won the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana and is only one of two cyclists who have won each race more than once. Jacques Anquetil became the first cyclist in 1964 to win the Tour de France on five separate occasions. He was famed for being able to ride alone and pace himself against the clock. His determination to win was shown in his last victory in 1964 when he had a personal battle with rival and public favorite Raymond Poulidor.

The big moment came in the battle riding up the Puy de Dome mountain. The riders rode elbow to elbow with Anquetil suffering from indigestion. It took great will power to keep alongside Poulidor throughout the steep climb which was lined by half a million spectators. Although Poulidor won the stage he was unable to win by the margin he needed and Anquetil went on to record his fifth tour victory.

Anquetil went on to win and become the first rider to win the three major tours. For Poulidor it was another second place in a race in which he achieved a second place three times and third place five times. He became a crowd favorite and was known as “the eternal second”. His one major victory came in 1964 when he won the Vuelta a Espana. Louison Bobet was another successful French cyclist. In the period following the Second World War, he won the Tour de France three times between 1953 and 1955. It took him 4 races before he achieved his first victory but for the three-year period he was virtually unstoppable, winning a number of other races around Europe.

Successful cyclists have heroic status in France and it is amazing that there has been no French winners of the Tour de France for 31 years. The country waits eagerly for its next celebration of domestic success.