Summary: Rivalries spark viewership to new highs while a mountain top death was the tragedy that sparked new rules requiring the first drug testing.
Sponsored Teams Again
The 1960s saw a return to sponsored teams and commercialism yet the Tour still offered lots of intrigue and drama. The Tour was the most watched event in cycling and the sponsors badly needed the publicity. The Tour’s biggest rivals, Poulidor and Anquetil, truly disliked each other and this drew fans in.
For many years, Anquetil was the greatest time-trialist in history. He won 12 of these tests in the Tour de France and even set a world record before he first won the Tour. Anquetil had a bit of a reputation as a rebel. He once said that his idea of training included "a few whiskies, blonde cigarettes and a woman." His wayward ways extended into his private life. He an affair with a doctor's wife, a woman named Jeanine, and when he learned that she couldn’t bear him a child, he persuaded her to let him have a baby with her adult daughter, a woman named Annie. They had a child named Sophie. Of course, Annie and Jeanine began to quarrel. Annie moved out and Jeanine invited her son and his wife, Dominique, to move in. Anquetil promptly seduced Dominique and a son, Christopher.
Anquetil took his wild ways to his cycling events. Most riders always go for a ride on the rest day because their bodies are so used to cycling. Jacques Anquetil, however, liked to enjoy life. He would go to a picnic and enjoy himself on big portions of barbecued lamb and lots of drink.
Anquetil, the five-time winner, sat out 1965 and returned in 1966. But this would be his last Tour.
Tragedy Strikes, Doping Raises its Ugly Head
In 1967, tragedy struck and this would be the year the Tour would first become tainted by a doping scandal. Tom Simpson was the best British rider of his day. Sadly, he fell victim to doping but actually died due to the heat as he crossed Mont Ventoux. His death led to the first drug testing in 1968.
Tom Simpson was a very well regarded racer. His sole goal in life was winning the Tour. Simpson knew he had to deliver. He turned to drugs, something that wasn’t new to the Tour. For some time now many riders had been using a life-threatening cocktail of drugs: amphetamines as a stimulant, Palfium to kill the pain in their legs and then sleeping pills at night to counteract the amphetamines.
Cycling began to grapple with this problem The first races were staggeringly long and tested the limits of human endurance. Stages in the early Tour could take over 17 hours to complete. From the beginning riders took various substances to allow them to complete their ordeals. When the Pélissier brothers withdrew from the 1924 Tour and gave their famous interview to Albert Londres they described the long list of drugs they took. "We run on dynamite," Henri Pélissier said.
Before World War Two amphetamines were synthesized and athletes immediately understood the advantage they gave. Through the fifties it was clear to observers that riders were doping. There were pictures of racers with dried foam on their faces or of riders driven mad by a combination of heat and amphetamines stopping in the middle of a race to find relief in a fountain. After riding until he collapsed Jean Malléjac lay on the ground still strapped to his bike, his legs convulsively pumping the pedals. Others would remount their bikes and go the wrong way. Sometimes one could almost follow the route of a race by the trail of syringes left by the side of the road. Roger Rivière crashed in 1960 because he had taken so much of the opiate Palfium to kill the pain in his legs that he couldn't feel the brake levers. Bahamontes said that he loved a good hot day in the mountains because the riders juiced up on amphetamines couldn't take the heat.
Was Tom Simpson a bad person or a hero? He was neither. He knew that riding without dope wasn’t possible,
The day after Simpson’s death. the peloton agreed to ride if one of Simpson's British teammates would be allowed a ceremonial stage victory to honor Simpson's memory.
Merckx Rules the Road
Eddy Merckx of Belgium won in 1969, a stunning debut that earned him the nickname "cannibal," a rider ready to devour everything it takes to win. Merckx flew into Paris with a 17 minute lead. Merckx dominated the cycling world, winning 250 major races, one a week for six years. Without a doubt he was the most complete and capable rider alive.
In 1975 Merckx was finally beaten by Bernard Thevenet. Merckx had been punched and knocked from his bike by a jealous French fan. This is the first year that the race finishes along the Champs Elysees
France celebrated Thevenet’s second win in 1977. He was a bit of a wonder boy, with seven more home wins until the last, in 1985.
The race's next hero was a blunt Frenchman from Brittany, Hinault, who would become the third man to win five Tours. The years between 1978 and 1984 became known as "le blaireau" (the badger’s) golden era.
Then France cheered a new hero, a sophisticated bespectacled young Parisian called Laurent Fignon. Fignon rode into his home city of Paris in yellow, beating Hinault by 10 minutes and proving that 1983 had been no fluke.
- 1960 Gastone Nencini (Ita)
- 1961 Jacques Anquetil (Fra)
- 1962 Jacques Anquetil (Fra)
- 1963 Jacques Anquetil (Fra)
- 1964 Jacques Anquetil (Fra)
- 1965 Felice Gimondi (Ita)
- 1966 Lucien Aimar (Fra)
- 1967 Roger Pingeon (Fra)
- 1968 Jan Janssen (Ned)
- 1969 Eddy Merckx (Bel)
- 1970 Eddy Merckx (Bel)
- 1971 Eddy Merckx (Bel)
- 1972 Eddy Merckx (Bel)
- 1973 Luis Ocana (Spa)
- 1974 Eddy Merckx (Bel)
- 1975 Bernard Thevenet (Fra)
- 1976 Lucien Van Impe (Bel)
- 1977 Bernard Thevenet (Fra)
- 1978 Bernard Hinault (Fra)
- 1979 Bernard Hinault (Fra)
- 1980 Joop Zoetemelk (Ned)