Raymond Poulidor

"Pou-Pou" redirects here. For other uses, see Poo-poo (disambiguation).
Raymond Poulidor

Poulidor at the 1966 Tour de France
Personal information
Full name Raymond Poulidor
Nickname Poupou
Born (1936-04-15) 15 April 1936
Masbaraud-Mérignat, Limousin, France
Team information
Discipline Road
Role Rider
Professional team(s)
1960–1977 Mercier-BP-Hutchinson
Major wins

Grand Tours

Vuelta a España
General Classification (1964)
4 individual stages
Tour de France
7 individual stages

Stage races

Critérium International (1964, 1966, 1968, 1971–72)
Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré (1966, 1969)
Paris–Nice (1972–73)

One-day races and Classics

Milan–San Remo (1961)
La Flèche Wallonne (1963)
Grand Prix des Nations (1963)

Raymond Poulidor (born 15 April 1936), nicknamed "Pou-Pou", is a French former professional bicycle racer, who rode for Mercier his entire career.

His career was distinguished, despite coinciding with two great riders - Jacques Anquetil and Eddy Merckx. This underdog position may have been the reason Poulidor was a favourite of the public. He was known as the "The Eternal Second", because he never won the Tour de France despite finishing in second place three times, and in third place five times (including his final Tour at the age of 40). Despite his consistency, he never once wore the yellow jersey in 14 Tours, of which he completed 12. In 2008 Jean-Joseph Sanfourche commissioned a thank Mr. Poulidor lithography, he handed to Raymond Poulidor, in Saint Leonard de Noblat.

Early life and amateur career

Raymond Poulidor was the son of Martial and Maria Poulidor, small farmers outside the hamlet of Masbaraud-Mérignat, where the Creuse region east of Limoges meets the département of Haute-Vienne. He was born in the same year that his eventual directeur sportif, Antonin Magne, became world road race champion. Poulidor began working on the farm where, he remembered, "the soil was poor and we had to work hard; farming incomes were poor."[1] The need for working hands on the farm meant he left school at 14 even though he wanted to continue his studies. Local entertainment went little further than village fairs, with coconut shies, sack-races, competitions for bottles of home-made jam... and inter-village cycle races.[1]

Poulidor rode on a bike given to him by André Marquet, who ran a cycle shop in nearby Sauviat-sur-Vige. Marquet took Poulidor to his first races by motorcycle.

Success on a local level came quickly and Poulidor added the money he won — which he said could be considerable at the time because the crowd put up prizes all through the race — to the family's income. He acquired his first racing licence when joined La Pédale Marchoise at La Forêt-Montboucher when he was 17. He came seventh in his first race, at St-Mareil. He wanted to ride the local round of a national youth competition called the Premier Pas [First Step] Dunlop. It fell in the middle of harvest, however, and Poulidor could train only at night after 15 hours in the fields. He raced for three years as an amateur, once beating Louison Bobet.

It was only when Poulidor was taken into the army for compulsory national service in 1955 that he first travelled in a train. Pierre Chany, a French reporter who followed 49 Tours de France, drew the comparison with Poulidor's eventual rival, Jacques Anquetil: by the time Poulidor first stepped into a train, Anquetil had already been to Helsinki, ridden the Olympic Games, won a medal for France, turned professional and won the Grand Prix des Nations. Yet there was less than two years between them.[2]

The army sent Poulidor to the war then going on in Algeria, where he worked as a driver and put on 12 kg through lack of exercise. In 1960 he dedicated himself to cycling again and lost the weight in a month.[1] He won his first race after army service by six minutes. When he then came second in the GP de Peyrat-le-Château and won 80,000 old francs, he calculated that he had won more in one race than he would have earned in six years on the farm.

His farming background went before him and whenever he won a prize, other riders would laugh: "Hey, Pouli [his original nickname] can buy himself another cow!" Poulidor referred to his background throughout his career, once remarking: "No race, however difficult, goes on as long as a harvest."

Professional career

Poulidor was discovered in 1959 by another French rider, Bernard Gauthier, who said in the Belgian publication Coups de Pédales:

It was me who brought Poulidor to Mercier where, like Desbats and me, he spent all his career. In a criterium, I saw this unknown who was riding all around us. I saw him again in the Bol d'Or and I spoke to him. He said he hadn't yet got a team but that he was in talks. When I got home, I spoke straight away to Antonin Magne, who asked me: "You're sure that he rides well?" I said I was and he contacted him and took him on.

Poulidor said it happened at Peyrat-le-Château, near St Léonard-de-Noblat. Gauthier had just won his fourth Bordeaux–Paris, but... "...that day, I lapped him, I took four laps out of him, even though it was a very difficult circuit. He was very impressed."[3]

Magne offered Poulidor 25,000 old francs a month. Poulidor asked for 30,000. Magne countered that that was more than he paid Gauthier and Louis Privat and refused. Later, aware that he had a rival for Anquetil, he conceded.[4]

Gauthier's confidence was justified when in 1961 Poulidor won Milan–San Remo in his second season as a professional. He started the race stung by Press criticism of his tactical sense; he had attacked but been caught by the bunch five kilometres from the finish of the Grand Prix de Nice. Poulidor got off to a bad start in Milan–San Remo when he punctured before halfway and lost two minutes. Magne insisted that he chase back to the race, which he did, catching up in time to ride the Capo Verde hill with 20 km to go. He recovered fast enough to counter an attack by Jean-Claude Annaert, catching him with the Dutchman Ab Geldermans, who had won the previous year's Liège–Bastogne–Liège. Poulidor attacked and dropped Annaert, then left Geldermans. He had a lead of 20 seconds at the summit. He stayed clear alone to win by three seconds from Rik van Looy of Belgium.

The Anquetil years

Poulidor at the 1966 Tour de France

Poulidor's rivalry with Anquetil is a legend in cycling. While a good climber, Poulidor had a hard time matching Anquetil in the individual time trial, often having victory snatched from him by losing time in time-trial stages of the Tour de France.

Poulidor's riding style was aggressive and attacking, whereas Anquetil preferred to control the race in the mountains and win time in the time-trials. Poulidor became the darling of the French public, to the ire of Anquetil. Poulidor's mid-France upbringing and his slow Limousin speech also contrasted with Anquetil's northern background and sharper accent. Poulidor's face was deeply tanned and furrowed; Anquetil had high cheekbones, a smoother face and brushed-up blond hair.

Poulidor's best chance of defeating Anquetil came in the 1964 Tour de France, in the finish on the Puy de Dôme. Anquetil rode beside Poulidor but both were so exhausted that only in the last few hundred metres could Poulidor take nearly enough time to threaten Anquetil's yellow jersey.[5] The Tour organiser, Jacques Goddet, was behind the pair as they turned off the main road and climbed through what police estimated as half a million spectators.

Anquetil rode on the inside by the mountain wall while Poulidor took the outer edge by the precipice. They could sometimes feel the other's hot gasps on their bare arms. At the end, Anquetil cracked, after a battle of wills and legs so intense that at times they banged elbows. Poulidor says he was so tired that he has no memory of the two touching, although a photograph[6] shows that they did.[5] Of Anquetil, the veteran French reporter Pierre Chany wrote: "His face, until then purple, lost all its colour; the sweat ran down in drops through the creases of his cheeks." Anquetil was only semiconscious, he said. Poulidor gained time but when they reached Paris, Anquetil still had a 55-second lead and won his last Tour de France thanks to the time-trial on the final day.

Anquetil-Poulidor: the social significance

Anquetil unfailingly beat Poulidor in the Tour de France and yet Poulidor remained the more popular. "The more unlucky I was, the more the public liked me and the more money I earned", he said.[5] Divisions between fans became marked, which two sociologists studying the impact of the Tour on French society say became emblematic of France old and new. Research showed that more than 4,000 newspaper articles appeared about him in France in just 1974 and that no other rider "had ever incited so many sociological investigations, so many university theses, seeking to find the cause of his prodigious popularity.[4]

Poupou, the nickname

Poulidor's original nickname was Pouli. It was Émile Besson[7] of the daily newspaper L'Humanité who first wrote of Poupou. The name was taken up throughout France, leading to headlines such as "Poupoularité" in L'Équipe. A poupée is a doll and the nickname hints at that and follows the French tradition of repeating the first syllable of a word in childspeak. Poulidor has never liked the name but accepts it.

The Merckx years

Poulidor at the 1976 Tour de France

The end of the Anquetil era presented opportunities for Poulidor to finally win the Tour de France. This was not to be due to injuries in 1967 and 1968, and the arrival of Eddy Merckx in 1969. Poulidor was no match for Merckx, although he offered much resistance.

In the 1973 Tour Poulidor almost lost his life on the descent from the Col de Portet d'Aspet when he plunged into a ravine, taking a serious blow to the head and crawling out with the help of the race director, Jacques Goddet.

Poulidor and Dr Mabuse

Antonin Magne remained manager of Poulidor's Mercier team until 1970, when he was replaced by another former rider, Louis Caput. Caput brought with him as deputy directeur sportif a man who described himself as a homeopath, Bernard Sainz. Sainz is known in cycling as Dr Mabuse, after a pulp-fiction character created by Norbert Jacques. Mabuse is a criminal mastermind who becomes rich through hypnotic powers. He plots to take over the world but is foiled by the police. From his cell he masterminds criminal plots by writing endless gibberish. Sainz recognises the nickname and used it in the name of his autobiography.[8]

He is a former velodrome rider of national level who stopped racing after a fall and became involved in horse racing, where he was twice convicted of maltreating horses. It was in horse-racing, where he turned unremarkable animals into champions, that he acquired his nickname. He has been repeatedly investigated by police and has been convicted of illegally practising medicine and incitement to doping. He claims that he only engages in homeopathic treatment, though whatever methods he engages in are effective, casting doubt on this claim.[9]

Louis Caput approached Edmond Mercier, the bicycle-maker behind Poulidor's team, and asked to bring Sainz into the team management. Mercier agreed, said Sainz, because he was already treating Mercier for his own health problems. Mercier had also brought in the insurance company, GAN, as main sponsor. GAN, said Sainz, demanded that Poulidor be in the team photo even if all he did was train with the team at the start of the season. In 1971 Poulidor had decided against riding any more. The tactic, Sainz said, was bluff, to increase his motivation. In Paris–Nice, the first important stage race of the season, Poulidor was 22 seconds behind Eddy Merckx on the morning of the last day. Poulidor attacked from the start, setting a speed record on the Col de la Turbie that stood for more than 10 years and won Paris–Nice by two seconds. Next year he won Paris–Nice again and also the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré.


Raymond Poulidor was the first rider to be tested for drugs in the Tour de France.[10] Testers arrived at the Tour for the first time in 1966, in Bordeaux, although only after word had spread and many riders had left their hotels. The first competitor they found was Poulidor.[10]

A few other riders were found, including Rik van Looy, and some obliged and others refused. Next morning, the race left the city on the way to the Pyrenees and stopped in the suburb of Gradignan, in the university area of La House. The riders climbed off and began walking, shouting protests in general and in particular abuse at the race doctor, Pierre Dumas, whom some demanded should also take a test to see if he'd been drinking wine or taking aspirin to make his own job easier. Riders also criticised Poulidor for accepting to be tested. He dismissed their protests and stayed at the back of the strike. Other prominent riders, including Jacques Anquetil, were at the front. Poulidor said his indifference to the controls and the strike harmed his relations with fellow riders. "After that, they did me no favours in the peloton", he said.[5]


Poulidor at the 2004 Tour de France

Poulidor has several times accepted that his career was handicapped by a lack of ambition and by the psychological domination of Jacques Anquetil. Poulidor said in an interview in 1992: I knew straight away that I was getting places everywhere. I got all the leaders' jerseys but I used to lose them. Tonin [Magne] said to me "Raymond, you're always in a daydream!" And was that true? Were you distracted? It was true. I thought what was happening to me was already marvellous enough. I never thought of winning. Never, ever, did I get up in the morning with the idea of winning![11]

On 25 January 1973 Poulidor was made a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur. In 2003 the President, Jacques Chirac increased the award.[12] Poulidor also has a rose named after him, reflecting his love of gardening in general and roses in particular.

He lives with his wife Gisèle in Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat, east of Limoges, where he makes short trips on his mountain bike. Their daughter, Corinne, is married to the former world cyclo-cross champion and Tour of Flanders winner Adri van der Poel.[13] His grandsons David and Mathieu are also cyclists. Mathieu van der Poel became cyclo-cross world champion himself in the junior race in Koksijde in 2012 (Koksijde) and in 2013 in Louisville, and with the elite in 2015 in Tabor.

Poulidor works in public relations for one of the subsidiary sponsors during the Tour, has bicycles made under his name by the France-Loire company, and has appeared in television commercials aimed at older people.

When asked about his longevity compared to fellow cyclists, Poulidor said he took things in moderation and did not overstretch himself.

Poulidor has written several biographies, the first of which was Gloire sans le Maillot Jaune, written in 1964. Poulidor Intime was published in May 2007 by Éditions Jacob-Duvernet in France. In 2004 he helped write Poulidor par Raymond Poulidor with the radio reporter Jean-Paul Brouchon. The preface is by Eddy Merckx. Several other books have appeared about him. Raymond Poulidor and Jean-Joseph Sanfourche, two of the most famous inhabitants of Saint Léonard de Noblat, who posed for posterity, during a friendly meeting and given to Raymond Poulidor a work paying tribute to his sporting achievements.

Career achievements

Major results

 France National road championship
Milan–San Remo
Tour de France:
Winner stage 19
3rd overall
Bol d'Or des Monédières Chaumeil
GP Lugano, Chrono
Weekend Ardennais
La Flèche Wallonne
Grand Prix des Nations
Tour de France:
8th overall
Super Prestige Pernod International
Critérium International
GP de Cannes
GP de Soissons
Ronde de Seignelay
Vuelta a España:
Winner stage 15
Winner overall
Tour de France:
Winner stage 15
2nd overall
Escalada a Montjuïc
Tour de France:
Winner stages 5B and 14
2nd overall
Vuelta a España:
Winner stages 4A and 16
2nd overall
Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré
Critérium International
Tour de France:
Winner stage 14B
3rd overall
Bol d'Or des Monédières Chaumeil
Circuit de l'Aulne
Vuelta a España:
Winner stage 15B
8th overall
Tour de France:
Winner stage 22B
9th overall
A Travers Lausanne
Escalada a Montjuïc
Critérium International
Escalada a Montjuïc
Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré
Tour du Haut Var
Tour de France:
3rd overall
Tour de France:
7th overall
Critérium International
Setmana Catalana de Ciclisme
Étoile des Espoirs
Vuelta a España:
9th overall
Critérium des As
Critérium International
Tour de France:
3rd overall
GP de Soissons
Grand Prix du Midi Libre
Tour de France:
Winner stage 16
2nd overall
Tour de France:
3rd overall

Grand Tour general classification results timeline

Grand Tour 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976
Giro d'Italia
Tour de France 3 8 2 2 3 9 DNF 3 7 3 DNF 2 19 3
Vuelta a España 1 2 8 9

—: did not participate


  1. 1 2 3 Colin, Jacques (2001): Paroles de Peloton, Éditions Solar, France
  2. Penot, Christophe (1996), Pierre Chany, l'homme aux 50 Tour de France, Éditions Cristel, France
  3. Interview Jérome Benoît, http://jerome.benoit.free.fr/poulidor.htm, retrieved December 2007
  4. 1 2 L'indemodable, L'Équipe, France, 27 June 2003
  5. 1 2 3 4 Le Tour m'a tout donné, L'Équipe, France, 13 July 2004
  6. The negative has vanished, which Poulidor said added to the "mystery of Poulidor; Le Tour m'a tout donné, L'Équipe, France, 13 July 2004
  7. Émile Besson joined the Resistance, became a communist and worked all his life for the communist press, first the Union Française d'Information and then the daily paper, L'Humanité. He started as a messenger and ended on Humanité's sports desk, where he stayed until he retired in 1987. He pioneered western interest in the Peace Race, run between Warsaw, Berlin and Prague and at one time the biggest amateur race in the world.
  8. Sainz, Bernard (2000): Les Stupéfiantes Révélations du Dr Mabuse, J.C. Lattes, France
  9. http://sports.espn.go.com/oly/cycling/news/story?id=5005374
  10. 1 2 Poulidor, Raymond: "J'appartiens à la légende", L'Équipe, France, 12 July 1999
  11. Vélo, France, January 1992
  12. Poulidor et Jalabert honorés, L'Équipe, France, 26 June 2003
  13. http://tour2003.dna.fr/162/index.html, retrieved December 2007
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