When most people think of professional cycling today, the name Lance Armstrong probably still comes to mind. Between 1999 and 2005, Armstrong won a record seven Tours de France, only to have them all tossed out in 2012 after it was revealed the Texan had been using performance-enhancing drugs. Between 1957 and 1964, a Frenchman named Jacques Anquetil won five Tours, also – by his own repeated admission at the time – on drugs. But the trait shared by Armstrong and Anquetil that interests authors Shelly and Brett Horton in Shoulder to Shoulder: Bicycle Racing in the Age of Anquetil is not doping but celebrity. Forget Armstrong (in their book, the Hortons do just that): What John F. Kennedy was to U.S. presidents and The Beatles were to rock ’n’ roll, Anquetil was to cycling.
Anquetil’s story, as well as that of other Anquetil-era racers like Tom Simpson of England, Federico Bahamontes of Spain, and Rik van Looy of Belgium, is told through more than 100 magazine and newspaper photos collected and restored by the Hortons. Each photo is captioned, though not sourced, and accompanied by a short note in the back of the slim volume. We learn, for example, that a 1962 photo of the driver of a support car, who’s leaning out the car’s window to drip oil on the rear gears of a cyclist’s bike during the Circuit des Boucles de la Seine, actually depicts a ruse to give the unidentified rider a chance to lean on the car’s fender for a precious few seconds. As for the photo of Rik van Looy smoking a cigarette as he pedaled during the 1961 Giro d’Italia, it makes you wonder if his pair of secondary classification and numerous stage victories in the Tour and Giro could have been parlayed into something more with healthier lungs.
These glimpses of cycling in the sixties are welcome, as are the images of the punishing circuits, the mercurial weather, and the crashes that came about as a result of both. But the book’s focus is Anquetil, which means we get to see him as a young man being served soup by his mother, Marie. There are photos of Anquetil meeting the legend who preceded him, Fausto Coppi, and the cyclist who would equal his number of Tour victories, Eddie Merckx. We see Anquetil exulting during the 1962 Tour, which he won, cruising in a motorboat with his wife, Janine, and signing the inside of a leggy blonde’s thigh in a photo clearly staged for a nearby group of photographers. It all looks impossibly romantic and dashing, which, not coincidentally, was exactly the impression the world was given of Jacques Anquetil.
– Ben Marks
Shoulder to Shoulder: Bicycle Racing in the Age of Anquetil
by Shelly Horton and Brett Horton
2015, 120 pages, 7 x 8.3 x 0.6 inches