Jacques Anquetil is France’s greatest cyclist, five times winner of the Tour and winner of 8 tours in total. For 19 years, he dominated his sport with his graceful riding style, and was considered a very intelligent and articulate rider. His era was the 1950’s and ’60’s, riding Gitane and Heylett bikes, and he died quite young in 1987. His great rival was Raymond Poulidor, who was often second behind Anquetil in major races, and it became something of a joke to the French. Yet, Poulidor was always the more popular rider, loved for his beaten brow and being the tough underdog, a rider of the hard-working people.
Who Built the Bike?
It’s no wonder the name Anquetil has adorned so many French bikes over the years, and you can imagine how French bike companies lined up to put “Anquetil” decals on their bikes. I think this bike was probably built by France Loire or Jeunet, though its difficult to be sure. Gitane, Cizeron and other manufacturers all built bikes with Anquetil’s name on them, but this particular bike seems to be from long past Anquetil’s retirement in 1969; I imagine this bike is from the early 1980’s.
Loved and Loathed
Jacques Anquetil cuts quite a complex figure through the great sport of cycling in France. He engenders the difficulty of capturing French hearts, for all his success and graceful riding style. Perhaps he is a mirror to the divisions and struggles of French society, for their cynicism and antipathy of him. It is well known that he was often spat at and jeered on the stages of the Tour De France, even at the height of his career.
What I like about the Bike
I love the colour of this bike, a kind of mint, shiny and luminous even after all these years. It has some lovely details, the stamped seat lug cluster, the long Bocama lugs with gold details, the ornate fork crowns, and the nice linear decorations on the tubes. The decals are simple plain stickers over the paint. Mountings for derailleurs and shifters are by traditional clamps and brackets, and the frame has French threading, a clue that the bike was built before this type of threading was replaced in 1982. Supplanted too, are the conventional Huret or Simplex components; this bike was built with Shimano 600 Arabesque parts, a sign of Shimano’s ever increasing presence in the French and European bike market at this time. Here is a good comparison of the Super Vitus frameset against a rival Peugeot:
- This 57cm Super Vitus frameset weight: 3168 grams
- 58cm Peugeot Reynolds 531 ( main tubes ) PFN10 weight: 3782 grams
The Anquetil Brand
Bikes with the Anquetil name on them sold in large numbers over the decades in France, and though they were exported internationally, a great many of them are still to be found on French roads. You can see them tied up around lampposts outside universities and colleges, or turned into fixies by a new generation of riders, still keen to ride on a frame with such a legendary name. However, most of the Anquetils you’ll see are basic, low end bikes, with basic steel tubing and functional parts. Few, in my experience, were made to this bike’s standard.
The Bad Points
This bike needs a good clean and a tune up, not much more. The bikes headset feels rough, and may need regreasing; the hubs are greasy as well as the crankset, and it needs its brakes and gears tuned. Its biggest problem is its strangely ill-fitting seatpost. For some reason, the post is too small and does not belong to this bike. I’m guessing, as it has superior Super Vitus tubes, that the seatpost needs to be a 26.6mm, and the current seatpost is only a 26.2mm.
The Shimano groupset, I must admit, does look impressive. I really like the design of the crankset, and I haven’t seen many of this particular style in the 600 range. Shimano may have been imitative and brazenly aping their rivals, but there’s no doubt that they made a distinctive and attractive groupset in this particular Arabesque design. Bertin bikes of this period often had Shimano 600 group sets as the Japanese company made deals with established French firms, but I don’t believe this is a Bertin bike. Here is similar one.
The Rivalry and France
The more you read about the Anquetil – Poulidor rivalry of the 1950’s and 60’s, the more you become immersed into the wider sweep of social history of France itself. That two cyclists represented different elements of the French social psyche and constitution, isn’t an overstatement of the significance these two men had on the hearts and minds of the French in this period. Agriculture underpins much of France’s life and culture, the hardships of toiling in the fields and working the harvest, being at the mercy of storms and droughts, crop spoilage and disaster.
The Real Hero of the Times
The man who made success look so easy, and who won so much in his career, Anquetil, didn’t perhaps represent the outlook of some of France’s agricultural ethos; life is hard, and success never comes. Is it too much of a reach to say that this explains why Poulidor bikes, like this one, were made with simple frames and understated designs? Poulidor was second-best to Anquetil, but his hardships and disadvantage won him into the hearts of the French during his career. Perhaps an old Vosges ( eastern France ) saying about the hardships of life sums up why the French chose Poulidor as their favourite:
“Poor peoples’ bread always burns in the oven”
- Jacques Anquetil Super Vitus Road Bike
- 1980? No Serial Number
- 57cm Frame, Centre to Top, 57cm Top Tube, C- C
- Vitus Dropouts, Becoma Long Pointed Lugs
- 12 Speed, 6 x 2, Friction Shifters
- Mavic Module C 700 Clincher Rims, 700 x 23 Michelin Tyres
- Full Shimano 600 Arabesque Groupset
- Belleri Stem 22mm Quill, 125mm Reach
- Belleri Engraved Handlebars
- Kyokuto Top Run Pedals
- Royal GT Saddle
- 26.6mm Seatpost
- Unknown Headset, French Threaded
- Shimano 600 Bottom Bracket, 35 x 1 Thread