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Poulidor weighs in on Mont Ventoux

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While Raymond Poulidor (L) finished second overall to Felice Gimondi in the 1965 Tour de France, the Frenchman was able to win atop Mont Ventoux.

While Raymond Poulidor (L) finished second overall to Felice Gimondi in the 1965 Tour de France, the Frenchman was able to win atop Mont Ventoux. (Image credit: AFP)
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Raymond Poulidor at the 2009 Tour de France.

Raymond Poulidor at the 2009 Tour de France. (Image credit: Hedwig Kröner)

France's beloved Raymond Poulidor, "the eternal second", finished on the Tour podium eight times in his career, thrice second and five times third, and never wore yellow for one day of the 14 Tours he started. Despite never attaining overall victory at the Tour, one of Poulidor's most memorable wins occurred during the 1965 Tour de France's 14th stage, 173 kilometres from Montpellier to the summit of Mont Ventoux.

On paper, 1965 should have been Poulidor's year to triumph in the absence of arch-rival Jacques Anquetil, but nobody expected 22-year-old Italian Felice Gimondi, in his first year as a professional, to capture his solitary Tour victory.

However, Poulidor drew great satisfaction from his triumph on Mont Ventoux during which he moved into second place overall and reduced his GC deficit to only 34 seconds behind Gimondi. Poulidor bested Spain's Julio Jimenez, who he had been in a break with for much of the stage, by six seconds.

Gimondi made a superhuman effort to close the gap to Poulidor to 1:34 on the day, finishing in fourth place.

"Felice Gimondi took quite some time from me in the first part of the Tour that year. In the mountains I was able to distance him but it wasn't possible to make up all the time on him," Poulidor told Cyclingnews.

"That day, I won on the Mont Ventoux ahead of [Julio] Jimenez and Gimondi was in difficulty. He was able to restore the situation to his advantage in the end, and finally won the Tour de France. But the Mont Ventoux that day was part of my greatest victories, it was a revelation."

Poulidor commented on what makes Mont Ventoux such a special fixture in professional cycling. "You climb it from the south side, during a very hot season, in the beginning of the afternoon. It's practically a desert! There is no vegetation, nothing... the heat is unbearable, you can't breathe.

"The finish on top of the Ventoux is the finish of the stage, so you've already made considerable efforts beforehand in the stage. There had been attacks of those who thought they might have a chance to win...there is no time to recover."

Poulidor is particularly looking forward to watching Saturday's stage, where the Ventoux will see tired riders tackle this climb to the finish. "This year, it will be especially hard. It was a very good idea by the organiser to put the Ventoux practically at the end of the race.

"We will have three or four potential winners that day - one at the foot of the climb, another one halfway up, yet another one with three kilometres to go and the final winner in the finish! That would be absolutely extraordinary!

"Everything is possible that day. If there are three or four overall favourites within one minute of each other - or even more - nothing will be decided until the very last metres of the climb."

Read Cyclingnews' feature about the history of Mont Ventoux in the Tour de France.