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This year was different, because the sponsors of the Tour, along with the new Minister of Youth and Sport, a cabinet officer, had decided to make a frontal assault on the touchy subject of goofballs, which had been sustaining and succoring Tour de France racers ever since pills were invented. Every year, with no lack of bombast, Tour officials had been saying that the goofballs had to go, but this year they had backed that up by pushing through new laws providing for fines up to $1,000 and a year in jail. The spectacle of Poulidor being hauled off to the penitentiary struck terror into the other racers, because if Poulidor went, no one on the stuff was safe. Secret covenants were secretly arrived at, and the next morning the Tour departed from Bordeaux toward Bayonne at an ominously slow pace. Officials pulled their cars alongside the riders and inquired as to why they could not seem to move faster than a tortoisian 10 mph.
"Yesterday," said one of the racers, "an attempt was made against freedom of work and human dignity." He pedaled off, leaving the officials to ponder that arcane explanation. A few minutes later, along a shady stretch south of Bordeaux, the whole Tour de France ground to a stop. A Spanish racer started it by dismounting; a second joined him, and then every cyclist stepped from his bike and began slowly walking down the road, pushing his bike alongside. "My, my," said Poulidor merrily, "if we keep on walking, it will take us a long time to get to Bayonne!" With each step the riders began chanting in unison a word that is not in polite use in the United States and only slightly more acceptable in France (a fact that did not prevent the French press from using it repeatedly in articles about the scandal). After three minutes of rendering the air blue the strike ended, as quietly as it had started, and the riders revved up to normal racing speeds.
That night the directors of the Tour sputtered and fumed. "We're going to discuss the matter," one told the press. "It's a very delicate thing. We don't know who started it and who are the leaders. All we know is that two of the racers who were at the tail end of the group got off their bikes, but we couldn't penalize them because they were already among the last in the race."
The organizers said the whole affair was going to degrade professional cycling in the eye of the public. Nothing further was heard about the two bottles carried out of Poulidor's hotel room. The implications were clear: any charges against Poulidor would bring the Tour to an end immediately, and the officials, with tens of thousands of dollars at stake, did not want to run such a risk. Roger Flambart, sports editor of Le Figaro, the organ of French respectability, delivered himself of a philosophical oration on the subject "Bicycle racers are 15 years ahead of other sportsmen. They are the most intelligent of athletes, and while they all take dope, they take it intelligently. Whenever you have to make an effort that is above average, you have to take something. And where does doping start? You are doping yourself when you drink coffee. There is no other event in the world where you have to keep going in a maximum effort six hours a day for 22 days. It just cannot be done without dope."
A few evenings after the incident, someone knocked at Jacques Anquetil's door while he was in the bathtub. Anquetil shouted, "Who is it?" and before anyone could answer, he said, "Is it the investigators? If it is, I've already been to the bathroom." Whoever had knocked did not knock again.
Entering the Pyr�n�es and Alps stages of the Tour, Poulidor and Anquetil made up their quarrel, to the relief of the newspapermen covering the race, most of whom seemed to feel that a victory by any other rider, after so many reams of copy had been devoted to the two star Frenchmen, would be a national disgrace. Indeed, the rapprochement so pleased one columnist that he proclaimed the Tour would now turn into a poem of happiness, which he proceeded to quote:
Montons sur nos deux palefrois,
Which means, freely translated, that we should get on our horses and have a beautiful dream together and if you take me along I'll go with you and the bird will be singing in the woods. The applicability of this to a bicycle race was not entirely clear, but the columnist was too ecstatic to care. He exhorted the now friendly stars to remember that there were not 50 ways to wage a struggle, but only one: "to win!"
Inspired by these and similar words throughout the press of France, Anquetil and Poulidor slowly began to make up the seven minutes they still lagged behind the leaders. But the closest they could get in tandem was five minutes behind the new wearer of the maillot jaune, who turned out to be one of Anquetil's teammates on the Ford team: 25-year-old Lucien Aimar, a domestique in his second year of professional racing. On a rest day in Turin, Italy, after 17 of the 22 stages had been completed, Anquetil announced with a flourish that he was going to crown his long career by sacrificing his own chance of victory and turning domestique for the little Aimar. The king was going to wait on the servant boy! France applauded with admiration, all except Poulidor. Where did this new spirit of cooperation leave him, a member of another team? He still had five minutes to make up, and now he had to work without the cooperation of friendly enemy Anquetil. "Things are getting serious and uncomfortable for me now," Poulidor said at the H�tel Pinata Reposo in Turin. "If I attack tomorrow, Aimar and Anquetil probably will be there to squeeze me out."
But the next day Poulidor broke away across the mountains to Chamonix and took 49 seconds from Aimar's lead. Said Le Parisien Liber�: "Too much effort for so little." Why had Anquetil not chased Poulidor on the breakaway? "Poulidor made a very nice escape, and I was incapable of following him," Anquetil said graciously. Later he explained that at the frigid summit of the Grand St.-Bernard pass, second highest of the Tour, a spectator had doused him with a bucket of ice-cold water. Immediately Anquetil had experienced troubled breathing, and a long history of pulmonary difficulty began to repeat itself.