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on 30 June 2008
Having read widely on cycling, I am rather ashamed to admit I knew virtually nothing about Jacques Anquetil, other than that he won the Tour five times and had a rivalry with Raymond Poulidor. I was, therefore, pleased to see someone had written a biography of the man, and what a worthwhile subject he has proven to be.

Rather sickeningly, Anquetil was, from the very beginning of his career, brilliant. From the age of seventeen, he was winning time trials (his forte) by huge margins against experienced rivals, and, indeed, never lost in the (then) prestigious Grand Prix des Nations, winning it nine times out of nine.

He became "le patron", but without the bullying aggression of Hinault - he stamped his authority by simply riding away from everyone else. However, as Howard suggests, this may well have been through amphetamine use. Howard does not directly link any of his wins to doping but there are several races in which Anquetil began way off the pace (often due to a previous night of excess) only to catch up with a breakaway group and then ride past them to a solo victory.

Perhaps the most astonishing of all was his Dauphine Libere/Bordeaux-Paris (a 557km one-day race) double. The Bordeaux-Paris race began only seven hours after, and six hundred kilometres from, the finish of the Dauphine. Having had no sleep, Anquetil began Bordeaux-Paris exhausted. He was virtually asleep in the saddle for the first part of the race while he was pushed along by Jean Stablinski and Vin Denson either side of him (this section is also worth reading for an amusing anecdote involving Denson, a trapped nerve, and an impressive record of his own). Anquetil is about to abandon, but motivated by an insult to his manhood (and, one presumes, several illicit substances), he restarts and wins in a breakaway with Stablinski and Tom Simpson. While we might baulk at how he achieved this, it is worth noting that he gave all his prize money (as did Stablinski) to Denson for his huge part in this success.

It is also worth remembering that doping was not illegal at the time and Anquetil readily admitted it, often to his detriment. He wrote several articles for a French newspaper, including two entitled "Yes, I've Taken Drugs" and "Yes, I've Bought Riders". The outcome of this was that he was banned from the national and world championships as well as seeing lucrative invitations to criteriums dry-up. It seems that spitting in the soup was as bad then for Anquetil as it has remained for the likes of Jorg Jaksche today.

This was a problem as it seems Anquetil was primarily motivated by money. A close second was his motivation to thrash Poulidor at every opportunity. Anquetil raged, perhaps justifiably, that Poulidor was not a rival as he beat him so often. However, as Poulidor was the darling of the French press, he usually got more coverage than him regardless of the result - much to Anquetil's chagrin. Beating Poulidor on his own merits deserves respect - helping others to beat Poulidor when he knew he couldn't win himself shows a less savoury side to Anquetil's character, though they became great friends in later years.

Also unsavoury was Anquetil's complicated love-life: stealing his doctor's wife; having a child with his step-daughter; and having an affair with his step-son's wife all suggest Anquetil was nothing short of despicable. However, you never feel quite able to castigate him for all of this as the women involved speak with such love and affection for the man. It also seems that the doctor's wife actively encouraged her daughter to sleep with Anquetil so that he could have the child he wanted (she was unable to have any more children herself) and the step-son was already in love with another woman when Anquetil began the affair with his wife.

Howard has written an excellent, and ambivalent (as all good biographies should be), account of Jacques Anquetil's life. It is well researched with lots of contemporary accounts of his achievements and many interviews with those who knew him well.

Highly recommended and gives William Fotheringham something to aim for with his Coppi book due next year.
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on 9 March 2009
this is a book for all fans of procycling.For the older generation it's a reminder of a great champion. For the younger fans it'll be a surprise reading. Anquetil belongs to the magnificent 4. Coppi,Anquetil,Merckx and Hinault.Forget about Armstrong and Indurain. The book gives an insight into the life and career of a champion. No rider to-day would survive doing what he did. His personal life off the bike was quite something which not all readers might approve of, but we are not all petty bourgeois. He lived a full life. The book is extremely well written.
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on 16 April 2012
This has the added spice of an extraordinary private life. I would now rate Jacques along with Eddie Merckx, as the contenders for greatest cyclist ever. I had obviously heard of him but had no conception of the number of races he won, and the way he dominated some of them. In addition he was using equipment that would seem outdated now, but still produced amazing average speeds and set world records.

If you buy just one cycling book then I cannot recommend this one highly enough.
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on 14 July 2011
I suppose your satisfaction with this biography depends on what you expect from it.

Anquetil retired before I was born, so my knowledge extended no further than his being the first five time winner of the Tour. This biography, provides a basic grounding in his accomplishments, motivation, attitude and palmares. As far as I was concerned it served its purpose. I'm not sure, however, that had I a better base knowledge of Anquteil that this would have contributed a great deal more.

Given Anquetil won over 180 races; 5 Tours, 2 Giro's and a Vuelta, had Howard gone into great depth about each race the book would have run to over 1000 pages, but I can't help feel he stopped short of providing enough detail to satisfy everyone.

Given the jaw-dropping life Anquetil lead on-and-off the bike, and despite providing me with all the information I needed, I can't help feel this could have been better.
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on 2 December 2012
Strictly for the more avid fan of cycling background stories. If you've read Tommy Simpson (Put Me back on the Bike) or Lance (It's Not About the Bike) you might like this.
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on 30 August 2011
I finished reading Put Me Back on My Bike, the story of Tommy Simpson and was captivated by the cycling world. Fresh from a number of other Tour De France books entwined with chronicles on doping, I was excited by the prospect of this Sex, Lies and Handlebars - particularly as one of the quotes on the back suggested Paul Howard had not got rapped up in the tabloid world of Jacques Anquetil.

Not sure I agree with that.

The book never really goes deep enough into cycling or the world of Anquetil, who made his name first and foremost as a cyclist. It seems to lack substance when referring to his career as a cyclist (less than 2pages dedicated to his first tour de France win), it neatly side steps issues related to drugs and avoids difficult opinions. The most detail comes from interviews with Anquetil's family - so yes, it does get tabloidy.

As a consequence of the lack of substance, it reads like a simple narration of already well documented events and misses any insight.

I don't feel like this book has given me anything more than a complete history of the Tour De France would have done, which would only have a chapter to dedicate to Anquetils era.

Its a real shame, Anquetil was one of the first legends of the sport - fuelled by drugs in a peloton coming to terms with the death of Simpson. It could have been so much more. It should have been.
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on 13 December 2013
warts and all. excellent if you are into this era of cycling. A very good insight into the ups and downs of drug ridden cycling at this time
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on 9 May 2014
Very difficult to get into. Not my favourite of all time. Will be giving this one away as soon as possible.
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on 3 July 2008
"Sex, Lies and Handlebar Tape" is an astonishing biography of French cycling star Jacques Anquetil. I had no idea who he was but i bought the book in a Charity shop when i heard about Anquetil's life.

He was the first man to win the Tour de France five times; the first to win all three grand tours (the Tour de France, Vuelta a Espana and Giro d'Italia).

He was a notorious dope fiend and he even confessed to this in public (Dope tests did not exist in the sports world back then). As well as dealing with Anquetil's considerable achievements as a cyclist, this book also explores his naughty private life. This French gypsy seduced his doctor's wife; he acted as stepfather to her children before asking his stepdaughter to bear him a child; after his blood-daughter was born, he maintained a menage a trois with his wife and stepdaughter for several years in the same house.
He also had time to seduce his stepson's ex-wife and had a child with her.

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on 11 October 2014
Excellent and incite into the great man.
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