Raymond ‘The Eternal Second’ Poulidor was a French professional cyclist who competed in every Tour de France between 1962 and 1976, with the exception of 1971, and failed to finish just twice, in 1968 and 1975. As his nickname suggests, Poulidor finished second three times and third five times, but never won; in fact, in his 14 attempts, he never once wore the as leader of the general individual classification.
Reflecting on his lack of success, which, he admitted was symptomatic of his lack of ambition, Poulidor said, ‘I thought what was happening to me was already marvellous enough.’ He was similarly philosophical about his ‘underdog’ status, saying, ‘The more unlucky I was, the more the public liked me and the more money I earned.’
In defence of Poulidor, his career did coincide, at various stages, with that of two other legendary cyclists, in the form of countryman Jacques Anquetil and Belgian Eddy Merckx, who won the Tour de France ten times between them. Indeed, it was Anquetil who beat Polidour into third place in 1962 and second place in 1964, while Merckx beat him into third place in 1969 and 1972.
Poulidor may have been a ‘nearly man’ as far as the Tour de France was concerned, but enjoyed a long, illustrious career, during which he won plenty of high-profile races elsewhere. In 1964, he won the general classification in the Vuelta a España or Tour of Spain and, on home soil, won the Critérium International – which was, at the time, effectively the French national championship – five times, in 1964, 1966, 1968, 1971 and 1972.