This Sunday (6 March) Paris-Nice starts again and therefore we are looking back on the cyclists who achieved the best performances in this race. The very first edition of Paris-Nice, aka the Race to the Sun, took place in 1933. However, the race was at that time still called Les 6 jours de la route en Paris-Mediterrannée, to be renamed Paris-Côte d'Azur in 1951, until Paris-Nice was born in 1954.
Paris-Nice is annually the first stage race of the season, where especially the all-round riders can excel. At first Jacques Anquetil was the absolute record holder with five victories (in 1957, 1961, 1963, 1965 and 1966), but this record was broken by the strong Seán Kelly who could win the Race to the Sun no less than seven years in a row (from 1982- 1988)!
Anquetil was not only the first to win the Tour de France five times, but he also achieved similar results at Paris-Nice. How did he manage this? Well, he used his best weapon: the time trials which he always dominated with his pure strength, flawless technique and smooth riding style. This started with his very first race as a pro, when he won the Grand Prix des Nations. By the time he stood at the starting line of Paris-Nice for the first time in 1954, he was already a feared rider because of his sheer power. And they were right, because in the 51 kilometre time trial from Cannes to Nice at the end of the race, he already finished 29 seconds ahead of Raymond Impanis, the winner of that edition.
Rik Van Looy and Jacques Anquetil during the Tour de France of 1964
Three years later Anquetil returned to Paris-Nice, but this time with higher ambitions. He overcame this edition from, of course, the time trial from Alès to Uzès, after which he could take the leader's jersey. This was also his very first victory in a stage race. After winning Paris-Nice, he also won the Tour de France that year. For this he used the same tactics: he held on in the mountains and struck in the time trials.
It seemed like Jacques had found the magic formula for Paris-Nice and the Tour de France. But even for him, things went wrong from time to time. The next three years were overshadowed by small quarrels with big consequences, like a feud with Louison Bobet. But the tensions eased when Bobet was about to end his cycling career and Anquetil was able to go all out again
In the edition of '61 Anquetil was again ready to go for the win. In the 43 kilometres long time trial to Vergèze he could make the difference again and so his second victory in the final classification of Paris-Nice was secured. In the Tour de France he was able to take the yellow jersey after the first time trial and wear it all the way to Paris. That year also saw the beginning of a long duel with the younger Raymond Poulidor, who would dominate the following editions of Paris-Nice and the Tour de France. But it was always Anquetil who overcame 'Poupou'. In 1966 he was able to win his fifth and last race.
Although his best days were already behind him in his final season for Bic, he still fought hard in the 1969 edition, which ended with a podium for the history books: Eddy Merckx, Raymond Poulidor and Jacques Anquetil.
No one has ever shone in the Race to the Sun like the King of the Classics, Sean Kelly. He was able to win the overall classification for no less than seven years in a row, beating Anquetil's record. It is very unlikely that a rider will ever break this record.
Seán Kelly during Parijs-Nice followed by Laurent Fignon, Stephen Roche, and Phil Anderson (1985)
Kelly took his first steps as a professional cyclist as Freddy Maertens' helper during Paris-Nice. The Belgian Maertens won Paris-Nice that year, and in the meantime Kelly learned a lot from him. By the second time Kelly took part in the race he had already made progress and finished second in Saint-Étienne and Draguignan, but it was only in the third year that he became master of the peloton.
In 1982 he was able to put on the leader's jersey in Saint-Étienne. A few days later he ended a stunning weekend in Nice with a win in the time trial of the Col d'Èze. And so his streak had begun. The following year, he showed that he was not only strong in classics, but also in other races. He laid the foundations of his second victory with powerful performances on the climb to Tournon, then won a second stage to Miramas and finally beat Joop Zoetemelk by winning the final time trial on the Col d'Èze.
Kelly experienced opposition from his compatriot Stephen Roce, but he certainly had no intention of relinquishing his grip on Paris-Nice. Riding for the Skil team and later for Kas, he controlled the race like no other. Roche had already won the 1981 edition and was one of Kelly's biggest rivals.
The organisers of the race tried to introduce extra levels of difficulty into the race by, for example, adding finishing places on climbs such as the Chalet-Reynard and Mont Faron. However, Kelly continued to dominate and beat climbers such as Laurent Fignon, Jean-François Bernard, Ronan Pensec and Robert Millar. In 1986 he even led the race from start to finish. His last victory was in 1988, with 7 victories in a row, what an achievement!
On top of this he also won several other classifications besides the general classification:
- Team competition
- Sem France Loire 1982, 1983
- Skil Reydel Sem Mavic 1984
- Kas 1986
- Points classification
- 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986
- Mountain classification
- 1983, 1984, 1986, 1987
- Volatile stages
Throughout his career, Anquetil was active for a number of cycling teams, including Saint-Raphaël, Ford France and Bic. Seán Kelly also rode for big teams like Skil, Kas and PDM. Do you want to cycle in these iconic jerseys just like them? You can shop them here!
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