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Raymond Poulidor during the Tours de France 1973 and 1974. AFP

Raymond Poulidor died on the night of Wednesday, November 13, 2019, at the age of 83 years. He was one of the most popular runners in the 1960s and 1970s, having never won the Grand Loop despite his eight podium finishes.

" I'm sure that if I had won two or three Tours de France, we would not talk about Poulidor any more ," the runner let loose in a burst of laughter not so long ago. "Poupou" left us last night in his native Limousin, in Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat in Haute-Vienne. The heart tired according to his wife, he had been hospitalized since October.

Not having won the Tour de France obviously left no regrets to Raymond Poulidor. He had even managed to become a brand. " I'm making a huge profit ! The rest of my career is long forgotten. When I meet people, the question is always the same. Why did you never win the Tour? He was happy to say. While adding: " Even one who is not interested in the news of cycling and this sport knows that I was the eternal second. I was second behind three different generations . "

" Go on, Poupou! "

Born in Masbarraud-Merignat in the Creuse on April 15th, 1936, Raymond Poulidor came from a family of peasant sharecroppers. After following his brothers André and Henri who were competing regional cycling races to brighten up the Sundays, he decided to go for it.

Raymond Poulidor entered the legend of the "eternal second" of the Tour de France by opposing Jacques Anquetil in the 1960s, then Eddy Merckx in the 1970s.

In July 1962, while Jacques Anquetil, winner for the third time, joined Louison Bobet in the annals of the Tour de France, L'Echo du Center had titled: " Go there Poupou! The expression has since become legendary. " Where Anquetil embodied the free part of the man, Raymond Poulidor embodies its fatal part ," wrote the writer Antoine Blondin, for the daily L'Équipe .

The rivalry between Anquetil and Poulidor will remain as one of the great oppositions of the French sport, with culminating a fight elbow on the slopes of the Puy de Dôme in the Tour 1964. At the time, France was divided in two camps: Poulidorians and Anquetilists.

Jacques Anquetil (G) side by side with his compatriot Raymond Poulidor in the ascent of Puy de Dôme, July 12, 1964. AFP

The bad luck will have marked the career of Raymond Poulidor. During the 1968 Tour, a motorcyclist hit him at the moment when his victory was drawing. During the prologue of the 1971 Tour, he misses the yellow jersey for 79 / 100th of a second. In 1976, when he reached the age of 40, Raymond Poulidor climbed the podium for the last time, behind Lucien Van Impe and Joop Zoetemelk.

"Everything that came up for me was a dream"

Since 1977 and his last hits, Raymond Poulidor, who holds the record for the number of podiums on the Great Loop - eight in total - without ever having worn a single day the Yellow Jersey, has remained extremely popular. After participating in 14 Tours de France as a runner, "Poupou" was part of the caravan for forty-three editions.

France's villages and sub-prefectures he knew by heart. Every morning, we queued to get a picture dedicated to the village departure, all generations. The rest of the year, he engaged in book signings of his many books, mostly in supermarkets to meet his audience. An infatuation of which the "champion" seemed to be surprised, but who did not fail to make jealous. Yet who else better than he still embodies today in the collective unconscious the greatest cycling race in the world.

Raymond Poulidor. AFP / Eric Feferberg

Credulary, Raymond Poulidor was often surprised at what was happening to him. Far from the rough days of his adolescence when he scratched the earth for a pittance. What would he have done if cycling had not changed his life? " I would have been a farmer. I would have stayed in my native Hollow behind a plow, "he told us in a whisper during an interview in 2012." We were a family without money, and I did not suffer from anything, " he confessed . We were happy. I can say that I made a lot of money compared to my parents, but I never had any ambition. Everything that came up for me was a dream. Whether I win or not, it does not matter much to me . "

In 2016, on the occasion of his 80th birthday on the Tour de France, Poulidor said: " The Tour de France is my life. The day I will not do that, it's my death. I will not come on the Tour with crutches . Until his death, he will have been part of the landscape. Jolly man, he will remain "doll" forever.