Words: Joe Hall | Date:
Rapha marked its inception, in 2004, with an exhibition called Kings of Pain. Opening on the first day of that summer’s Tour de France, it celebrated those past riders who have defined the values and ethos of the sport. It was a statement of intent, declaring what Rapha was – a brand in love with road racing – by laying bare the heroics, suffering and drama of cycling. The exhibition centred around the Kings of Pain themselves, six riders who epitomized the glory, suffering, drama and style of road racing. In the leadout to Rapha’s 10th anniversary in July, we’ll be featuring tributes to other Kings (and Queens) of Pain, with contributions from friends in and around the sport, including Tom Southam, David Millar and Marianne Vos.
The Original Kings of Pain:
Today we’ll give ourselves a kick up the backside.
– Fausto Coppi
Il Campionissimo, the champion of champions, Fausto Coppi was the first man to win both the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia in the same season (a feat he achieved twice). His private life was shrouded in controversy but his style on the bike and incredible all-round ability marked him out as one of the greatest ever bike racers.
He won the first of five Giro titles in 1940, his dominance of the sport thereafter and his battles with arch-rival Gino Bartali providing relief from the national humiliation brought upon Italy by Mussolini. Coppi celebrated his greatest year in 1949, notching up his first Giro-Tour double, including KOM jerseys in both. Coppi’s rivalry with Bartali divided the nation. But it was Coppi who typified the Italian stereotype of the volatile, emotional rider, one who shouldered the expectations of a nation but was undone by his personal passions. His public affair with Giulia Occhini would ultimately lead to his excommunication from the Catholic church. Coppi’s life was cut short, in 1960, after he contracted malaria on a hunting trip to Africa.
It was in adversity that Jacques became unbeatable.
One of the most stylish riders the sport has seen, the charming Normand may not have won the heart of every fan but Jacques Anquetil won where it mattered, thanks to an amazingly efficient time-trialling technique and his ability to suffer on the climbs.
Indeed, his suffering the stuff of legend. At 3pm, on 29th May, Anquetil won the Dauphiné Libéré, a week-long stage race ending in the southern French city of Nîmes. Less than four hours later, having completed several rounds of interviews and the post-race reception, the often controversial Frenchman boarded a plane for a 40-minute flight to Bordeaux. At 1am the following morning, Anquetil lined up for the start of the Bordeaux-Paris, which would end later that morning in the French capital. Supported by his team-mate, Jean Stablinski, and goaded by insults from Raphael Geminiani (his manager), Anquetil raced through the night. Battling exhaustion and stomach cramps so severe he could only take on fluid, he eventually claimed victory and an unprecedented double. It was a feat of endurance almost unimaginable these days.
The more unlucky I was, the more the public liked me.
– Raymond Poulidor
Known as the ‘Eternal Second’, had Poulidor not ridden in the same era as Jacques Anquetil he would surely have won a Tour. Among the French public, however, his underdog status won him more fans than his great rival and he battled on, racing until the age of 40.
The most famous duel between ‘Poupou’ and Anquetil took place in 1964, on the slopes of the Puy-de-Dôme. Neither were at their best, and the two even battled shoulder-to-shoulder as they climbed the extinct lava dome. Poupou, naturally a better climber, finally managed to unhitch Anquetil and rode to the summit finish as fast as he could, in the hope of taking the yellow jersey from his nemesis once and for all. “For a moment,” he recalled later, “as I looked back down the finishing straight, I finally thought I’d really won the Tour”. Unfortunately, for Poulidor, it was not to be and Anquetil clawed back his advantage on the following stage’s time trial. Raymond Poulidor, the Eternal Second, but a man who knew exactly what suffering meant. Allez Poupou.
I was always in pain…
– Eddy Merckx
Nicknamed The Cannibal for the way in which he devoured every race and every rival, Merckx is the most decorated rider of all time, winning multiple major one-day titles and grand tours, as well as holding the hour record. Most impressive is that he raced the majority of his career with terrible back trouble.
He would consistently ride away from the bunch and made racing at times somewhat predictable (and, arguably, rather dull). But his ability to suffer made him one of the strongest riders the world has ever seen. Belgian amateur champion by the age of 16, in his first year as a pro he won nine races. Merckx won the Tour on five occasions, unprecedented at that time. He won the 1969 edition by more than 18 minutes and alongside the yellow jersey took the polka dots, green jersey and best team title. In total, Merckx spent 96 days in yellow, 13 more than accumulated by Lance Armstrong and 18 more than Bernard Hinault.
The first British rider to achieve success on the Continent, Simpson played on his reputation as an Englishman abroad, winning some of the most prestigious one-day races in the process. Enigmatic to the end, his story is, ultimately, one of tragedy. Aged just 29, Simpson collapsed and died during the Tour of 1967, having pushed himself too far on Mont Ventoux.
Known for his dynamic persona, Simpson wasn’t the first British rider to race on the Continent but during cycling’s ‘golden era’, he was certainly the sceptred isle’s most successful and enjoyed the highest profile. He moved to France in the 1959/1960 season and in 1961 won the Tour of Flanders. He also rode to victory at Bordeaux-Paris, Milan-Sanremo, then became the first of only two Britons to win the world champion’s rainbow jersey. Simpson also won Paris-Nice in 1967, the year in which he died on Stage 13 of the Tour.
As long as I breathe, I attack.
– Bernard Hinault
The last Frenchman to win the Tour de France, Le Patron was known for the way in which he would boss the peloton, riding on the front even when his team-mates wanted to protect him. Also know as ‘The Badger’, Hinault’s tenacity saw him win five Tours in total, three Giri d’Italia and almost every major one-day race.
At Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 1980, Hinault proved his mettle in trademark fashion. Almost as soon as the race got underway, snow blizzards swept in and nearly half of the 173 starters abandoned, including Giuseppe Saronni and Lucien Van Impe. Unpeturbed, Hinault sternly upped the pace as the pack rode through biting winds and thick snow in pursuit of a two-man break. Pushing hard over the Stockeu, he took two riders with him and, after a 20km pursuit, the trio caught the escapees. But the Badger wasn’t finished and he attacked alone, literally ploughing through the snow and over the climbs of La Redoute and St. Nicolas, finishing an incredible nine minutes up on second-placed Hennie Kuiper. A depleted and incredulous group of spectators applauded one of the toughest rides of modern cycle racing. It took nearly a month for the feeling to return to his fingers and Le Blaireau claims he still suffers from the effects of that frostbite.