The Tour de France returns to the Puy de Dôme, the volcano of the Spanish



Anquetil, on the left, and Poulidor, shoulder to shoulder at the Puy de Dôme of the ’64 Tour.JOURNAL AS

In frenetic times, information that is quickly digested and expelled from the head to make room for what arrives, a thousand news stories per second, cycling lives on, forces us to rewrite what has been written a thousand times, to always remember what no one forgets, the facts of the past, the lives of its saints, its miracles, its landscapes, and, thus, its bible. It’s not nostalgic. It is the essence of cycling. Words that never run out.



The Giro utters two magic words, Bondone, Lavaredo, and, like the rabbit in the bottomless hat, appears Charly Gaul in short sleeves and amphetamines, his effort indifferent to the snow that freezes everyone else, who takes refuge in the ditches , or Gimondi appears, pushed by well-paid cyclists, because then, it was 67, they were the Three Peaks of Lavaredo, the gregarious were chosen for their brute force, for their ability to push the captain up the slopes, or Eddy Merckx flies towards his consecration, new light for cycling in May 68, over the snow, or the snow of Nibali, or the sunset of Tarangu. And it will be talked about before the Giro of 23 is fought like the Tour of 23 is talked about, and it will be talked about endlessly even after it has been disputed, because someone, its director, Christian Prudhomme, has pronounced three magic words, Puy de Dôme, which the French reduce to one, to two syllables, puy-domand that Blaise Pascal and his brother-in-law turned into proof that infinite space reigned above the atmosphere and its weight.

Puy de Dome. Forgotten volcano in Averno. An ice cream cone crushed to the ground, 400 million cubic meters of domite, the rock of the dome, bare rocks, a restaurant, the Epicurus, at the top, a scary antenna, ruins of a temple. And a road that does not reach six kilometers that climbs at 10% and twists around like Estrellita Castro’s snail drawn following the Fibonacci progression. Pogacar and Vingegaard will go up shoulder to shoulder, alone, and they will believe that they are fighting only one against the other, but, they know it and they forget it, they are fighting against Coppi, against Bahamontes, Anquetil, Poulidor, Ocaña… Against Merckx’s bad memory, his decline and a punch to the liver.

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At the exit of Clermont Ferrand, past the restaurant and the hotel where Raphaël Géminiani, still alive and 97 years old, used to house the cyclists of his teams, his beloved Anquetil, his beloved Julito Jiménez, now dead, past the slope of La Baraque and the intersection of Ceyssat, reaching a toll barrier, the road rears up. The ascent to the Puy de Dôme begins, where the thread of the best history of Spanish cycling is threaded. A story of volcanic and hungry climbers, rogues, survivors who seem to dominate. There Bahamontes won the time trial that he gave the Tour of 59, and as soon as he finished he asked, a telephone, a telephone, where is a telephone, I have to call Toledo, my Fermina, to tell her that I have won the Tour de France. And there, five years later, while Poulidor and Anquetil, shoulder to shoulder, parallel on the asphalt, Poulidor, climber, on the side of the cliff, Anquetil, resistant to everything, stuck to the rocks, played the Tour, he, the Águila de Toledo, still alive, and 94 years old, was arguing with Julio Jiménez, who wanted to win the stage… And he reminded him that the first would have a one-minute bonus and the second 30 seconds… Why are you going to win, he I was trying to convince the Ávila Watchmaker, if you can earn more money by letting Poulidor take the bonus… That’s enough for him to win the Tour. But Julito is not convinced, he attacks and suffering like never before, wins the stage. “I think that Federico collaborated with Poulidor against Anquetil, because they were second and third, but at the moment of truth each one went their own way”, Julito recounted years later. “Finally, Federico came second in the stage and it was he who left Poulidor without the bonus. Anquetil respected me from the beginning. I had a better relationship with Anquetil because I saw that he was a champion, a guy you attack and even if he is half dead he doesn’t complain… he doesn’t stop me”. The next day, a small box in L’Equipe: Interflora has sent a bouquet of flowers to the mother of the winner of the stage, Julio Jiménez, in Ávila. Single until his death, and a womanizer, Julito always lived with his mother, who never liked the girlfriends he brought home.

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The stage, Tour of 64, the three kilometers barely up the volcano that Anquetil and Poulidor shared, became a plebiscite. 400,000 spectators in the gutters. Two Frances. The rural woman who refuses to die, De Gaulle; that of Poulidor; Anquetil’s, the one that anticipates May 1968. At the Puy de Dôme, Anquetil resisted the climber Poulidor until the last kilometer. He yields 42s. He had 56s off him. “Ufff,” Geminiani tells him at the top. “You saved yourself for 14s…” “I have 13 left over”, he replies head waiter Jacques. He will start last in the time trial two days later, from Versailles to Paris. He only needed that to win his fifth Tour and the whistles of the fans, bored with his victories, always devoted to the defeated, the good Poupou, in the Parc des Princes.

After Bahamontes, from Toledo, and Jiménez, from Ávila, the thread of the great Castilian cycling continues to weave it in the Puy de Dôme Luis Ocaña, from Cuenca, who wins at its summit twice. In 1971, when he killed Merckx, but did not win the Tour, and in 1973, when, without Merckx, he became the second Spaniard to win the Tour, and in 2023 he was celebrated as Merckx never winning at the Puy de Dome. In 1969 he trusts himself and falls short of the fugitive, the modest Matignon, precisely the red lantern of the Tour. In 75, what should be his sixth Tour begins to break in the last meters of the volcano. July 11, 1975. Merckx ascends. Yellow jersey. Van Impe and Thévenet go ahead. He chases wearily. He runs close to the gutter, bursting with fans. 150 meters from the finish, he suddenly puts his hand to his right side. He bends further over the handlebars. His pedaling slows. He can’t push down on the pedals. A spectator has punched him in the liver. The sequels, he assures, cost him the Tour.

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On the night of Friday, July 15, 1983, a car loaded with bread stops in front of the barrier that closes the way to the climb to the Puy de Dôme. The driver gets out, takes a key from his pocket, releases the padlock barrier and raises it. With free passage, the man, who is the owner of the Epicuro restaurant, open on the summit, returns to the car and makes it move forward without realizing that another vehicle, stuck to him like a limpet, takes advantage of the circumstance to cross the barrier, free, to the top of a road closed to traffic. Although the driver of the bread car, who has stopped to close the barrier again, tries to stop him and threatens to call the police, the other vehicle speeds up, cheered and encouraged by hundreds of fans who spend the night. It is the eve of the chronoescalation of the volcano. A big day on the Tour. Ángel Arroyo and Perico Delgado travel in the car, driven by José Miguel Echávarri. They have decided to reconnoiter the ascent after dinner, when the pass was already closed. They have had the ability to achieve their goal. The next day, Ángel Arroyo, El Salvaje de Ávila, has skill and strength and digestive capacity to win the time trial. With his mouth open he crosses a cloud of mosquitoes midway up, which he devours. He finishes second in the Tour revealing to Fignon. In the time trial, the unknown Perico, a 23-year-old boy, finishes second and falls in love with the Spanish. Five years later he will win the Tour, the year, 1988, in which the great boucle visits the Averno volcano for the last time, to which it returns behind closed doors. In the gutter, instead of public, a rack railway, and, on the asphalt, the minimum width for cyclists to ascend.

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