André Darrigade: 'I accept my fate. Cavendish is certain to overtake me'

If Brit wins today's sprint stage, he equals André Darrigade's record of 22 stage victories. Alasdair Fotheringham tracks down 83-year-old who is happy to hand over his crown

Annonay Davézieux

For almost half a century, with 22 stage wins in a glorious career, André Darrigade has reigned as the top sprinter in the 108-year history of the Tour de France. But as Mark Cavendish will equal his total if he wins today's stage – and could, of course, pull ahead later in the Tour – Darrigade tells The Independent with a laugh: "It's over; he's going to get past me now. I'm done for."

A sprightly 83-year-old who lives in the town of Biarritz, close to his home region of Dax, Darrigade is one of France's forgotten greats of cycling.

He was a world champion – as Cavendish is now – in 1959, and victorious in one of Italy's biggest Classics, the Tour of Lombardy, in 1956. He even won on Cavendish's home soil in 1960, taking the Isle of Man's biggest race, the Manx International. But it was arguably in the Tour de France that he shone the brightest.

Darrigade won the Tour's first stage no less than five times and led the race for 12 days. In a career spanning 16 years from 1951 to 1966 his total of 22 stages, from 1953 to 1964, put him equal fourth in the all-time ranking with Lance Armstrong – and, as Darrigade points out, his victories, unlike Cavendish's, did not always come in 70kph gallops for the line, either.

"My strong point was the bunch sprints, but I'm different to Mark because I could win from breaks too," he said. "I'd often win from a group of four, five or 10 riders."

His climbing was so good that as well as twice winning the Tour points classification he also finished 16th overall three times.

But there are similarities between the two. Whilst Cavendish, until this year, had an entire team working for him in the sprints, Darrigade almost always found himself in the position Cavendish is in with Sky in the 2012 Tour – with next to no backing in the final kilometres. But Darrigade's top priority back then was not even to go for the bunch sprints, something that makes his achievements even more impressive.

"I would be picked for the French national team basically to work for [three-times Tour winner Louison] Bobet or [five times Tour champion] Jacques Anquetil; that's why I could win the first stage so often because so early in the race I didn't have to look after them. But I didn't have any backing in the sprints. No backing of any kind. In those days it was each man for himself."

Darrigade started his career on the track – "like Mark did too, didn't he?" he points out, impressively, given it's often forgotten that Cavendish has two world titles in the Madison – and believes that then as now, "it's ideal for sprinters".

"My racing career effectively started when I beat [future sprint world champion] Antonio Maspes in a criterium in the Vel D'Hiv velodrome in Paris in 1949 but I could use what I learned there on the road. You become better at moving around in the peloton, learn how to use your elbows to get through the gaps."

As a result of his track racing, he also used radically different gearing from most sprinters – like a 50-tooth chain-ring, gearing which would be unthinkable in road-racing today.

"Because we couldn't change our bikes we had a lot more material to nowadays, too. We had to carry the spare tyres across our bodies and then there was the bike pump too. The bikes were a lot heavier as well" – 11kg, Darrigade recalls, compared to the 6.8kg that a bike weighs today. "But you can find the same kinds of differences in any sport. A football today is very different from the ones we'd have in the 1950s too."

As for the two champions' strategies for winning bunch sprints, Darrigade says: "I wouldn't pull myself out of the pack and accelerate hard like Mark, I'd attack from the front. I'd start accelerating 300m from the line, which is a long way, and then try and hold it all the way to the finish. [Classics star Rik] Van Looy would say they should never let me get near the front because then when I attacked, he knew they'd never catch me." Darrigade says he values his World Championship win more than the Tour stages he won, "because you wear the rainbow jersey [of world champion] for the whole year. That said, Tour stages guaranteed you a huge popularity boost in France – it wasn't the same with the worlds. Best of all, though, is to do it like Cavendish and win Tour stages with the rainbow jersey on your back" – as Darrigade did in the 1960 race, winning stage five.

Whilst happy to cede him the honour of being the Tour's No 1 sprinter, Darrigade is reluctant to describe Cavendish – who is poised to win the same number of stages in less than half the number of Tours – as the greatest sprinter of all time. "You can't compare eras; each had different stars and the racing was too different to do that. But he's the fastest rider of his generation."

But if Darrigade – who ran a bookshop in Biarritz for years after he retired – seems more than happy with his career, he says he does envy Cavendish one thing. "He's had the chance to finish the Tour de France with a bunch sprint on the Champs Elysées and not in the Parc des Princes velodrome, as used to happen back in my day in the Tour. To be able to win on the Champs – that must be a fantastic feeling."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Danish director Lars von Trier
tvEnglish-language series with 'huge' international cast set for 2016
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

PPA Cover Teachers Required in Doncaster

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Primary PPA Teachers required for wo...

Maths teachers needed for supply work in Ipswich

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Maths teachers requir...

Executive Assistant/Events Coordinator - Old Street, London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Executive Assistant/Event...

Female PE Teacher

£23760 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering