Jacky Durand was a French rider who found fame and adulation for his dogged attacking spirit and penchant for the breakaway, long before a certain German started dropping quotable soundbites and capturing the heart of the cycling public.
“I'd rather finish shattered and last having attacked a hundred times than finish 25th without having tried.”
In cycling we love individualists, we like people who stand out – Jacky Durand was both of these and more besides. He was a Tour of Flanders champion in his third year as a pro, he was wearer of the maillot jaune and also the winner of the infamous Lanterne Rouge, the unofficial prize given to the man who finished last on the general classification at the Tour de France. He was a favourite of the French cycling public and an escape artist. He was also a doper.
If Jens Voigt was the self-proclaimed ‘Elvis of the breakaway’, then perhaps Durand’s long, frequently futile attacks off the front of the bunch were an early ‘musical influence’ for the German – the Gospel music to Jens Voigt’s rock and roll. Simply put, Jacky was turning a big gear way out in front for years before it was cool.
In his biography of Italian sprinter Mario Cipollini, ‘The Year of the Lion King’, Marco Beneditti referred to Durand as ‘the musketeer who pedals’ – a fair epithet given his swashbuckling spirit and the way he captured imaginations in France and beyond. Such an enthusiast was he for the solo pursuit of victory, Velo magazine in France began printing a ‘Jackymetre’, which recorded the distance he’d racked up in the ‘escape’ so far that season. At the end of 2001 the Jackymetre stood at 2,201 kilometres.
Where did he get the energy to fuel these endless, almost attritional attacks? Erythropoietin had some involvement, Durand admitted as much in 2013. But there was something else in the Frenchman’s blood, or maybe in his mind that drove him on. Indeed, half the peloton were juiced at the time of Durand’s career, but not all could pursue a lost cause quite so doggedly as he.
In his own slant on Tennyson’s ‘better to have loved and lost’ line, Durand had this to say on his attacking mentality: “I'm not a revolutionary of any sort, but on the bike, I've always refused to come out of a mould. It astonishes me that most riders are followers, even sheep. A lot of them, the only people who know they're in the Tour are their directeurs sportifs. I couldn't do the job like that. They finish the Tour without having attacked once, maybe the whole of the season, even the whole of their career. I'd rather finish shattered and last having attacked a hundred times than finish 25th without having tried.”
Juiced or not, it’s hard not to be inspired by a line like that.