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France pays last respects to cycling hero Poulidor

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By Reuters
France pays last respects to cycling hero Poulidor
FILE PHOTO: Former French cyclist Raymond Poulidor is seen on the podium of the 168.5 km ninth stage of the centenary Tour de France cycling race from Saint-Girons to Bagneres-de-Bigorre July 7, 2013. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard   -   Copyright  Eric Gaillard(Reuters)

SAINT-LEONARD-DE-NOBLAT, France (Reuters) – Mourners at the funeral of Raymond Poulidor on Tuesday paid tribute to a French cyclist who never achieved his goal of winning the Tour de France but in the process won widespread admiration for his courage and integrity.

Poulidor was given a final send-off in his hometown in the Limoges region of central France, the rural heartland where he grew up as the son of poor farmers and where he died last week aged 83.

Family members and cycling dignitaries crammed into the tiny church in Saint-Leonard-de-Noblat, while several hundred people stood in the town square outside watching the funeral service on a big screen.

Poulidor finished the Tour de France on the podium eight times but never came first.

He was competing in the 1960s and 1970s at the same time as two of cycling’s greatest champions – Jacques Anquetil and Eddie Merckx – who each won the tour five times, regularly pushing Poulidor off the top spot.

But his perpetual runner-up status made Poulidor a favourite with the public.

Addressing the funeral service on Tuesday, Christian Prudhomme, the director of the Tour de France, said Poulidor stood as an example to everyone of how to be successful without forgetting your integrity.

“If Raymond is loved so much, it’s because he was a great champion, of course, but also because he was a person of great humanity,” said Prudhomme.

“His values of courage, of work, of respect for your roots, for where you’re from, are eternal.”

Poulidor’s grandson Mathieu Van der Poel is also a professional cyclist.

Standing near Poulidor’s coffin, which was draped with orange and red flowers, Prudhomme said he hoped to see Van der Poel competing for the first time in the Tour de France in 2021.

If he is on the starting line, Prudhomme said, addressing Van der Poel who was among the mourners, “there will be a lot of love for you.”

(Reporting by Christian Lowe; Editing by Hugh Lawson)