First Ever Non-European Maillot Jaune – Phil Anderson
Tour Rider Interview: There was quite a few successful Australian professionals in the peloton in the 70’s; Michael Wilson, Gary Clively and Don Allan to name three – but the man who really set the ball rolling was Melbourne’s Phil Anderson. The first ever non-European maillot jaune talks to Ed Hood about the Tour de France, the Classics and his career.
Phil Anderson in Tour yellow
Anderson was actually born in London but moved with his parents to Australia as a child. Cycling wasn’t ‘in the blood,’ and if the young Anderson hadn’t stumbled upon a race marshal at a local criterium we might never have seen that piano key smile on those Tour podiums.
‘I came upon this crit close to my home in Melbourne, I was stimulated, it looked exciting. I’d never heard of bike racing before and I asked the corner steward what was going on. That was the mid-70’s and there were clubs all over Melbourne, the steward steered me to the local bike shop and they put me on to the Hawthorn Cycling Club who I signed up with. I guess it was a different pathway into the sport from the usual one via family or friends?’
Anderson was soon winning junior races; when he moved into the senior ranks the success continued and he made the 1978 Australian Commonwealth Games team as a 19 year-old. ‘I won the Commie Games road race in Edmonton, Canada in ’78 and that result got me an invite to ride for the Parisian club ACBB in ’79 – I won a lot of races in France and viewed it as good preparation for the Moscow Olympics in 1980. But because I was winning I had approaches from the French pro teams Mercier and Peugeot – ACBB was the feeder team for Peugeot. The Scotsman, Robert Millar was with me at ACBB and we both decided to go with Peugeot, even though it meant we were giving away our Olympic intentions.’
When asked for his most abiding memories of his ACBB days he plucks two from the memory bank, ‘We were in a restaurant in the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt where the club was based, for our pre-race meal – steak and a huge bowl of rice at 06:00 am – and I went to the toilet; when I came back from doing what I had to do, the team had gone. They’d driven off to the race without me but someone must have thought; “shit! where’s that Anderson kid?” and they came back for me – Millar and I used to win a lot of races for them so they wanted me there!’
His other one involves a certain B. Hinault, who Anderson would get to know better as he entered the pro ranks, the following year. ‘In won the amateur GP des Nations which was around Cannes in those days, I did a 1:04 or 1:05 for the 45 kilometres. The amateurs did one lap but the pros did two; Hinault did a 1:05 for the first lap but then he did a 1:02 for the second circuit – when I saw that I immediately gained a lot of respect for Monsieur Hinault!.’
Life at ACBB had prepared Anderson well for being a ‘stranger in a strange land’. ‘It got me used to the isolation of being away from home but even though it was a French team and I didn’t speak French very well there was Millar, the English rider, Graham Jones and the South African rider, Alan Van Heerden who all spoke English and there were other non-French guys on the team like the Dutchman, Hennie Kuiper and the Belgian, Jose de Cauwer. Peugeot were more forward thinking than Mercier, where there would have been a bigger language barrier – ACBB was the Peugeot feeder team and we’d been riding Peugeot bikes so it just seemed right to join them.’
Anderson’s first win came in Belgium, in a kermis. ‘The race was a pro kermis in Wetteren; 15 laps of a 10 K circuit and I got away with a local guy towards the end, he started speaking to me; “listen Phil, I really have to win this, my father is the mayor and he’s at the finish, my wife is pregnant and I have the whole team working for me back in the bunch. If you let me win this one then the whole team will help you win on another day.” I eventually agreed and he was going to win but in the last K with the peloton right behind us, he punctured and I just had to push on solo to win. Because the win was up in Belgium the team didn’t think much of it and I even had to share my first win on French soil with my French team mate, Gilbert Duclos-Lasalle we – were equal first.’
Season 1980’s results were a solid start to Anderson’s pro career but in 1981 he stepped up a gear with stage wins in the Tour of Corsica and Paris-Nice – and then came his first GC win. ‘The season started slowly but I won the overall in the Tour de L’Aude which put me well in the frame for Tour de France selection. The thing is that the Tour de L’Aude became a women’s race – but with Hinault, Moser and Anderson as previous winners!’
Anderson in the combine jersey
Anderson’s win meant he went to head of the queue for Tour selection; the French riders were all desperate to ride the Tour for the prestige – and prize money. ‘It was a big battle within the team to make the Tour team, you had 18 or 19 guys all jostling for position but they couldn’t leave me out after I won the Tour de L’Aude.’
The Tour started in Nice 1981, it was the year of Freddy Maertens’ comeback; he won seven stages – but it was also the Tour which changed Anderson’s life forever. Bernard Hinault won the prologue, beating Gerrie Knetemann by seven seconds with Anderson 17th @ 25 seconds. Maertens out dragged Sean Kelly on the Promenade des Anglais to take Stage One and TI-Raleigh blasted all comers in the Stage two TTT to put Knetemann in yellow. Johan Van de Velde continued the Raleigh domination by winning Stage Three and it was Maertens again on Stage Four; Anderson takes up the story; ‘Stage Five was another team time trial over 77K and Peugeot put up a good ride, we finished second behind TI Raleigh. Knetemann had the jersey for Raleigh but the next day, Stage Six headed into the mountains, 177 K to Saint-Lary-Soulan, we went over three cols and there was a mountain top finish – on each climb the field would halved and by the time we were on the last climb it was down to about a dozen. There I was with all these guys who I had as posters on my bedroom wall just a few years before – we were all struggling to hang on to Hinault but Van Impe gave us the slip. Eventually there was just me and Hinault left chasing Van Impe; Hinault out sprinted me for second but I took the jersey.’
Greg Lemond, Phil Anderson and Sean Kelly
The maillot jaune’s magical powers came as a surprise to Anderson. ‘I hadn’t really realised the significance of the yellow jersey until that day – but I got a taste of it and I loved it. I’d won stage races as an amateur but this was a whole different ball game – it changed my life, it gained me so much respect.’
The next day was a time trial and the continental journalists expected Anderson to crumble but despite losing the jersey to Hinault, Anderson finished a fine third to the Frenchman and Knetemann. ‘In the time trial next day in Pau I surprised a few but the jersey gives you strength and even as a junior I’d been a good TT rider – I won the Victorian Junior Championships and I’d won the amateur GP des Nations.’
Anderson wore the yellow jersey again in the 1982 race but is reluctant to say that he could have counted on more support from the team if he’d been a Frenchman leading Peugeot. ‘It’s hard to say, I’ve no regrets, it’s different now that the sport has been through the Greg Lemond and Lance Armstrong eras with ‘Anglo’ leaders. It’s different now, I mean, look at GreenEDGE an Australian with Esteban Chaves, a Colombian as GC team leader. It’s hard to compare, this is a different era with social media and all – I could hardly believe I was leading the Tour, never mind the team!’
But the Tour within the 1983 Tour lay the seeds of Anderson’s departure from Peugeot to the mighty Panasonic team for season 1984. ‘I’d hoped for better support from the team in 1983; I had a bad day and my team mate, Pascal Simon attacked and took the yellow jersey. But the next day he broke his collarbone but Peugeot continued to put all their eggs in the Simon basket – I was collecting bottles for him and I think that was the excuse I needed to look for another team.’
Panasonic was ruled with a fist of iron by former six day star and Paris-Roubaix winner, Peter Post – how did Anderson get along with the despot? ‘We got on well, he was a strong character; the kind of DS who, when he slammed his fist on the table and said something, everyone listened – that wasn’t always the case with Peugeot. It was a very winning team; being one of the senior riders I was allowed to stay a bit longer in the warmth of the Australian summer to train. When I arrived we were only a few weeks into the season but already they had 12/15 wins on the board. They could win any race – track, Tour stages, Classics, guys like Vanderaerden, Planckaert and Oosterbosch but it wasn’t just the winners, there were riders like Nulens and Lubberding who gave you great support.’
Arguably, his best ever year was with Panasonic, 1985 when he won the Tour Méditerranéen, Volta a Catalunya, Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré and the Tour de Suisse, as well as finishing second in the Tour of Flanders and Gent–Wevelgem. But after four years with the mighty Dutch squad it was time for a change, to another team from the Low Countries, TVM. ‘I guess it got to the point where I wanted more say, I wanted certain riders around me and input on the staff and equipment. TVM wanted me because they’d decided to step up to the first division of teams; I brought along a few guys and my soigneur and doctor. The first year we didn’t get a ride in the Tour but we rode the Giro in 1989 where I won a stage; I won a Giro stage in 1990 too; we rode Zullo bicycles, from Lake Garda near Verona so there was an Italian connection with the team. I liked the Giro there was a good atmosphere on the race.’
Anderson spent three years with TVM but as an ‘Anglo’ wondered what it would be like to ride for what was then the only ‘New World’ team in the peloton – 7-eleven, soon to become Motorola. ‘I had always been curious about the 7-eleven team but I heard that they were pulling out at the end of 1990 and there as a new sponsor in the offing. Jim Ochowicz of 7-eleven approached me and asked if I’d like to ride for the new Motorola team and we made it happen for 1991 – I had 16 wins including a Tour de France stage. It was a good year for me and the team and Motorola were very happy with the team – we had so many podiums that year.’
And was the ‘vibe’ on the team more laid back than that of the Euro teams? ‘It was definitely more relaxed especially having the US riders, the atmosphere wasn’t like you’d find on a Euro team. That said we had strong riders, guys who made history, Andy Hampsten who won that famous Giro in the snow. English was spoken at the table and we were all good friends – and it was nice to ride races in the USA.’
But despite the relaxed vibe and friendship, Anderson wasn’t allowed to end his season – and his pro career – in the fashion he would have liked. . . ‘As soon as I announced my retirement at the end of the season the team wouldn’t let me race. When Cadel retired it was practically a national holiday and they had him up on the podium at every race to say his farewells. Ironically it’s the same management at BMC as we had at Motorola but it was a big disappointment because I wanted to ride the Tour of Lombardy and Paris-Tours, two races I’d done well in – I’d been on the podium in Lombardy and won in Tours. But as soon as I announced I was finishing up they said; “fine, now give us the bike back!” It was disappointing because I’d helped the team get to where it was and I wanted to ride ‘til the year end. Still, I got paid until the end of my contract and it was the start of a new phase of my life.’
But Anderson still had one big result still to come. ‘I was selected for the Australian team and rode the 100 kilometre team time trial at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Canada we beat England to take the gold medals. So my career started with gold in the Commie Games road race and ended with gold in the Commie Games TTT – that was a nice consolation albeit compared to European pro racing the Commie Games are just like a big club race.’
In a long career with so many wins it’s hard for Anderson to pick out particular ‘highs’ but both involve Le Tour. ‘That first time I pulled on the yellow jersey had the most impact but winning a stage and taking the white jersey the following year was really special.’
The ‘downs’ are dealt with in more depth. ‘The single biggest ‘down’ was at the end of 1985, I was ranked number one in the world but I had an ailment with my back and had to watch Sean Kelly pip me to win the Tour of Lombardy which meant also he won the season-long Super Prestige Pernod competition. It took me six months to figure out my back problem; I had a big contract with Peter Post at Panasonic and when it came round to the start of the next season I was in a huge amount of pain and only had 500 kilometres in my legs; it should have 5,000 – that was my normal pre-season preparation.
I saw all sorts of medical people but just before I was due to leave to come to Europe I saw an arthritic specialist and he said I had a sacroilitis infection of the gut and that was what had caused the problem – it stays in your system. But as luck would have it, the world specialist in the condition lived in Ghent and he put me on anti-inflammatories. I had to tell the team that I wasn’t fit to ride – that was a tough thing to do, Peter Post was unforgiving.
Normally I started the season very strongly – I’d been on the podium in Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders and won in Franfurt in the past. I was usually on fire early season but slowly I did get better and by the end of the season I’d won Paris-Tours. In the team car on the way back from Tours Post said that he was really happy with my ride and wanted me to sign for 1987. I said that I would only do that if he gave me back the money he docked from me when he halved my salary at the start of the year because I couldn’t perform. He agreed and the cheque arrived the next day – so that was sweet!’ A very rare example of a rider getting the better of Mr. Post.
Anderson handled retirement well, looking forward rather than back. ‘When I retired I was one of the oldest in the peloton at 36, the Jens Voigt of my day; most guys back then retired a little earlier at 35 or 35 – Kelly pushed it a bit and went on ‘til he was nearly 40 years-old. I bought a farm, which was beautiful, and started to run training camps and helped out with coaching the Chinese national squad. Then in ’95 I covered the Tour for a newspaper; in ’96 I did commentary at the Olympics and in ’97 Nike approached me to get involved with their VIP’s at the Tour. They did it in style; five star with helicopters, Humvees and three weeks of staying in chateaux.
Most of the trips to the Tour back then were along ‘backpacker’ lines but I realised that there was a market for people who wanted a bit more style and comfort so I took it upon myself to look into it and in 1998 we launched a three week product chasing the Tour but with little time to ride the bike. Now, 20 years later, we’ve refined that and the trips are of around one week duration but we still staying in nice accommodation, it’s a five star experience. The format differs each year but often the guests want to ride those monumental climbs they’ve heard so much about. We’ve done the Giro and the Vuelta but the Tour is the big one – it has the prestige and the weather. My partner Anne always says that she does all the work organising things then I get to do all the play!’
The usual closing question sometimes throws up some unexpected answers; but not with Anderson – any regrets, Phil? ‘No, none at all, my life has been like a story book. Sure there have been broken relationships and battles in the peloton and nowadays they make huge amounts of money, more than I was ever paid but I’d have done it all for nothing and I was one of the highest paid riders of my era. I’ve still got my health, I still get out on my bike – I’ll be doing 100 K tomorrow – I have my business and I still have vigor and gusto which I think is a testament to the clean lifestyle I’ve always lead.’
But he’ll still have a beer with the boys now and again – Phil Anderson, made in Australia and in the history books forever as the first ever non-European maillot jaune.
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,700 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.