Born: 13th February 1951, Dixmude, Belgium
Number of professional victories: 82
Flandria 1973 - 1978
Michel Pollentier spent the early part of his career riding in support of his good friend Freddy Maertens. The two had known each other since they had been juniors, and would often train together before they turned pro.
In his second year as a professional, Pollentier achieved the unthinkable - he beat Eddy Merckx in a time trial stage of the Tour de France. At this time Merckx was considered unbeatable against the watch. Pollentier went on to finish 7th overall, a feat he repeated in the 1976 Tour. It was in 1977, however, that the Belgian really began to shine. He won the Tour of Italy, led the Tour of Switzerland from start to finish, and won the Belgian Road Race Championship with a fine performance.
At the start of the 1978 Tour de France, Pollentier was in the peak form of his career. If he could build on his result in the previous year's edition, he felt that he could challenge strongly in the mountains for overall victory. His moment came on Alpe d’Huez, where he dropped Bernard Hinault and rode alone to the stage win, taking the yellow jersey as race leader. It is for this Alpe d’Huez stage that Pollentier is most often remembered - not for the victory itself, but for what transpired two hours later at the doping control.
Pollentier claimed that “I put out such an effort on Alpe d’Huez, I pissed my pants while still on the bicycle. This evening I had a hard time filling up the bottle”. He obtained a urine sample from someone else and took this sample to the doping control. This fact was discovered, however, and this failure to provide a sample of his own was treated as equivalent to a positive drugs test. Pollentier was controversially given a two-month suspension, and was expelled from the Tour, denying him a near-certain victory.
Many felt, at the time, that the Tour de France was biased against foreign riders. The Belgian Flandria Team appeared to be making a mockery of the opposition in what was the world’s greatest bicycle race. Freddy Maertens held a tight grip on the sprinter’s green jersey, and Pollentier was in command of both the climber’s polka dot jersey and the yellow jersey. It was speculated that Pollentier was being punished for his Flandria team's effrontery in wearing all three iconic jerseys at the same time.
Whatever the facts of the matter were, Pollentier was devastated. His greatest fear was a negative reaction from the Belgian public but he was comforted, to some extent, when they took his side. Nevertheless, the Alpe d’Huez incident cast a shadow over the remainder of his career. He sank into a depression, from which he never fully recovered. Although he later achieved some results of note, he was never again the same rider.
Major placings whilst riding for Flandria:
1974 Flandria - Carpenter - Confortluxe
1st Stage 21B - Tour de France
1975 Flandria - Carpenter - Confortluxe
1st Stage 13 - Tour de France
1st Stage 6 - Dauphiné Libéré
5th Amstel Gold Race
1976 Flandria - Velda - Westvlaams Vleesbedrijf
1st Stage 16 - Tour de France
1st Stages 2, 4A and 9B - Tour of Switzerland
2nd Tour of Switzerland
1977 Flandria - Velda - Latina
1st Belgian Road Race Championship
1st Giro d’Italia (also, 1st Stage 21)
1st Tour of Switzerland (also, 1st Prologue and Stages 3A, 3B and 9B, 1st Points Jersey)
1st Stage 4 - Tour of Spain
1978 Flandria - Velda - Lano
1st Belgian Road Race Championship
1st Dauphiné Libéré (also, 1st Stages 5 and 7B)
1st Stage 16 (Alpe d’Huez) - Tour de France (later disqualified)
1st Stages 4B and 9B - Tour of Switzerland
2nd Tour of Flanders