This article lists the top 11 best cyclists who have participated in the Tour de France, including their achievements and backgrounds.
The Tour de France has many names that have engraved the legend of the race for more than a century, but among them stand out the five-time champions. Two Frenchmen, Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault, a Belgian, Eddy Merckx, and a Spaniard, Miguel Induráin, shared twenty victories equally in Paris.
Table of Contents
List of 11 Best Cyclists
- Eddy Merckx
- Bernard Hinault
- Jacques Anquetil
- Miguel Indurain
- Philip Thys
- Gino Bartali
- Fausto Coppi
- Louison Bobet
- Federico Martin Bahamontes
- Raymond Poulidor
- Greg LeMond
The debate about the best rider in the history of the Tour re-emerged around the figure of Eddy Merckx after Lance Armstrong, and his seven consecutive victories were eliminated (due to doping) because of his overwhelming number of successes, his stage wins, his dominance in secondary classifications, or even his stunning list of wins outside France.
But other nuances are worth knowing and encourage different types of opinions: circumstances, quality of rivals, historical context, and external factors. The best thing is to delve into the four five-time champions’ sphere and discover the paths they followed to become legends. Know their four stories, with their exploits, records, rivals, and the why and how of their end of the reign. It amounts to entering a sort of Olympus of the gods of cycling, which necessarily merges with the legend of the Tour de France itself.
The Belgian champion is considered the most excellent rider in the history of cycling and of the Tour de France, where he holds an almost unbeatable record: five outright victories in Paris in just seven participations, with 34 stage victories and 96 days in the yellow jersey.
No one in more than a century of history has managed to come close to such a combination of records, just as no one has managed to come close to its 525 victories, including five Giro d’Italia, a Tour of Spain, three World Championships, the hour record and nineteen Monuments, including seven wins in the Milan-San Remo. All this in twelve years of their career, from 1965 to 1977.
The Belgian champion is considered the most excellent rider in the history of cycling and of the Tour de France, where he holds an almost unbeatable record: five outright victories in Paris in just seven participations, with 34 stage victories and 96 days in the yellow jersey.
No one in more than a century of history has managed to come close to such a combination of records, just as no one has managed to come close to its 525 victories, including five Giro d’Italia, a Tour of Spain, three World Championships, the hour record and nineteen Monuments, including seven wins in the Milan-San Remo. All this in twelve years of their career, from 1965 to 1977.
Eddy Merckx had a voracity for a victory that bordered on obsession, which earned him the nickname “The Cannibal”: he wanted to win everything and, if possible, by crushing his rivals, which he demonstrated from his first participation in the Tour de France. During this 1969 edition, he won the yellow jersey nearly 18 minutes ahead of his rival, Roger Pingeon. He won all the secondary classifications: the Mountain, the Regularity, the Combined, the team classification with Faema, and even the Combativeness!
Merckx makes the most of his first Tour thanks to his mastery of all terrains, which translates into six stage victories: he wins all three-time trials, including the last day in Paris, and he wins the summits of Ballon d’Alsace and Puy de Dôme while beating Felice Gimondi in a head-to-head in the mountain stage between Briançon and Digne-Les-Baines. He dominated everything: time trials, the Alps, and the Pyrenees.
The following year, in 1970, he intensified his exploits: he won the Tour with a lead of nearly 13 minutes over Zoetemelk and won eight stages, including the team time trial, which he won with Faema in Anger, three other individual time trials and victories in big mountains like Mont Ventoux. The only thing that eluded him was the consistency ranking, which he lost by just five points to fellow Belgian Walter Godefroot.
Merckx’s track record is glorious: he won one out of five stages in the Tour de France (34 victories in 158 stages).
Eddy Merckx’s crushing dominance in the Tour de France may have been halted in 1971 when he found a formidable rival in Spaniard Luis Ocaña, a rider with exceptional qualities on almost any terrain and a mentality winner equal to the Belgian.
That year, Ocaña positioned himself in the general classification by winning the Puy de Dôme. After Merckx lost the yellow jersey to Zoetemelk during the mountain day in Grenoble, he launched a broad offensive the next day on the Orciéres-Merlette road. The rider from Priego, originally from Cuenca, attacked the Laffrey coast, 117 kilometers from the finish, and chose a breakaway from which he started solo on the climb to the Col de Noyer.
Without its team’s support, Merckx could not respond to one of the most significant demonstrations. Ocaña wins the stage and wears the yellow jersey, almost ten minutes ahead of the Belgian, who concedes his biggest defeat by declaring: “Ocaña killed us like El Cordobés kills his bulls.” However, fate struck the Cuenca-born runner from Priego four days later when he fell in the Pyrenean storm on the descent of the Col de Menté and was then crushed by Zoetemelk as he tried to raise. Ocaña was evacuated to the hospital, and his abandonment cleared the way for Merckx’s third victory in the Tour de France.
The Belgian then took his fourth victory in Paris in 1972, winning six stages almost 11 minutes ahead of Felice Gimondi, and spent the year 1973 winning the Vuelta an España–Giro d’Italia doubles before returning to 1974 to win his fifth Tour. He did so by winning eight stages, including Paris.
Everything seemed ready for Merckx to surpass Jacques Anquetil’s five victories in 1975. Still, the five-time champion was attacked by a spectator while leading the Puy de Dôme stage. Two days later, he paid the consequences by giving up the yellow jersey to Bernard Thévenet on the day of his historic collapse in the climb of Pra Loup. Merckx managed to finish second in Paris, less than three minutes behind the Frenchman, but he would never win the Tour again.
His seventh and last participation ended in sixth place in 1977, more than 12 minutes from Thévenet. He put his bike away in 1978 with a sparkling track record in France: five times winner of the Tour with 34 victories in 158 stages, including the prologues, winning one stage out of five!
At the end of the 1970s, Bernard Hinault took over from Merckx as the great dominator of the Tour de France, so much so that his record comes closest to that of the Belgian:
- Five outright victories in Paris
- 28 stage victories
- 75 days in the yellow jersey
Like Merckx, Hinault won the Tour in his first appearance, in 1978, after a stroke of genius in the 72-kilometer trial in Nancy, two days before arriving in Paris. The Breton rider took more than four minutes from Dutchman Joop Zoetemelk to dislodge him from the lead. It began to show his power in the individual battle, the key to his victories, and his extraordinary ambition.
His domination was already overwhelming in 1979, when he won his second Tour de France by winning seven stages and over 13 minutes ahead of the second rider, Joop Zoetemelk, in the general classification. Hinault consolidated his victory by winning against the clock during three critical days: the time trial in Superbagnéres and the time trials in Brussels and Morzine Avoriaz. His form of individual combat allowed him to win the same year the Grand Prix des Nations, the unofficial world championship of the specialty.
This series of victories on the Tour stopped in 1980 when the cold and the rain that marked this edition seriously affected his knee. Hinault, who had already marked territory with three stage wins, was forced to retire in Pau due to tendonitis. The following year, he made up for it and won his third Tour with a lead of more than 14 minutes over Lucien Van Impe, after overwhelming domination on all terrains, especially in his specialty: he won the Nice prologue and the counter- la-montre de Pau, Mulhouse and Saint Priest, and strikes a blow in the Alps, with a victorious solo at La Pleynet.
His fourth victory in the 1982 Tour follows the same scenario: he marks his territory by winning the prologue in Basel, gives up the yellow jersey for a few days, then regains the lead during the 11th stage, a time trial of 57 kilometers. That day, he lost 18 seconds to Gerrie Knetemann, but the Dutchman’s partial defeat did not prevent Hinault from building a significant gap over his rivals. The Breton ended the Tour by winning the successive two-time trials in Martigues and Saint Priest and controlling his opponents’ attacks in the Alps. The icing on the cake came during the sprint in Paris, winning the last stage in yellow against a specialist like Adrie Van der Poel.
Nicknamed Le Blaireau in France and Le Caimán in Spain, Bernard Hinault was at the top of his game and looked set to win his fifth Tour in 1983. Still, his knees failed him again shortly after his historical performance in the Sierra stage. de Ávila, where he sealed his second victory in the Vuelta an España with a memorable ascent of the “Puerto de Serranillos.” He had to have surgery, this time on his right knee, and his absence paved the way for the emergence of young Laurent Fignon, Hinault’s teammate in Cyrille Guimard’s Renault team.
Fignon won the 1983 Tour de France at 22, and Bernard Hinault left Renault in the winter, accepting a multi-million dollar offer from businessman Bernard Tapie to lead a new team, La Vie Claire.
Hinault has been on the Tour de France podium seven times, finishing second in the 1986 Tour de France.
In this context, the 1984 Tour de France promises to be a great duel between the two Frenchmen since Hinault seems to have recovered from his second place in the Giro d’Italia. The Breton appeared to confirm this by winning the prologue three seconds ahead of Fignon, but it didn’t last long. Renault, led by the blond Parisian with a ponytail, strikes the first blow in the team time trial of Valenciennes, and Fignon is the first to beat Hinault in the individual time trial of Le Mans, as in the next, which ends at La Ruchère. Fignon then put on a show in the Alps, outdistancing Hinault at Alpe d’Huez and winning at La Plagne to win the Tour by more than ten minutes ahead of the Breton rider.
With four Tours under his belt, en route to 31 and with the breath of the new generation on him, Hinault rose to the challenge of winning the fifth in 1985, with the relief of the absence of Fignon, injured in his knee, but with LeMond who is vying for leadership of the team. A pact is then concluded: LeMond will help Hinault to win the fifth, and the following year, they will exchange roles for giving the American his first victory.
With four Tours under his belt, on his way to turning 31, and with the wind of the new generation, Hinault took up the challenge of winning the fifth in 1985, relieved by the absence of Fignon, injured in his knee, but with LeMond pleading for his leadership on the team. A pact is then concluded: LeMond will help Hinault to win the fifth, and the following year, they will exchange roles for giving the American his first victory.
Le Blaireau began the 1985 Tour with two crucial shots in the general classification, the first by winning the Strasbourg time trial, almost three minutes ahead of LeMond, and the second in the mountain stage of Morzine, where he takes a minute and a half more, after finishing second, behind a sensational Lucho Herrera, the best climber at the time.
But all is not rosy: the fatigue accumulated after the victory in the Giro d’Italia and the strength of LeMond makes Hinault suffer in the Pyrenean arrivals of Luz Ardiden and Aubisque, as well as the defeat against the American in the final time trial at Lac Vassivière. Hinault won the fifth Tour in a hurry, less than two minutes in advance, but he managed to enter the circle of five-time champions.
Seemingly content to match Anquetil and Merckx, Hinault declared that in 1986 he would honor the pact and help LeMond win his first Tour. Still, when the time came, he rushed into the race with his more ambitious side, unable to master the temptation to become the first rider to win six times in Paris. The unleashed Breton won the time trial in Nantes and found himself wearing the yellow jersey during the first Pyrenean stage after a memorable breakaway with Perico Delgado.
The Segovian was attentive to the movement of Hinault, who attacked in a particular sprint more than ninety kilometers from the finish with his teammate Jean François Bernard and let himself be carried away at the foot of the Col de Marie Blanque. There, Bernard finishes the job, and Delgado and Hinault get on well until Pau, where the Frenchman gives up the stage victory to Segovian and takes the yellow jersey, with a lead of more than four a half minutes over LeMond.
Hinault starts the next day in the mountains more than five minutes ahead of LeMond. Still, he is not satisfied: he attacks more than a hundred kilometers again from the finish to try a definitive demonstration, but he fails in the climb of Peyresourde and ends up being overtaken by LeMond in the final climb of Superbagnères. The American finished more than four minutes behind him, and if Hinault could save the yellow jersey, he could no longer resist his young runner-up in the Alps.
LeMond takes the lead in the rough finish of the Col de Granon, and the next day, in Alpe d’Huez, the two rivals and teammates leave the image of the transfer of power in history as they cross the finish line hand in hand. The old champion bid farewell to the Tour with second place, his seventh podium on the Champs-Élysées. At the end of 1986, he made his final farewell to cycling by participating in a cyclocross race in his native village of Yffiniac in Brittany. The “badger” was back in its burrow after a glorious era.
Jacques Anquetil was the first five-time winner in the history of the Tour de France and the great dominator of the race between the 1950s and 1960s, thanks to his exceptional talent in the time trial.
Born in 1934 in the Normandy town of Mont-Saint-Aignan, Anquetil left his job as a turner at the age of 18 to devote himself to cycling. Not long before, he proved his qualities, winning the bronze medal for France at the Helsinki Games and winning, at the age of 19, the Grand Prix des Nations, the most prestigious time trial in the world. He ended up winning nine times, the absolute record for the event. That day, he beat the French grand champion of the time, Louison Bobet, in an individual fight over 140 kilometers.
His superb mastery of the specialty was the engine of his victories in the Tour de France, from his first participation in 1957 at 23. During this edition, without big names like Bobet or Géminiani and with fewer mountains than usual, Anquetil won the general classification a quarter of an hour ahead of the second Belgian, Marcel Janssens. He won the yellow jersey during the Galibier stage, with his arrival in Briançon. He won the Tour in his specialty, winning the time trials of Montjuich and, especially, that of Libourne, where he outdistanced all its rivals by more than three minutes. At that time, Anquetil bore the nickname “Monsieur Crono,” which would distinguish him throughout his career.
Unlike other champions, this first victory in 1957 did not mark Anquetil’s start of a winning streak. Internal disagreements within the French teams, between stars like Louison Bobet, Raphaël Géminiani, and Henri Anglade, coupled with the brilliance of two legendary climbers like Charly Gaul and Federico Martín Bahamontes, prevented Anquetil from occupying the top spot in Paris for three consecutive editions: in 1958, the year of Charly Gaul’s great victory, the Norman fell in the Col de Porte, lost 23 minutes and retired the next day with pneumopulmonia; in 1959, Anquetil only came in third place, faced with the performances of Gaul and Bahamontes on the climb, and a performance in the time trial below his level, especially the day the Aigle de Tolède took the lead in the Puy de Dôme time trial. Anquetil finished more than five minutes behind Bahamontes, and the podium in Paris had to wait two more years because, in 1960, he decided to win the Giro d’Italia.
Anquetil experienced a tough rivalry with his compatriot Raymond Poulidor and Federico Martín Bahamontes, which forced him to surpass himself during his fourth and fifth Tours.
Anquetil’s winning streak began with his four consecutive victories between 1961 and 1964, a period of his great duels with fellow Frenchman Raymond Poulidor. Still without this competition, Mr. Crono lived up to his nickname in 1961 by dominating the more than 100 kilometers of time trials in this edition. He started the second stage in yellow in the Versailles time trial and never let go of the lead. The final touch came during the 74.5-kilometer time trial in Périgueux, where he edged second-placed Charly Gaul by almost three minutes. Anquetil won his second Tour 12 minutes ahead of his closest rival, the Italian Guido Cardesi.
The Norman champion faced much more significant opposition in 1962, the year of Raymond Poulidor’s debut and Belgian Joseph Planckaert’s outburst in the Tour time trial. Anquetil won the first trial in La Rochelle but was overtaken by Planckaert in the Superbagnères time trial on a day when Bahamontes won the stage.
The Belgian specialist dethroned the Briton Tom Simpson from the lead and managed to defend his place in the mountains. At the same time, Poulidor began to show his quality by winning with authority the queen stage of Aix-les-Bains, a great crossing of Pyrenees, including the ascents of the Lautaret, Luitel, Porte, Cucheron, and Granier passes.
With his rivals on the prowl, Anquetil put on the pressure by claiming a unanimous victory in the 68-kilometer trial in Lyon, where he edged Planckaert and Poulidor by more than five minutes to bring the finishing touch. He won in Paris 4:59 minutes ahead of the Belgian and 10:24 ahead of his compatriot.
With three Tours de France and a Giro d’Italia to his credit, Anquetil was a world star in 1963. That year, however, he came up against colossal opposition from Bahamontes, who, at 35, put the Norman champion in definitive failure. Anquetil reached the mountains with almost no margin over the Spaniard, who showed outstanding performance on the flat in the time trial in Anger and even on the cobbles in Belgium.
Only Bahamontes’ lack of control in the Pyrenean descents prevented the Spaniard from outpacing Anquetil, who reached the Alps with a lead of nearly three minutes. Bahamontes, who had not said his last word, erased the deficit with two consecutive demonstrations, the first to win the Grenoble stage and the second to become the new leader in Val-d’Isère after a memorable duel with Anquetil in the climbs of Iseran and Croix de Fer.
The next day, Anquetil had to hold off the Spaniard in the Gran San Bernardo, the tough Forclaz, and the Col de Montet. Bahamontes, too fiery, rushes his attack and escapes at the first pass; Anquetil neutralizes him on the descent. At the foot of Forclaz, it is the controversy: Gémianini, director of Anquetil on the Saint-Raphaël, simulates a breakdown on the triple champion’s bike – it was only then that the organization authorized saddle changes – and managed to obtain authorization to give him a lighter one, with a 46×26 combination, more adapted to the 17% slope which is announced.
Anquetil’s cunning rearmed him to contain Bahamontes, who gave his all on the climb in a succession of attacks, each more potent than the other, which the Frenchman resisted as best they could. At the top, he gave up only a few seconds to the Spaniard from Toledo, whom he then finished in the sprint in Chamonix, taking advantage of the breath of a motorcycle. He will seal his fourth Tour by imposing himself with authority in the time trial in Besançon.
Perhaps being the first rider to win five Tours de France made him less ambitious for a sixth and looking for new challenges.
Anquetil’s fifth victory in 1964 was the closest of all, thanks partly to the emergence of Raymond Poulidor and partly to a new, very competitive version of Bahamontes, who was already 36 years old. The two rivals won three important victories in the mountains: Poulidor in Bagnères de Luchon, and Bahamontes in Briançon and Pau. Anquetil could outrun the Spaniard by taking the yellow jersey in the Bayonne time trial, but not his compatriot, who showed great form by finishing second, less than a minute away.
The race reaches the Puy de Dôme, where a memorable duel occurs between the two Frenchmen. Poulidor, 56 seconds behind Anquetil, needed a substantial lead over the leader to reach the final time trial in Paris. The challenger did his best in a neck-to-neck fight, but he could only escape on the home stretch. Anquetil could limit the damage: he saved the caution by 14 seconds, more than enough to end his fifth Tour with another time trial victory in Paris but not enough to win the favor of the French public, won by Poulidor. The 55 seconds that separated them in the general classification was the narrowest margin of the Norman champion’s five victories.
Anquetil did not return to the Tour de France, so he left the race undefeated by it, unlike the five-time champions who came after him. Maybe being the first rider in history to take five wins dampened his ambition to go for sixth, but it was a different time, and there were other challenges with which he could win favor with French fans, a battle he lost to Poulidor.
The Normand could not find some of this sympathy until 1965. Outside the Tour, when he devoted himself to achieving an unprecedented feat: he beat Poulidor again in the Dauphiné Libéré, a kind of Tour reduced to ten stages, and only nine hours after having finished the Tour of Dauphiné, he left to complete the Bordeaux-Paris, a classic of 557 kilometers which begins at two o’clock in the morning.
Having hardly slept, Anquetil got off to a bad start, suffered from stomach problems, and almost gave up the race. Still, everything changed when his manager, Raphaël Géminiani, touched his pride by saying: “I am mistaken about you.” The Normandy-born rider responded by passing Tom Simpson and Jean Stablinsky, then left them behind as he entered Paris to win the race in 15 hours and three minutes. The Parc des Princes gave him an ovation that he had never known in the yellow jersey.
Miguel Induráin is still the only five-time Tour de France champion to win five in a row after the organizers decided to erase Lance Armstrong’s seven consecutive victories from his record due to doping.
Born in the Navarrese town of Villava into a farming family, few people thought that the young man who joined the Villavés cycling club at the age of 11 would become the most outstanding Spanish cyclist of all time and also one of the great legends of the Tour de France.
He had too great a wingspan to cross the great mountains with mountaineers, and much of his extraordinary power was undermined by his great weight, which was no more than that of a young man approaching five feet.
It was his manager at Villavés, Pepe Barruso. They contacted the Reynolds structure after Induráin burst onto the youth side with five victories in 1981, his first year in the category, confirming the quality he had been showing since he was young. In his second year, under the watchful eye of José Miguel Echávarri, Induráin increased his record to eleven victories and ended up making the jump to the Reynolds amateur team, with his exceptional qualities as a classicóman and sprinter, which made him a leading candidate at the national level.
Nineteen more victories as an amateur were the springboard that launched Induráin to Reynolds’ professional team in September 1984.
The Navarrese team decided to make Induráin’s debut in the 1985 Tour de France after the young cyclist had worn the yellow jersey of the Vuelta an España for four days until he lost it in the theoretical field mountain in the ascent of the Lagos de Covadonga. The beginnings in France were not good: Induráin abandoned this Tour in the fourth stage due to illness, and the same happened in 1986 when he arrived at the Grande Boucle after winning the Tour du Porvenir, showing his power in the fight against the clock. However, that year he left, leaving his first mark in the Tour de France, finishing third in the sprint of the seventh stage, behind Ludo Peeters and Ron Kiefel.
1986 was a crucial year in the evolution of Induráin. Reynolds decides to explore his real possibilities as a potential Grand Tour winner and subjects the rider to various medical tests, which show that the Navarrese has extraordinary, almost limitless potential. Based on this data, Induráin began to focus his preparation on alleviating his deficit in the mountains by losing some weight and performing specific training sessions. The results were not long in coming.
After finishing his first Tour de France in 1987, far behind in the general classification, the Navarran rider became an essential part of the Reynolds team that led Perico Delgado to victory in Paris in 1988 and ended his season with a high-level victory. In Volta a Catalunya.
The following year, Induráin finally dispelled many of the doubts about his climbing prowess when he won Paris-Nice climbing with the best and when he took his first stage victory on the Tour de France, at the top of Cauterets, after launching an attack in the Col de la Marie Blanque, following Reynolds’ strategy of exhausting LeMond and Fignon in favor of Perico Delgado. In this same edition, Induráin overtook his Segovian leader and his two main enemies in the Orcières-Merlette time trial, where he finished third, only ahead of Steven Rooks and Marino Lejarreta.
Induráin won his first Tour by resisting in the mountains and winning the time trial. Over the next four Tours, he further perfected the script: excellent in the time trial, relentless in the hills.
Induráin’s feelings about his remarkable evolution were confirmed in the 1990 Tour de France, where he finished tenth overall. The Navarrese rider beat all the big favorites in the 61-kilometer time trial in Epinal, where he came second behind Mexican Raúl Alcalá and finished third in the Villard de Lans time trial. As if doubts remained, in the mountains, he confirmed his impressive evolution with second place in Millau, behind Marino Lejarreta, and with an impressive victory in Luz Ardiden, where he beat leader Greg LeMond in the last kilometer to win alone.
Induráin’s outstanding performance has sparked a more than a reasonable debate about the leadership of the Reynolds team after Perico Delgado missed the podium and, above all, after calculating that the Navarrese rider’s loss of twelve minutes in the general classification by the report to the winner, Greg LeMond, was based on his work as a teammate in favor of the Segovian.
Reynolds took notice in 1991 and decided that Induráin should share leadership with Delgado. The Navarrese began to dispel doubts by winning the 73-kilometer time trial in Alençon, where he beat LeMond by eight seconds and trailed Delgado by more than two minutes. The American wore yellow that day until, on the first Pyrenean stage, he and the rest of the favorites let a breakaway take the lead from Frenchman Luc Leblanc.
This new situation took a historic turn the next day, during the memorable queen stage between Jaca and Val Louron, 232 kilometers long, with the ascents of Portalet, Aubisque, Tourmalet, and Aspin, preceding the climb final, all under the oppressive heat of the Pyrenees. The key came on the colossal Tourmalet, where LeMond decided to attack ten kilometers from the summit in a show of false strength that was soon revealed when the Italian Claudio Chiappucci closed ranks and Delgado, the leader Leblanc, Fignon, and Le Mond himself fell from the group of chosen riders.
Induráin, who climbed impassively, at his own pace, sprang into action as soon as he reached the summit and broke away on the first descent of the Tourmalet to ride alone towards Sainte Marie de Campan. In the valley, he waits for Chiappucci, and the tandem agrees on the distribution of tasks that will energize the Tour: the Italian will set the pace on the climbs of Aspin and Val Louron, and Induráin will give him very hard relays in the valleys. Chiappucci will win the stage after more than seven hours of racing, and the Navarrese rider will wear yellow for the first time, taking a substantial gap: Gianni Bugno at 1:29 minutes; Fignon at 2:50; LeMond at 7:18. Delgado comes even further behind and, when asked at the finish line if he is happy, he shows his bewilderment.
Induráin ended his first Tour resisting the attacks of Gianni Bugno in the mountains and ending with another victory in the time trial of Maçon on the eve of his arrival in Paris. It was the start of a legendary race.
The Navarrese rider then won the next four Tours, perfecting the scenario: exceptional in the time trial,
relentless in the mountains.
In 1992 he won the San Sebastian prologue and began to score in the Tour in Luxembourg, where he achieved what for many is the best time trial of all time. He won three minutes ahead of teammate Armand de las Cuevas, outdistanced Bugno and LeMond by around four minutes, and overtook Laurent Fignon, who had started six minutes earlier.
Already in yellow, Induráin consolidated his lead in another stage that will mark history, that of Sestriere, where Chiappucci won alone after attacking more than 200 kilometers from the finish and where the Spaniard, third at the arrival, still gained more than a minute on Bugno. The final touch is provided two days before Paris, when Induráin wins the time trial in Blois and completes his second victory with a lead of almost five minutes over Chiappucci and more than ten minutes over Bugno, who, after this new defeat, internalized the superiority of the Spaniard.
The Spaniard’s dominance was revalidated in 1993, against tough competition from Toni Rominger. The Swiss rider arrived on the Tour after beating his compatriot Alex Zülle in the Vuelta an España. It posed a real threat to the Spaniard, thanks to his qualities in the time trial and his excellent performances in the mountains. However, Induráin started the Tour by winning the prologue at Puy du Fou and then put on the yellow jersey with another outstanding victory in the time trial at Lac de Madine, where he took a gap of two to three minutes. on Toni Rominger, Gianni Bugno and a specialist like the Dutchman Erik Breukink.
Rominger will show all his potential as a climber in the Alps, winning two consecutive stages at Serre Chevalier and Isola 2000. Still, he will not be able to get rid of the Navarrese rider, who follows his route without too many problems. The Swiss will only catch up with him by three seconds during the Pyrenean day in Saint Lary Soulan and 42 seconds during the time trial on the penultimate day in Monthléry, where Induráin is competing with flu symptoms. It will be enough to allow him to win his third Tour five minutes ahead of Rominger.
The Swiss will return in 1994 as a great rival, having swept the Vuelta an España nearly eight minutes ahead of his runner-up and six stage victories. Still, the Navarrese will be relentless with a new master stroke: the Bergerac time trial. Induráin flew at 50.5 km/h over the 64-kilometer course and beat Rominger by two minutes. All the other riders were more than four minutes behind, including specialists like Thierry Marie, Chris Boardman – winner of the prologue -Bjarne Rijs, and Abraham Olano.
Induráin took the yellow jersey with a considerable lead which had a deterrent effect on Rominger, who abandoned the Tour when the Navarrese put on the next spectacle on the climb to Hautacam. That day, Induráin not only responded to all the attacks of Marco Pantani, the rider who had caused his first defeat in the Giro d’Italia by eliminating him from the Mortirolo stage, but he imposed a pace so exhausting on the climb that he ended up letting everyone go, including the Italian climber. Rominger gives up again and ends up abandoning the Tour when he was 7:56 minutes behind in the general classification.
From then on, the Navarrese rider limited himself to mastering the mountain attacks of Marco Pantani and the Russian Piotr Ugrumov. They finished second in Paris thanks to two major consecutive stage victories in Cluses and Avoriaz. Despite losing just over four minutes over the two days, Induráin made it to the podium in Paris as a four-time Tour winner with a nearly six-minute lead over the Russian.
Everything seemed ready for Induráin to win his sixth consecutive Tour in 1996, but there was one detail he hadn’t counted on: the weather.
The door to five-time champions opened for Miguel Induráin in 1995, when he won his fifth consecutive Tour, beating threats such as Rominger, who had won the Giro d’Italia, Russia’s Eugeni Berzin, who had beaten the previous year in the pink race, and the ONCE team, which finished that year with three riders in the top six in Paris: Alex Zülle (2nd), Laurent Jalabert (4th) and Melchor Mauri (6th ).
This time, the rider from Navarre surprised everyone by striking a blow where no one expected him, the day before the first big-time trial, on the hilly course of the seventh stage, which ends in Liège. Induráin jumped 26 kilometers up the Mont Theux climb and set off in pursuit of a breakaway with men like Johan Bruyneel and Lance Armstrong. He joined the breakaway and found himself alone with Bruyneel and Eric Boyer. Behind, the peloton was powerless against this spectacle. The Navarrese climbed the Forges hill like a motorbike, where Boyer abandoned and subjected Bruyneel to torture. Still, he resisted and ended up winning the stage, taking advantage of the wear and tear of the four-time sprint champion in Liège.
The reward for Induráin was the 50 seconds lead he gained and, above all, the psychological blow dealt to his rivals. The next day he won the Seraing time trial by narrower margins than usual but managed to take the yellow jersey from Bruyneel.
The arrival of the Alps finally made it possible to discover the great rival of the Navarrese rider in the person of Alex Zülle. The Swiss won the first alpine effort atop La Plagne two minutes ahead of Induráin, having been virtually the leader at times during the stage. Still, the Spaniard managed to limit the damage on the final climb and finished alone in second place, taking a significant lead over the rest of the competitors. The Spaniard withstood all the attacks of the ONCE team until the end, following the road from Zülle to Alpe d’Huez, and resisting the great collective attack of Manolo Sáiz’s team on the famous stage of the airport of Mende. Another victory in the final trial at Lac de Vassivière will put the finishing touches on the fifth Tour de France.
“The future is his,” and “he can dominate next year too ,” said Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx when they saw how Induráin caught them in the race. And Perico Delgado joined him: “Miguel offers more than enough guarantees to win the sixth Round. “
Indeed, everything seems to be in place to realize the historical stage of 1996 because Induráin has just won the Dauphiné, and all its theoretical rivals have already been defeated in previous editions. The Tour organizers have even prepared a tribute to the five-time champion from Navarre, designing a stage with a finish in Pamplona so that fans can see him walk through the door of his house in Villava in yellow.
Nobody predicts the weather: rain and cold will accompany the race from the start in the Netherlands, which was not the case during the previous Tours of Induráin. The champion’s body suffered, and the course of history began to change from the first alpine stage with the arrival at Les Arcs. This undemanding pass must be reached after passing the Col de la Madeleine and the Cormet de Roselend.
When we expected a first hard blow for the Navarrese rider, tragedy arrived: Induráin lost contact with the group of favorites three kilometers from the end, without breaking down on the bike but letting a tired pedaling cadence appear. All alarm bells went off when, with a broken face, he turned to the cars to ask for water and salt. In front, the rivals crowd. At the top, Luc Leblanc won, ahead of Rominger, Luttenberger, Virenque, Dufaux, Olano… Induráin finished seventeenth, at 4:19 minutes, sunk. It was the beginning of the end.
A little over three minutes ahead, the Dane Bjarne Rijs, escorted by his German teammate Jan Ullrich, 22 years old. The leaders of Telekom were quick to bow to the five-time champion. After this setback, Induráin found no help in the time trial and could only finish fifth in the Val d’Isère time trial, where Eugenie Berzin won and took the yellow jersey. The next day he was hit again by Telekom in Sestriere, where Rijs took his first stage victory with half a minute left, completing another fantastic job by Ullrich winning the yellow jersey.
The German runner-up also paved the way for Graci when he was already in the Pyrenees and set a hellish pace in the Hautacam that preceded his leader’s attack. Induráin, who had made the first selection, found himself without remission on his 32nd birthday, and Rijs put on a show as he climbed the last seven kilometers on a large plateau.
The defeat of the Navarrese rider was carried out very close to his home, in the queen stage of the Pyrenees, which ends in Pamplona. A day full of symbols, where the Telekom team of Rijs and Ullrich destroyed the race on the climb to Larrau, with an impossible pace for Induráin, who climbed the Pyrenean wall together with Chiappucci. In doing so, the old Italian rival commented: “More climbing, more suffering.” Induráin replied: “Make no mistake, Claudio, there are still a hundred kilometers of steep hills that do not mark but hurt, the wind is coming…“.
The champion’s Way of the Cross took him to over eight minutes behind the winner, Laurent Dufaux, who finished second with Bjarne Rijs.
The Dane, the leader and successor, will be accompanied by Induráin on the podium, friendly, smiling, and wearing the bright yellow jersey. Ten years later, he will admit to using EPO doping to win the race.
Induráin did not return for his sixth Round. Soon after, Banesto forced him to race the Vuelta an España due to publicity commitments, as the cyclist closed his season after winning Olympic time trial gold in Atlanta. Induráin ended up running against his will and crashing in the Lagos de Covadonga stage. It was the last time he wore a bib. On January 2, 1997, he announced his retirement from cycling at 32, although he admitted he felt capable of winning a sixth Tour de France. We’ll never know.
Seven legends at the gates of Olympus
Beyond the four five-time champions, the history of the centenary of the Tour de France has been written with other cyclists who have won the hearts of fans, with brilliant careers but strewn with circumstances that have prevented them from collecting more bright.
The Tour, the most challenging cycling race in the world, the one that demands the most incredible attention to detail, has, by its mere idiosyncrasy, penalized many riders while it has promoted others. Many cyclists have been left halfway to glory in this challenging balance, including the seven names we have chosen. They are seven legends who have marked the history of the Tour de France.
These are names that have forged the legend of racing, from the adventures of pioneers like Maurice Garin, Octave Lapize, or Louis Troussellier, to today’s champions. To make a selection of legendary cyclists in a race with Tour history is not only a daunting task but also presents the severe risk of not doing justice to the great icons of cycling who have marked different generations.
But it is inevitable that most of them have had to face these seven legends that we have chosen at one time or another.
Philippe Thys held the best Tour de France record until the Second World War and is also the first rider to have won three editions of the Tour de France, a history he held from his third victory in 1920 until 1963 when Jacques Anquetil won for the fourth time in Paris. It has always been considered that, without the First World War, which forced the suspension of five editions from 1915 to 1918, the Belgian would have achieved a much longer series of victories in the Tour de France.
After his third victory in 1920, the first after the war, it was the boss of the race, Henri Desgrange, who declared: “France is well aware that, without the war, Thys will not celebrate its third Tour, but his fifth or sixth.”
The Belgian triple champion was a superb athlete, excelling in several disciplines. Until he decided to take up cyclo-cross, a specialty in which he will be champion of Belgium in 1910 and of the prestigious Peugeot circuit in France in 1911, the big event of the moment in this specialty. These beginnings forged a rider of great endurance with extraordinary skills in all terrains, including track cycling.
Philippe Thys proved this when he took to the road, winning the Paris – Turin and Paris – Toulouse stage races, victories that earned him a move to the pros. His first participation in the Tour de France in 1912 is already a warning: Thys finishes nine times in the first ten out of the fifteen stages contested and finishes sixth in the general classification, 99 points behind the champion, his compatriot Odile Defraye – this is the last year of the points classification to determine the winner.
It was the time when Belgium had already ended France’s overwhelming domination of the Tour. Defray was their first winner. After him, Philippe Thys extended this domination until war broke out.
The Anderlecht champion’s first victory came in 1913 when the Tour took over the general classification by cumulative time. This debuted in a very complex edition due to accidents and penalties, which even he could not escape. He begins to consolidate his victory by winning the sixth stage, which ends in Bagnères de Luchon, an infernal Pyrenean crossing of 326 kilometers, with Aubisque, Tourmalet, Aspin, and Peyresourde, which entered directly into legend due to the episode involving the star of the Peugeot team and big favorite, the Frenchman Eugène Cristophe, the cyclist who had lost the previous Tour penalized by the points system, despite having been the best against the show.
Thys and Cristophe were part of a breakaway of seven riders formed on the ramps of the Aubisque and went alone in the ascent of the Tourmalet, in the descent of which the French rider broke the frame of his bike. Christophe had to walk down to a forge in Sainte Marie de Campan, fifteen kilometers below. He lost almost four hours in the repair – mechanical assistance was not allowed in these first editions – while Phillippe Thys rode to the finish, where he arrived as the winner after almost fourteen hours of racing, with a lead of 17:57 minutes over the second, his compatriot and until then leader, Marcel Buysse.
Thys still had to fight hard during this first Tour de France because Buysse took the lead the next day during a Dantesque day with a finish in Perpignan and did not regain it until his compatriot was the victim of a fall during the ninth stage ending in Nice and also loses three and a half hours in repairs.
From there to the finish, Thys fended off attacks in the Alps from two-time Tour winner Lucien Petit Breton – who eventually retired on the penultimate stage following another crash – and won the Tour de France with an 8:37 minute lead over Frenchman Gustave Garrigou. It did so with a lot of suspense, as Thys was also the victim of a cycling accident and was forced to undergo emergency repairs in Lille the day before he arrived in Paris.
Thys won the 1914 Tour despite a half-hour penalty on the penultimate stage for asking for help to repair his bike.
Philippe Thys’ second Tour de France took place in 1914, the last edition before the suspension due to the First World War. The Belgian dominated the race against a series of great rivals, such as Petit Breton, Garrigou, Defraye, Trousselier, Lapize, and, above all, Henri Pélissier, the rider who pushed him to the end.
Curiously, the Belgian champion only won the first stage, ending in Le Havre without making a difference with his rivals. Still, he showed extraordinary regularity over the 5,405 kilometers of this Tour: there was only one stage where he did not finish in the top ten, the ninth in Marseille. His domination is evident from the Pyrenees, where he takes second place behind Firmin Lambot during the big day at Aubisque and Tourmalet and is more than half an hour ahead of Pélissier.
Phillippe Thys controlled the Frenchman’s attacks in the Alps, from where he emerged with a gap of 31 minutes. His narrow final victory over Pélissier, of less than two minutes, had a reason: he was penalized half an hour in the penultimate stage for having asked for help to repair his bike. Pélissier tried to dislodge him on the last stage with all kinds of attacks and won on the finish in Paris, but Thys held on in the four-rider breakaway that took the last part of the stage to win his second turn.
The third triumph came after World War I when Thys was about to turn 30. This 1920 Tour was primarily dominated by Belgium, whose riders won twelve stages. Thys took four partial wins, finished second seven times, and controlled all breakaways. He left the Pyrenees almost an hour ahead of his compatriot Hector Heusghem second. He kept this lead until Paris, leading an extraordinary Belgian display: the first seven in the general classification were Belgian.
Philippe Thys continued to participate in the Tour de France until 1925 but no longer approached the Parisian podium: he retired three times (1921, 1923, and 1925) and finished far behind the best in 1922 (14th) and 1924 ( 11th). His big chance for a fourth Tour came in 1922, but he broke his bike in the Tourmalet stage and lost all his options by losing more than three hours in the repair. However, he won five stages by imposing his maximum speed in the arrivals of the peloton, including the last in Paris.
The great Gino Bartali holds a unique record in the Tour de France: he won two editions separated by a gap of ten years (1938 and 1948), the most extended margin between victories in the history of the race. It is generally accepted that his record could have been even higher if not for the Second World War, which erased the Tour from the calendar from 1940 to 1947, that is to say, almost all the glory years of the legendary Tuscan cyclist.
Bartali is considered one of the best climbers of all time and the last representative of epic cycling, a purely natural talent far from the exhaustive physical preparations, calculations, and techniques that will come later. He smoked between stages, had no problem eating lunch with wine, and often neglected his hours of rest.
This part of his profile, combined with conservative political views and deep religious beliefs that earned him the nickname “the thief monk,” placed him at odds with his great sporting enemy, Fausto Coppi, fueling a rivalry that transcended the roads but eventually turned into a deep friendship.
Born into a peasant family, Bartali’s talent exploded at age 21, when he won the 1936 Giro d’Italia, beating Giuseppe Olmo, winner of ten stages during this edition. Barely a month later, the death of his brother Giulio almost made him give up cycling. Still, he managed to avoid depression, and his debut in the Tour de France was not long in coming: in 1937, he burst into racing, smashing the record for the ascent of the Ballon d’Alsace, then removing the yellow jersey from the German Erich Bautz thanks to an escalation of the Galibier and the Lautaret, during the seventh stage towards Grenoble.
With a nine-minute lead, Bartali attacked the next day on the road to Briançon, but he fell into a river on the descent of the Côte de Laffrey, and the consequences of the accident led to his retirement.
Bartali returns to this alpine enclave to follow up on his great victory in the 1938 Tour, dethroning the leader, the Belgian Félicien Vervaecke, whom he beats by almost 18 minutes in the Briançon stage, where he won alone with a historic rise. He appeared to be able to break the record of three victories in Paris held by Belgian Philippe Thys. Still, the air of war that was already in the air left the Tour without German and Italian participation in 1939, and the start of the fighting stopped the race until 1947.
Bartali won the 1948 Tour thanks to an unlikely comeback: he entered the Alps 21 minutes behind Louison Bobet in the general classification. He came out more than half an hour ahead of the Frenchman.
Gino Bartali returned in 1948, aged nearly 34, and pioneering the use of Campagnolo’s new gear system on his Legnano bicycle allowed him to change gears without changing wheels or getting off the bike.
Against all expectations, the great Tuscan won the Tour de France thanks to an unlikely comeback: he entered the Alps 21 minutes behind Louison Bobet in the general classification. He came out more than half an hour ahead of the Frenchman after what many consider the most incredible display of climbing ever.
Bartali won all three Alpine stages, riding solo in Briançon, Aix-les-Bains and Lausanne. A legend deeply rooted in history says that the origin of this comeback is a telephone call from the Italian Prime Minister, Alcide de Gasperi, imploring the old champion to win to calm the tense climate in the country after the attempted assassination of communist leader Palmiro Togliatti.
Outside of history, this was Bartali’s last triumph in the Tour de France. The following year, Fausto Coppi burst onto the scene, and history was written with the youngest champion.
Fausto Coppi, a legend of Italian and world cycling, figures in the most selective history of the Tour de France with only three participations and two victories, those of 1949 and 1952, both extraordinary. As in the case of Bartali, the Second World War cut short a record that could have been spectacular but which still includes five victories in the Giro d’Italia, the hour record, the world championship, and the fact of being the first cyclist to win the Giro-Tour double, as well as being, at the age of 20 years and eight months, the youngest to win the Corsa Rosa.
Coppi began his life as a cyclist at eight, as a delivery boy in a grocery store. His exceptional ability and sleek, lean style on the bike led him to dominate in the time trial, mountain, and sprint events. He first arrived at the Tour de France in 1949, when he was already a legend: he had set the hour record in 1942, won all kinds of races, and won the Giro d’Italia three times. , including the last two editions, and the Tour de France 1940, the last before the Second World War.
In this 1949 Tour, only Gino Bartali’s spectacular victory in the previous edition cast doubt on his coronation in Paris. Still, Coppi arrived in France after beating his great rival in the Giro d’Italia by more than 23 minutes, and age works in his favor.
The giant duel takes place in the Alps when the two men escape on the road to Briançon, and Bartali takes the yellow jersey, beating his compatriot Fiorenzo Magni. The following day, Coppi went on the offensive, and Bartali, who was only a minute and 22 seconds ahead of him, followed him on the climbs of Mont Cenis, Montgenèvre, Iseran, and Petit Saint. Bernard, but he has a puncture 45 kilometers from the finish and needs mechanical assistance. Coppi slows down to wait, but the manager of the two champions at the Bianchi, Alfredo Binda, then tells him to continue.
Il Campionissimo stood out in the home straight and won at Aosta with a lead of more than five minutes. He will deal the coup de grace in his specialty by winning the 137-kilometer time trial marathon in Nancy, 7:02 minutes ahead of Gino Bartali. The latter finished second in the general classification at the age of 35.
After being crowned in Paris, Coppi entered his most painful period in 1950, when he fractured his pelvis attempting to win his fourth Giro d’Italia. The injury prevented him from traveling to France to defend the title. His brother, Serse, was killed in the Giro del Piemonte in an accident one kilometer from the finish line. Il Campionissimo was the victim of depression from which, fortunately for cycling, his friends tried to get him out of the situation.
Thanks to this, Coppi reappeared in the 1951 Giro with fourth place and finished tenth in the Tour de France, completing his second participation with a superb solo victory in Briançon. It was later said that that day he took out his champion pride in revenge for his significant loss to Hugo Koblet in Montpellier, where that year’s Tour champion beat him by 34 minutes.
From 1946 to 1954, no Coppi breakaway was neutralized, a fact as shocking as it is consistent with the legend of Il Campionissimo.
Il Campionissimo completed his Tour de France legend with a landslide victory in 1952. In summary, he was more than 28 minutes ahead of second-placed Belgian Stan Ockers and more than half an hour ahead of Gino Bartali, and he won five stages, reflecting his absolute dominance in the Alps and Pyrenees, as well as in the time trial.
His first coup was a victory in the 60-kilometer trial in Nancy before taking the yellow jersey on the very first ascent of Alpe d’Huez, where he won after dropping one of the great climbers, Jean Robic. The next day, full of energy, Coppi destroyed the Tour with one of his most remarkable exploits: he climbed the Croix de Fer, the Télégraphe, the Galibier, and the Montgenèvre alone and reached the finish in Sestriere with a lead. More than seven minutes into the second, the Spaniard Bernardo Ruiz.
He will still have time to complete his landslide victory by winning in Pau and the Puy de Dôme, his last partial victory in the Tour de France, where he will never return.
One author, Pierre Chany, went so far as to say that from 1946 to 1954, no Coppi breakaway was neutralized, a fact as shocking as it is consistent with the legend of the man who is considered one of the greatest cyclists. Of all time, with a very deep trace on the Tour.
Louison Bobet was the first cyclist to win the Tour de France three times in a row, a record which, in the first half of the 1950s, had enormous value, not only because it equaled the victories of Philippe Thys, but also because he achieved it by facing champions such as Bartali, Coppi, Bahamontes, Koblet, Kübler and Charly Gaul.
The brilliance of his career brought him into the restricted circle of the best sportsmen in the history of France.
Bobet was born in Brittany into a family that ran a bakery, and it was the job he practiced before turning to cycle, hence his nickname, the Boulanger de Saint Méen, about the little Breton town where he grew up.
The future champion began participating in the Tour in 1948, at 23, just two years after becoming the French amateur champion. Bobet’s debut in the Grande Boucle can be considered brilliant. However, it was marked by the impressive victory of Gino Bartali in the general classification in the Alps, where the Frenchman entered as an exceptional leader and came out more than half an hour behind the Italian.
Just before this historic comeback, Bobet had won the finish in Cannes and the sixth stage in Biarritz, finishing the two victories in breakaways in small groups. Although he finished fourth in this Tour, 32 minutes from Bartali, Bobet showed some of the virtues that took him to the top: mastery of all terrains, a classic addict’s gift, a good top speed for concluding the victories, and significant potential as a climber.
His progress in the Tour de France halted in 1949 when he retired on stage ten from San Sebastián to Pau, but he gained new momentum with a third-place finish in 1950. That year, Bobet wins the Grand Prix de la Montagne and brilliantly wins the alpine stage of Briançon, where he alone beats his two predecessors on the podium in Paris by almost three minutes: the Swiss, Ferdi Kübler, and the Belgian, Stan Ockers.
It will take another three years before Bobet takes the podium’s top step. It was in a complicated edition, that of the 50th anniversary of the Tour de France in 1953, where Hugo Koblet, winner in 1951 and second in the Giro d’Italia that year after Fausto Coppi, appeared as the big favorite. But the Swiss champion falls in the stage of Aubisque, won by the Spaniard Jesús Loroño at the top of Cauterets. From the Pyrenean, block arises a formidable rival for Bobet: his compatriot Jean Robic.
The little climber from the Ardennes wins at Luchon and wears yellow, but he is the victim of a terrible fall the next day on the road to Albi. The head of the race went to Frenchman François Mahé and, two days later, to his compatriot Jean Malléjac.
Louison Bobet’s breakthrough came in the Alps when he escaped into the Col de Vars in the company of riders such as Jesús Loroño and rode the descent alone to join his gregarious, the Italian Adolphe Deledda, then soloed the most challenging part of the Izoard.
Bobet began his legend that day on the Col des Alpes with a legendary breakaway that took him to victory at Briançon with a lead of more than five minutes over all his rivals. A few days later, he won the 70-kilometer time trial in Saint-Étienne with authority and closed his first Tour de France with a lead of more than 14 minutes over Jean Malléjac.
The Col d’Izoard is also the stage where Bobet gives the coup de grace for his second victory of 1954, this time with the yellow jersey he had won a few days earlier in Millau. Like the previous year, he finished the exhibition in Briançon, after nearly eight hours of the alpine marathon, with a lead of almost two minutes over Kübler and almost five minutes over Bahamontes. They won his first reigns over the Mountain. Louison Bobet won three stages and kept his Tour victory with a lead of almost 16 minutes over Kübler.
To his Tour prize list, the baker from Saint Méen added four of the five Monuments and a World Championship in road cycling.
In 1955, the baker from Saint-Méen arrived in France as the big favorite: not only was he a double winner of the Tour, but he was also the brand new world champion on the road, a title he won in the German town of Solingen. Bobet won in the Alps by winning the Avignon stage alone, 55 seconds ahead of his great rival, the Belgian Jean Brankart, and he made his big breakthrough in the Pyrenees during the 17th stage between Toulouse and Saint Gaudens.
That day, Charly Gaul, who had already distinguished himself in the Alps with a spectacular victory in Briançon, attacked in Aspin and managed to escape the control of the French team until La Peyresourde, where Bobet shot in pursuit of the yellow jersey. The Frenchman caught up with the Gaul 40 kilometers from the finish line, but he could not compete with him for the stage because one of his guts started to burst. Bobet could not follow the Gaul, king of the mountains, in this edition, but he finished second and took the yellow jersey, which he did not let go until Paris.
That day, Charly Gaul, who had already distinguished himself in the Alps with a spectacular victory in Briançon, attacked in Aspin and managed to escape the control of the French team until La Peyresourde, where Bobet shot in pursuit of the yellow jersey. The Frenchman caught up with the Gaul 40 kilometers from the finish line, but he couldn’t challenge him for the stage because one of these Tubeless tires started to burst. Bobet could not follow the Gaul, king of the mountains, in this edition, but he finished second and took the yellow jersey, which he did not let go until Paris.
Jean Brankart pushes the Frenchman further, winning the next day in Pau and winning the final trial in Tours, but cannot prevent the baker from Saint-Méen from becoming the first cyclist in history to win three Tours of consecutive France.
Louison Bobet did not get back on the top step of the Tour podium. He devoted himself to expanding his list of classics, with resounding victories like that of Paris-Roubaix in 1956 – he would then win four of the five Monuments – and two consecutive second places at the World Championships. When he returned to the Tour in 1958, it was already the era of Jacques Anquetil and two outstanding climbers: Charly Gaul and Federico Martín Bahamontes.
Federico Martin Bahamontes
The Toledo cyclist was the first Spaniard to win the Tour de France in 1959. In 2013 he was deemed the race’s best climber following a vote held on the occasion of the Centenary by a jury made up of personalities such as the five-time champion, Bernard Hinault, and the director of the Tour himself, Christian Prudhomme.
The choice came as no surprise: Bahamontes had won the Grand Prix de la Montagne six times, seven stage victories of an extraordinary level on the peaks, and captivated the fans with a bold attacking style which, when he was in great shape, made him unstoppable uphill. It lived up to its famous nickname: El Águila de Toledo.
Born in the small village of Val de Santo Domingo – today Santo Domingo-Caudilla – about thirty kilometers from Toledo, Bahamontes forged his cycling skills in the depths of the Spanish Civil War and the difficult period after. -war. When his family returned to Toledo after his exile in Madrid, due to the siege of the Alcázar, the long journeys by bicycle to obtain the products of the smuggled trade, and the work that his father entrusted to him as a delivery boy, who forces him to climb the steep streets of Toledo with loaded wheelbarrows, end up shaping his incomparable bicycle climbing abilities, as well as his authentic personality.
Bahamontes showed these exceptional conditions as soon as he took up cycling at 19. Another great Spanish climber, Julián Berrendero, then Spanish national trainer, recruited him to participate in his first Tour de France in 1954. The Spaniard responded with his first demonstrations: he finished second on the first Pyrenean day in Bagnères de Luchon, ahead of the leader Louison Bobet, won his first Grand Prix de la Montagne, and distinguished himself in episodes such as the Col de la Romeyère, where he tasted ice cream at the top after having reached it alone. It was later said that he did so while waiting for mechanical assistance.
His next appearance in France, during the 1958 Tour, resulted in two major stage victories in the Pyrenees: the first in Luchon, where he arrived in a breakaway after having climbed Aspin and Peyresourde alone; the second in Briançon, after having distinguished itself on the Izoard.
Bahamontes rectified his sluggishness on the flat when Fausto Coppi convinced him he could win the Tour de France if he stopped focusing on the mountain classification and changed his mind.
Bahamontes again won the mountain classification and finished eighth overall, despite arriving at his favorite terrain with more than half an hour lost on the flat. This obstacle begins to be rectified when he becomes intimate with Fausto Coppi during a hunt in Toledo. The Italian champion convinced him that he could win the Tour de France if he stopped focusing on the mountain classification and changed his mentality while offering him the management of his new team: Tricofilina.
Bahamontes arrives at the 1959 Tour at the head of the Spanish team by choice of Dalmacio Langarica, who that year decided to leave Jesús Loroño, the Spaniard’s great rival, out of the team in a decision that triggered great controversy.
Bahamontes responded brilliantly to the coach’s confidence and made Coppi’s prediction accurate. He arrived in the mountains with just six minutes to spare and started punching on his home turf: first in a breakaway on the road to Aurillac, then with an exhibition in the Le Puy time trial de Dôme, where he beat the defending champion, Charly Gaul, and beat Henry Anglade by three minutes and Jacques Anquetil by almost four minutes, to take second place in the general classification.
Bahamontes took the yellow jersey for good in an anthological breakaway with Charly Gaul during the Grenoble stage, where the two legendary climbers made decisive differences. Bahamontes was crowned in Paris wearing a Spanish national team shirt that read Tricofilina, Coppi’s team. The whole city of Toledo took to the streets to welcome him in an unprecedented popular demonstration.
Scarred by injuries in 1960 and 1961, El Águila returned to fight in the Tour de France in 1962, now in the ranks of the French team Margnat-Paloma. He wins the Superbagnères time trial and adds a new reign in the mountains, but he is far behind Jacques Anquetil in the general classification.
Bahamontes’ best chance for another win came in the 1963 Tour when he staged his memorable duel with Anquetil. The Spaniard demanded the maximum from the French, thanks to his solo victory in Grenoble and his assault on the yellow jersey on the Val d’Isère stage. However, the Spaniard failed to outrun Anquetil on the decisive ascent of the Col de Forclaz on the road to Chamonix, and the Norman champion ended up winning the Tour in the Besançon time trial. Bahamontes came second in Paris, where he stood on the podium to be crowned King of the Mountain for the fifth time.
In 1964, he distinguished himself again on the summits, with two formidable solo victories in Briançon and Pau and another remarkable ascent of the Puy de Dôme, where he was only beaten by a sensational Julio Jiménez and outstripped the duel. Anthology between Anquetil and Poulidor, with the Tour for the stake.
Bahamontes finished third in Paris behind the two Frenchmen and was crowned King of the Mountain for the sixth and final time. In 1965, at the dawn of his 37th birthday, he ended his Tour de France legend by giving up on the road to Aix-Les-Thermes. He had lost 50 minutes in the first Pyrenean assault the day before. The eagle was no longer flying.
Raymond Poulidor is a unique case in the history of the Tour de France: he was second three times and third five times; he has reached the podium eight times in Paris, more than any of the four five-time champions, but he has never collected the yellow jersey, a piece of clothing he has never worn on any of the 342 stages that he disputed during his 14 participations. In most of them, he crossed paths with two of the greatest champions in the Tour, Jacques Anquetil and Eddy Merckx, who closed the road to glory in his best years.
Despite this, Poulidor won over French fans, who affectionately nicknamed him Pou Pou, and his popularity surpassed that of Anquetil and later Hinault. When he died in 2019, he was still recognized as one of the greatest sportspeople in French history.
The young Poulidor grew up combining work on the family farm and his studies, while his love of cycling grew by attending the races organized in his department in Auvergne. Finally, despite his mother’s opposition, he launched himself into competition and wasted no time showing his qualities by winning several victories in the amateur category. However, this progress was interrupted by military service and his assignment to the Algerian War, a period that cut short his training.
Upon his return, he won five races in 1960, including the classic Bordeaux-Saintes and a stage in the Tour du Sud-Est, a prestigious stage race won by British rider Tom Simpson. The following year, Poulidor confirms all expectations: he becomes the French champion, wins the Milan – San Remo, and is a bronze medalist at the World Road Championships in Bern at the same time as the vice-champion, the Belgian Rik Van Looy. He showed himself to be a complete rider on all terrains.
With these results, his arrival on the Grande Boucle was not long in coming. In 1962, the team of his life, Mercier – the name of a famous French bicycle brand – lined him up as team leader of an exceptional Tour de France, during which the organization introduced the fourth category of mountain passes and designed the first passage of the Bonette-Restefond, the highest road in the Alps.
It was the first time that Poulidor faced Anquetil, who was unbeatable in those years. The Norman sealed his third Tour by winning the final trial in Lyon, but Pou Pou left his mark with an extensive solo victory on an alpine day in Aix-les-Bains, the key to finishing third in Paris.
The Anquetil wall will be insurmountable for Poulidor, eighth in 1963, far from the head to head between the Norman champion and Bahamontes, and second in 1964. It is the year when he comes closest to the dream of the Tour: he arrives at Puy de Dôme less than a minute behind the Norman leader, with the clear objective of wearing the yellow jersey and taking a substantial advantage in the final time trial.
Poulidor attacks, again and again, knowing that victory will bring him a bonus minute and that there is half a minute more for the second. But when the most challenging part of the climb began, Julio Jiménez and Bahamontes broke away and closed this possibility. At the same time, Poulidor was powerless to leave Anquetil in a battle of titans that developed side by side. Eventually, Pou Pou freed Anquetil, but he was 14 seconds behind the yellow jersey, which wasn’t enough. Monsieur Crono has completed his fifth Tour in the 27 kilometers linking Versailles to Paris, and Poulidor is 55 seconds away from his dream.
Raymond Poulidor was a grand champion with 187 career victories, but although he stood on the Champs Elysées podium eight times, he never did so as a Tour winner.
Fate once again denied him victory at the top when Anquetil was no longer with him. A 23-year-old rookie, Felice Gimondi, condemned him to second place after taking the lead from the start. The Italian, who came to the Tour at the last minute to make up for an absence from his team, grabbed the yellow jersey on the fourth day in Rouen and never let it go. Poulidor tried everything, won the time trial in Chateaulin, and summited Mont Ventoux, but finished second in Paris, 2:40 minutes behind Gimondi.
The following year, in 1966, he was stopped by Lucien Aimar, a promising 25-year-old underdog, who ended up winning the Tour thanks to two breakaways and the help of Jacques Anquetil in the Ford-France team. Poulidor won the Val-Les-Bains time trial but gave up a substantial lead in the Alpine stage between Briançon and Turin. He finished third, 2:02 minutes behind Aimar and behind Dutchman Jan Janssen.
Poulidor missed the transition period between the two monsters, Anquetil and Merckx, as he finished eighth in 1967, far behind the winner, his compatriot Roger Pingeon. When he returned to the race, it was with the booming Belgian Cannibal: he returned to the podium as third in the 1969 Tour, 22 minutes behind Merckx, and the order was repeated in 1972. He could still climb a step in 1974, but without worrying the Belgian, who won eight stages and beat him by more than eight minutes in Paris.
Pou Pou said goodbye to the Tour in 1976, at 40. He still had the guts to take his fifth third place, behind Lucien Van Impe and Joop Zoetemelk, already a new generation. It is his eighth podium. Neither Anquetil nor Merckx nor later Hinault and Induráin were so numerous at the formal ceremony in Paris. A surreal fact because Raymond Poulidor was a grand champion, with 187 victories in his career. But in the Tour, he was The Eternal Second.
Gregory James LeMond made Tour de France history not only for his three overall victories and for being the first non-European professional cyclist to win it but also for being the rider who dominated the race between the reigns of Bernard Hinault and Miguel Induráin: with his 1986 triumph, he cut off the Frenchman’s road to a sixth Tour, and his collapse on the Tourmalet in 1991 symbolized the transfer of power to the Spaniard, who flew that day towards his first yellow jersey on arrival at Val Louron.
Raised on his family’s California ranch, Greg LeMond showed excellent riding skills from his debut in 1975. Just four years later, he won Argentina’s Junior Road World Cup and was selected by the United States. United for the Moscow Games, where only the boycott of the USSR by his country prevented him from showing his qualities. His time with the professionals is materialized by victories in Europe with the American national team, particularly on the circuits of the Ardennes and the Sarthe. He enters the sights of Cyrille Guimard, who made him sign at Renault in 1981.
During his first participation in the Tour de France in 1984, LeMond won the 1982 Tour du Porvenir by more than ten minutes and won the Dauphiné Libéré and the 1983 World Road Race ahead of Adrie Van der Poel and Stephen Roche.
His debut confirmed what he could do: he finished third overall and won the young riders’ white jersey, although he played the role of more excellent to Laurent Fignon, who turned out this year- there overwhelming. This outstanding performance convinced businessman Bernard Tapie to sign LeMond and cast him alongside Bernard Hinault in La Vie Claire, with a million-dollar contract for three seasons. The first two seasons played a considerable role in the history of cycling, with the historic duel between the French star and the most promising rider in the world.
LeMond started the 1985 Tour de France as a luxury winger for Hinault, whom Bernard Tapie had bet everything on to try to claim a fifth victory in Paris. The Frenchman led the race from a big win in the Strasbourg time trial and retained the yellow jersey in the Alps, but crashed and started to struggle in the Pyrenees.
On stage 17, that of Perico Delgado’s big win at Luz Ardiden, LeMond followed an attack from Stephen Roche on the Tourmalet, but his leaders ordered him not to relieve the Irishman when they widened a gap. The American finished second in Paris, less than two minutes behind Hinault, resigned with the feeling of being the most muscular man in the race, which he would confirm the following year.
Hinault promises to help LeMond win the 1986 Tour, but it’s not long before he realizes he has another idea. The Frenchman took 44 seconds from LeMond in the first time trial in Nantes and dealt a massive blow to the American in the first Pyrenean stage, attacking from a distance with Perico Delgado and taking another four and a half minutes from the arrival in Pau. However, the five-time French champion is guilty of ambition the following day: he again launches a prolonged attack, leading by more than five minutes, then loses his temper on the final climb of Superbagnères, where LeMond overtakes him to win the stage and take a four and a half minute lead.
The Californian completed the turnaround in the Alps, first at the Col de Granon, where he took yellow in a breakaway with the Swiss Urs Zimmermann, then by controlling Hinault’s attempts at Alpe d’Huez. That day, the two leaders of La Vie Claire cross the finish line hand in hand, staging the transfer of power. Much to Hinault’s dismay, of course.
LeMond changed the history of the Tour’s time trial stages in 1989 when he set off on a bike with triathlon accessories to take 55 seconds in just 24 kilometers in Fignon on the last stage and win the race.
This 1986 Tour seemed to be the start of a triumphant era for LeMond, but the story changed with the American’s hunting accident in early 1987 at the family ranch in California. Patrick Blades, his brother-in-law, shot him by mistake, and more than sixty pellets hit his body. LeMond was saved by a police helicopter flying overhead. Later, the cyclist would have died of blood without this rapid intervention. The crash cost LeMond two years without racing in the Tour de France, despite attempting a comeback in 1988.
He finally returned in the 1989 Tour de France, at first without the pressure of being a favorite and with plans to regain his form. But it soon appeared he was back to his best: he placed fourth in the Luxembourg prologue – the one where Perico Delgado notoriously lost his way – and won the 73-kilometer time trial in Rennes. , where he wore the yellow jersey three years later.
It was the start of his giant duel with Laurent Fignon, with whom he exchanged heads twice in the mountains before the historic final time trial in Paris. Fignon had the Tour in hand: yellow jersey with a 50-second lead to defend in just 24.5 kilometers in the streets of his hometown!
But LeMond changed history with his revolutionary bike with triathlete handlebars: he won the Tour de France eight seconds after riding at a stratospheric average of 54.545 km/h, helped by the best aerodynamics ever seen before.
The cycling feat earned LeMond a super $5.5 million contract with the Z team, which surrounds the American with great support riders to attack his third Tour, such as Scotsman Robert Millar and Frenchman Ronan Pensec. However, the Californian could only take the yellow jersey during the penultimate day’s trial at Lac de Vassivière, where he ousted Italian Claudio Chiappucci from the race lead, although he only finished fifth, 57 seconds behind the winner, Erik Breukink.
LeMond won his third Tour de France without winning a stage and with a 2:16 minute lead over Chiappucci. On the wave of success, he could not have guessed that the tenth in the general classification in 1990, Miguel Induráin, would destroy his dominance and usher in a new era. The Navarrese eliminated him on the Tourmalet, and LeMond finished seventh in the 1991 Tour. Overwhelmed by age and the aftermath of this unfortunate hunting accident, LeMond will never arrive in Paris.