In the latest of our special Tour de France countdown features, Ellis Bacon looks back at 10 memorable moments from the 99 editions of the Grand Boucle.
Tells us which is you memorable moment in the comments section below.
1910 “You’re all murderers!”
The high mountains first featured in the 1910 edition of the Tour de France, with the introduction of the Pyrenees. But far from providing the spectacle they do today, back then they simply added to the brutality of what was already an extremely tough race.
The unmade roads forced most riders to push their bikes up the climbs, and prompted eventual 1910 winner Octave Lapize to crest the Col d’Aubisque on foot while famously shouting, “You’re all murderers!” at the race organisers.
The Alps were introduced in 1911, but their green, magisterial beauty seemed to enchant, rather than anger the riders. The two mountain ranges have remained key battlegrounds at the Tour ever since.
1913: Christophe fails to forge victory
In 1913, 10 years after the first edition of the Tour, French darling Eugène Christophe was hoping to go one better than his runner’s-up positioning 1912. The Tour had been decided on points then, but was decided by accumulated time in 1913 and the Frenchman was a big favourite. However, the clock was ticking when poor Christophe’s forks broke on the descent of the Col du Tourmalet and he was forced to run with his bike until he found a blacksmith’s forge at which to effect his own repairs.
He fixed his forks, only to be disqualified for having received ‘outside assistance’ from the blacksmith’s apprentice.
1964: Anquetil and Poulidor duke it out on the Puy de Dôme
Jacques Anquetil always had his rivals’ measure in the time trials, and it was perhaps for that reason that the Frenchman allowed compatriot Raymond Poulidor to eventually ride away as they approached the top of the Puy de Dôme on stage 20 of the 1964 Tour. But not before photographer Roger Krieger captured the iconic image of the two rivals bouncing off each other as they battled for superiority on the climb’s narrow roads.
By the top, Anquetil still held a slim 14-second lead over Poulidor — ‘The Eternal Second’, who would never win the Tour — and added to that lead in the final time trial to Paris, where he won the race by 55 seconds to take his fifth and final Tour title.
1986: LeMond and Hinault match each other on Alpe d’Huez
Accepting Greg LeMond’s assistance to win the 1985 Tour was supposed to mean that Bernard Hinault would return the favour in 1986. Yet the famously aggressive Frenchman had other ideas when the time came — the chance of winning a sixth title proving a massive incentive. But after a tense duel, stage 18 to Alpe d’Huez proved to be the moment when Hinault would accept that his young American teammate was the better rider. The two matched each other pedal-stroke for pedal-stroke up through the climb’s famous 21 hairpin bends before crossing the finish line arm-in-arm — although ‘The Badger’ made sure he squeezed his wheel across the line first to become the official stage winner.
1987: “That looks like Roche!”
“Just who is that rider coming up behind? Because that looks like Roche. That looks like Stephen Roche... It's Stephen Roche!”
Cycling commentator Phil Liggett’s hugely entertaining words did justice to a performance sure to live on as one of the Tour’s greatest efforts.
Stephen Roche, the Irishman who became the Emerald Isle’s first, and still only, Tour de France winner, dug deep into his reserves to peg back rival Pedro Delgado on the slopes of La Plagne, emerging from the mist to that famous commentary before collapsing on the ground, where he was administered oxygen, and all but winked at his fans at home. Roche had saved his Tour, and in spectacular fashion at that.
1989: A tale of ponytails and tri bars
There’s definitely a bit of an eighties theme going on in this top 10, but that’s because that decade’s Tours were that good.
However, 1983 and 1984 Tour champion Laurent Fignon’s ponytail was a fashion choice that might just have lost him the race in 1989. Compared to American Greg LeMond’s aerodynamic ‘triathlon’ handlebars and aero helmet, Fignon’s long blond hair and round spectacles seemed to invite the air to slow him down during the final time trial that year. But with a 50-second buffer, Fignon’s lead seemed insurmountable.
“He’s bouncing off the barriers!” a delirious Liggett exclaimed as the Frenchman emptied himself during the last couple of hundred metres on the Champs-Elysées. Eight seconds before Fignon crossed the line, LeMond started celebrating; it was the closest Tour in history, and arguably the best there’s ever been, too.
1992: Hysteria on Sestriere as Chiappucci comes home
Claudio Chiappucci’s successful lone breakaway to Sestriere on stage 13 of the 1992 race provided some of the most extraordinary scenes ever seen at the Tour.
The Alpine climb takes the riders into Italy, and so the Italian climber could count on plenty of support from his compatriots that day. Thousands turned out, and when the race’s lead motorbikes were blocked by the sheer volume of spectators, Chiappucci was in danger of being mobbed and disappearing into the crowds completely. Lucky, then, that he was clad in the red-polka-dot jersey as ‘king of the mountains’ — a jersey that can apparently be spotted from space.
1994: Poli conquers the Ventoux
If Mont Ventoux is ‘best’ remembered for the death of Tom Simpson, then Italian Eros Poli’s 1994 escapades on its slopes goes at least some way to redressing the balance towards more celebratory memories.
The Italian giant took on ‘The Giant of Provence’ in a battle everyone was expecting the rider to lose. With a 25-minute lead over his pursuers at the start of the climb, Poli dragged his huge, tired limbs up and over the Ventoux, and was still able to celebrate his stage win in Carpentras with a buffer of over three minutes on the chasers having risked everything on the descent.
Stage 15 of this year’s Tour will hopefully provide more stunning scenes on the Ventoux that will also be remembered for all the right reasons.
1996: Indurain’s reign reined in
His face was almost unreadable in every one of his victories from 1991 to 1995, but Miguel Indurain’s expression said it all on stage seven of the 1996 Tour.
Indurain had arrived at the Tour fit and well having won June’s Dauphiné Libéré, and, despite his third place at the 1995 Tour behind Indurain and Switzerland’s Alex Zülle, there was little to suggest that Bjarne Riis might go two better in 1996.
But on the road between Chambéry and Les Arcs — that year’s first mountain stage, Indurain’s Tour untouchability suddenly left him. He cracked, ceding almost three-and-a-half minutes to Riis. The next day, the Dane took another 26 seconds out of the Spaniard in the time trial — unheard of — and by the end of the following, snow-shortened stage to Sestriere, Riis was in yellow.
2003: Armstrong has a field day
We can try to write Lance Armstrong out of Tour history when it comes to the results, but it’s far more difficult to ignore the myriad images of him in yellow.
Arguably the most memorable one that will infamously live on as a reminder of his presence is of him plunging down through a field in order to avoid a stricken Joseba Beloki, who’d crashed on the descent of the Col de la Rochette, near Gap, on stage nine of the 2003 Tour.
The fact that Armstrong almost seamlessly rejoined the road after leaping across the ditch at the bottom of said field made it look like he could do no wrong...
Ellis Bacon is author of new book Mapping Le Tour (Collins), which details the geography of the Tour de France, with a preview of the 2013 edition and a section on the race’s most memorable battlegrounds.