While the Tour de France is a little different than usual this year, it is still the pinnacle of our sport, and so is the equipment.
In essence, the Tour de France bikes haven't changed all that much. There are still two wheels, two triangles, gears, a chain, and pneumatic tyres, but the technology support each part has advanced by lightyears. We can’t help but wonder what the race would look like if you took today’s riders, and made them race the three-week tour on the bikes ridden in the 1903 edition of the race — or the other way around.
With WorldTour teams using the equipment provided by their sponsors, many of the brands that are racking up stage wins in the modern race are still comparatively young compared to the Tour de France itself. But even while certain brands sponsor multiple teams, and some being dominant, these young teams may never rack up the same number of TDF general classification wins as many of the now-defunct bike brands of old.
We’ve combed through the results of every edition of the Tour and tabulated which brands have dominated the race over the last century.
1. Pinarello 15 wins
By now, we’ve all heard Sir David Brailsford’s infamous quote about ‘marginal gains,’ and with the number of Tour wins his Pinarello sponsored team has racked up, it’s hard to argue with this philosophy. But, Pinarello was winning the Tour de France long before Brailsford started his tenure at Sky/Ineos or British Cycling.
Pinarello earned its first TDF overall classification in 1988, piloted by Pedro Delgado riding with Team Reynolds. This race was marred with controversy, as Delgado tested positive for Probenecid, which at the time was considered a performance-enhancing drug by the IOC, but not yet banned by the UCI.
In the early 1990s, Pinarello road bikes were ridden to six consecutive TDF General Classification victories by Miguel Induráin, Bjarne Riis — though he has technically been removed from the winner's list after admitting to taking PEDs — and Jan Ulrich who finished second in the 1996 tour behind Riis, and won his only Tour in 1997.
It is also rumoured that some of the Pinarello bikes ridden in the tour in the late 80s and early '90s were actually manufactured by someone else, though this was a pretty common practice of the era.
2. Peugeot 10 wins
Peugeot has been making bicycles since the early 1800s, and while today it is best known for its cars, the French brand still produces a range of road, commuter, and mountain bikes, and even sponsor an eMTB team.
Originally from Sochaux, France, the French brand earned its first Tour de France victory in 1905 with French rider Louis Trousselier and most recently in 1977 with Bernard Thévenet riding a Peugeot PY-10.
While Peugeot’s official Tour de France count is 10, they were also part of the collective of French automotive manufacturers that banded together after World War I under the moniker La Sportive to provide bikes for the race between 1919 and 1921. La Sportive has won in all three of these editions, which in part can be attributed to Peugeot.
3. L’Auto 10 wins
In 1903, Henri Desgrange, the editor of the newspaper L’Auto founded the Tour de France as a publicity stunt for his waining publication — spoiler alert, it worked.
As Desgrange was running the race and setting the rules, in 1930, he banned trade teams and only allowed national teams to participate, stipulating that each rider had to use a generic bicycle. For those years, every rider from the yellow jersey winner to the lantern rouge competed on a yellow road bike with L’Auto painted on the downtube.
4. Gitane 9 wins
With nine Tour de France victories, French outfit Gitane made the bikes which Laurent Fignon and Bernard Hinault rode to Tour de France wins. The brand was widespread through the professional peloton from the 1960s through to the 1980s, and was also well known for producing motorcycles, also supporting moto racing teams during this period as well.
In 1972, Gitane produced the “Tour de France”, which was a lightweight (for the time) frame, made from Reynolds 531 tubing and served as the brand's race bike, until it went on hiatus from the WorldTour.
After a few name changes and transfers of ownership, Gitane ended up as part of the same brand portfolio as Peugeot and B.H, under the umbrella of Cyclegroup — which later was purchased by a Swedish firm that now also owns Bianchi.
5. Alcyon 7 wins
With seven wins to its name, Alcyon, like so many of the brands that provided bikes to early Tour teams, made bikes, cars, and motorcycles. The brand’s first-ever win in the Tour de France came from the Luxembourgian François Faber, who also clinched five stage victories in that edition.
Alcyon sponsored a team through the 1920s and was becoming a force in the peloton winning the 1927, 1928 and 1929 editions, but was stopped short due to Desgrange’s ban on trade teams in 1930.
6 Merckx 5 wins
If we are going by what was written on the down tube, Merckx would be the next on our list though by all accounts, the Cannibal was riding bikes built by Masi and Kessels. With the brand now being produced by the Belgian Bike Factory (who also make Ridley), and sponsor the AG2R La Mondial team, Romain Bardet and Pierre Latour have the chance to add to this tally in 2020.
7. Automoto 4 wins
French outfit Automoto was founded in 1902 and like so many others of the era, was in the business of two-wheeled vehicles, both human-powered and motorised.
The brand won four consecutive Tours de France under Henri Pélissier in 1923, Ottavio Bottecchia in 1924 and 1925, and Lucien Buysse in 1926. A few years later, in 1930, the brand was purchased by Peugeot but still produced bikes and motorcycles under the Automoto brand name until 1962 when it was discontinued.
8. La Sportive 3 wins
While La Sportive may only have three Tour wins under its belt, and was only in existence for a handful of years, it’s one of our favourite stories in cycling history.
World War One left Europe in bad shape, and many of the factories that produced bicycles had been reduced to rubble. The continent was in a depression, and spending money on sporting teams was hardly a priority at the time.
So to make sure the race would not be yet another casualty of the war, Alcyon, Armor, Automoto, Clément, La Française, Gladiator, Griffon, Hurtu, Labor, Liberator, Peugeot and Thomann banded together to provide equipment to half the peloton, and sponsored the race from 1919-1921. Given that half the riders were on La Sportive bikes during these years, it’s no surprise they took came away with the General Classification, with Firmin Lambot winning in 1919, Philippe Thys winning in 1920 and Léon Scieur in 1922.
The group disbanded in 1922 when each respective company restarted their own teams.
9. Bianchi 3 wins
Bianchi’s Celeste bikes have had quite a showing in the compressed WorldTour season we are having in 2020. The Jumbo-Visma squad is hot, but will they be able to score that elusive fourth Tour de France win for the brand? Wait three weeks and ask us then.
The last time a Bianchi was ridden down the Champs-Élysées at the top of the general classification was in 1998 when Marco Pantani had the yellow jersey on his shoulders. This edition was a drama-filled not only because of the racing, as the 85th edition was also the year of the Festina affair that marred the race with police raids, rider strikes, and teams pulling out of the race.
Bianchi’s other Tour de France victories were with the one and only Fausto Coppi in the saddle, in 1949 and 1952.
10. Trek 2* wins
Trek has a tumultuous history with the Tour de France; technically, its bikes have won a total of nine Tours de France however, with all of Lance Armstrong’s victories being officially stricken from the record, the big red barn in Wisconsin can only officially claim Alberto Contador’s 2007 and 2009 wins.
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