Described by Sir Dave Brailsford as “one of the most exciting editions for a long time”, the 2019 Tour de France speeds towards its conclusion and with no clear winner yet, everything is up for grabs…
12 different riders claimed stage wins in the first 12 days of the epic event, and the final gruelling mountain stages beckon.
But while Frenchman, Julian Alaphilippe clings on to his race lead — hoping to be the host country’s first winner in 34 years — and fellow countryman, Thibaut Pinot has clawed his way into contention, reigning champion, Geraint Thomas remains in second, while Dutch cyclist, Steven Kruijswijk, and Thomas’ team mate, Egan Bernal are also in with a shout…
It might be the first truly nail-biting finish to the Tour for some years, but this historic race has certainly seen some fights to the death…
In 1955, French rider Louison Bobet sealed his third consecutive Tour de France victory after a hard fought battle with Luxembourg cyclist, Charly Gaul…
Gaul was more than 23 minutes behind in the general classification on entering stage eight, when he finished 13 minutes, 47 seconds ahead of the chasers to storm into third place overall.
But Bobet was not one to give up, despite experiencing unimaginable pain from saddle sores, which later required surgery.
In the eleventh stage he gave it everything on Mont Ventoux, which boasts a 21km ascent over 1600m of elevation. Despite being more than 11 minutes down at the start of the stage, Bobet broke away leaving the competition in his wake, reaching the peak alone and descending to the finish to take second place in the general classification.
Gaul went on to win stage 17 in the mountains, but Bobet took the overall lead, holding on to secure victory.
In 1964 — the first Tour de France to be shown on live television — fellow Frenchmen Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor pushed each other to the limit…
There was no shortage of drama. The ninth stage finished in Monaco, and involved riders completing an extra lap – effectively crossing the finish line twice. First time round, Poulidor forgot the extra lap and sprinted for victory. Second time round, Anquetil won the sprint.
In the next stage, Anquetil won the time trial with Poulidor finishing second after suffering a flat tyre. His luck wasn’t in. In the fourteenth stage he broke a spoke and fell off after some confusion with a team mechanic, yet he stormed to victory in the fifteenth stage, placing him third overall. Anquetil sat in second place, a mere nine seconds ahead.
Anquetil won stage 17’s time trial, with Poulidor just 56 seconds behind, and after stage 20, Anquetil led the race by a slender 14 seconds.
The Tour was eventually won by Anquetil — by a margin of 55 seconds — becoming the smallest margin in history. This record has since been smashed – the smallest current winning margin in the Tour de France is eight seconds (see below).
In 1989, American cyclist Greg LeMond returned to the event having missed two Tours after being shot in a freak hunting accident…
And he didn’t do badly. The home favourite was Laurent Fignon, and despite exchanging pole position with LeMond several times during the 3,200 km race — they were the only two men to lead the race from stage five onwards — the American was trailing Fignon by fifty seconds at the start of the final stage.
With almost a minute lead after the mountain stage, surely LeMond couldn’t make up such a deficit on stage 21’s individual time trial as they raced towards the famous Champs Elysées?
Turned out he could. The American broke French hearts on the final 25 km, winning by just eight seconds…
In 2011, Cadel Evans became the first Australian winner of the Tour de France, despite pre-race favourites including Alberto Contador, Andy and Fränk Schleck, Ivan Basso, Thomas Voeckler and Bradley Wiggins…
Stage nine was pivotal. With 36 km to go, a five man breakaway group including Voeckler was collided with a TV car. This was followed by another dramatic crash in the peloton, leaving just three breakaway riders to finish with a four-minute advantage. Voeckler took the overall lead.
Stage 16 saw Cadel Evans pick up 21 seconds and move into second place, and in Stage 17, his cause was helped by Voeckler, who missed a turn and ended up in a car park.
Stage 20 was a 42.5 km time trial which saw Evans in his element. He finished second, with the Schleck brothers over two-and-a-half minutes behind.
It moved Evans into first place and he held his nerve on the final sprint into Paris to take the yellow jersey.
The 1987 Tour de France saw eight different men take the yellow jersey over 25 stages, and the battle between Irish cyclist Stephen Roche and Spaniard, Pedro Delgado, lives on as one of the best contests in the history of the event.
Roche put in a superhuman effort in the time trial to win Stage 10, and overtook renowned climber, Jean-François Bernard in a solo pursuit on Stage 19, edging into the overall lead.
With less than a week to go, it left just Roche and Delgado in reach of victory.
Stage 20 into Alpe d’Huez saw Roche finish in fifteenth place, with Delgado claiming the yellow jersey by 25 seconds, while Stage 21 saw Roche mount a late attack to catch Delgado on a climb into La Plagne, finishing a few seconds behind the Spaniard before collapsing at the finish, gasping for oxygen.
As Roche said, “I feel myself working through my gears. There’s a burning in my legs, but it’s not a killing burn. It’s hurting all right, but I can cope with this burn for 4km. The fire is lit inside. I’m riding almost to explosion, but if I explode I will drop.”
Roche was only 39 seconds behind Delgado overall. During the next stage, which comprised the last testing climb of the Tour, Roche reduced his margin to 21 seconds, and the penultimate stage played to his strengths with an individual time trial at Dijon.
The Irishman won a minute on Delgado to secure Tour victory.