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Tour de France All Time Greats

It is the pinnacle grand tour in the cycling calendar that takes the best cyclists in the world to their limits. The Tour de France has been run since 1903 and this year’s event will commence with a time trail in Copenhagen Friday 1 July and end three weeks later Sunday 24 July on the Paris Champs-Elysees.

With such a long and terrific history, we are going to revisit some of the greatest and most honoured cyclists to have won the famous yellow jersey.

Jaques Anquetil (France)

Born in Normandy, France on 8 January 1934, Jaques Anquetil was the first rider to win all three of the grand tours. He was also the first cyclist to go and win the Tour De France on five occasions and the first rider to win it four successive times. His first win came in 1957 when the riders rode in national teams instead of commercial teams and the successive wins occurred from 1961 to 1964. He broke the records of Phillipe Thys and Louison Bobet who had previously won three times in a row.

The 1957 win was quite staggering as he finished 15 minutes ahead of his competitors winning four stages and the team stage. In 1961 Jaques Anquetil promised to take the yellow jersey from start to finish and this he did by taking an opening win in the first stage time trial. He had an immense ability to ride alone and against the clock and time trials were one of his main strengths. His win in 1964 is probably his most famous victory when he had an almighty battle with Raymond Poulidor, finishing only 14 seconds ahead of him overall. 1966 was his swansong when he won the Liege-Bastogne-Liege only to retire that same year through ill health.

Eddy Merkx (Belgium)

The second rider to achieve five Tour De France wins, Eddy Merkx was born 17 June 1945. Nicknamed the Cannibal because he would not let anybody else win, his racing career spanned 18 years with a massive 525 victories. He has an unequalled record of 11 grand tour wins with five Giro d’Italia victories and one Vuelta Espana. In addition, he was one of three people to win all five monuments. His wins in the Tour De France came in 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1974 in which he amassed a total of 34 stage wins. His best win may have come in 1970 when he equalled the record of eight stage wins while taking mountain and combination classifications. In 1971 he won the Tour and the Giro double for the second successive year. In 1973 he decided not to race the Tour De France and instead won the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana. A ruthless career with so many wins was wound up in May 1978 when he retired from professional cycling.

Bernard Hinault (France)

Bernard Hinault is third of our all-time greats to win the Tour De France five times. His wins came in 1978, 1979,1981, 1982 and 1985 with 28 stage victories to his name. It was at a young age that he knew he had a great set of lungs and stamina when he finished in tenth place in the French junior cross-country championships. He was also nicknamed ‘The Boss’ because he often acted as spokesperson on behalf of all the cyclists. His closest rival in 1978, 1979 and 1980 and 1981 was Joop Zoetemelk. Each time Hinault managed to beat him and in his first Tour De France win it was by 4 minutes. In 1980 Zoop Zoetemelk finally won his one and only Tour De France but on this occasion, Bernard Hinault withdrew from the race with tendinitis in his knee while being race leader at that time. In the 1981 Tour De France he won all four-time trials and in 1982 Zoetemelk found himself in second place again, this time six minutes behind Hinault. In 1983 his tendinitis returned and Hinault missed the Tour and the following year was beaten by about 10 minutes by Fignon. With Fignon not racing in the Tour in 1985 Hinault took his chance to win for the fifth time to lead him into his retirement in 1986.

Miguel Indurain (Spain)

Known as the ‘Big Man’ due to his height of 6ft 1in (1m 85cm), Miguel Indurain was an exceptional time trialist. He often used his advantage in the time trail to set up a lead and maintain it through controlled and defensive riding that sometimes brought him criticism. Born 16 July 1964, Indurain became the first cyclist to win the Tour de France on five consecutive occasions between 1991 to 1995. In 1991 Greg LeMond was the favourite and leading on the 12th stage but he suffered at the Tourmalet and lost several minutes, where Indurain took advantage and kept his lead until the end. In 1992 and 1993 he did the Tour / Giro double, one of only seven cyclists to achieve this. In 1994 he showed just how good a time trialist he was by setting a new hour record of 53 kilometres (32 miles). 1995 saw his fifth and final Tour victory. Miguel Indurain did try to emulate the other five-time winners in 1996 but could only finish 11th after suffering from bronchitis during the race.

Chris Froome (Great Britain)

Born 20 May 1985, Chris Froome was exceptional in mountainous stages and also in time trial events. He won the Tour de France on four occasions in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017. A career with plenty of incident and accidents, Froome won his first tour by 4 minutes and 20 seconds, winning stages 8 and 15. During the first stage he crashed and also narrowly avoided another large crash later in the same race. He would have no such luck in 2014 when he was involved in three separate incidents over two days leaving him with no option but to retire from the race.

2015 saw him back to winning ways with a one minute and 12 second victory while taking the mountain classification. The New Year of 2016 saw Chris Froome being awarded an OBE and he duly responded with his third tour win. This one was memorable due to an accident with a motorbike and riders on a steep climb. The accident, which was caused by supporters, meant Froome had to ditch his bike and take off on foot to the finish line until such a time as his support car could reach him with new a bike. He lost one minute and forty seconds but fortunately the jury of the race re-imbursed the time loss as a result of the unfortunate accident. Froome’s final win came in 2017 with an even slender advantage of 54 seconds over Roberto Uran and without even winning one stage. He also achieved a remarkable Vuelta / Tour double becoming only the third person to achieve this.

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