THE 103rd edition of the Tour de France is about to get under way.
Here we take a look at some memorable moments from the previous 102.
AN IRISH WINNER
Ireland’s Stephen Roche became the first from his country to win the Tour. He did so in 1987, a year in which he also won the Giro D’Italia and the world championships. He was only the second cyclist to win all three in one year.
IN WHEEL PAIN
In 1921, directors of the Tour allowed riders to take spares for their bikes but only if they carried them. One cyclist, Leon Scieur, was forced to take a wheel and strap it to his back for 320km. By the end of the stage it had cut into his back and he was forced to carry the scars for life. There was a consolation if you can call it that .... he went on to win the Tour for his pains.
HERE COMES LANCE
In 1993 an unknown American called Lance Armstrong made his debut. There was an early sign of what was to come when he won the eighth stage but he failed to complete the race, retiring four stages later.
Spaniard Alberto Contador won the 2010 edition of the race from Andy Schleck. Just months after the win, however, Contador tested positive for a banned substance. He blamed it on some contaminated beef but was suspended for two years and the title handed to Scheck.
BALLOON GOES UP
Michael Pollentier might have been taking the piss after winning the Alpe d’Huez stage in 1978. He was caught trying to pull a fast one on testers when he concealed a balloon full of clean wee strapped under his armpit.
In 1985 Bernard Hinault won his fifth Tour de France with the home fans celebrating in typical style. They have had nothing to celebrate since, with no home rider taking the general classification since Hinault’s famous victory.
ETIQUETTE OUT THE WINDOW
In one of the most controversial moments in recent Tour history, Alberto Contador went past Andy Schleck when the Luxembourg rider’s chain fell off as the two went head to head. Most felt the Spaniard should have waited for his rival, he didn’t and went on to take the Tour win in 2010. Schleck had the last laugh when he was eventually awarded the race after Contador tested positive for drugs.
The 1990s were dominated by Miguel Indurain. No one thought we would ever see the likes of the Spaniard again as he became the fourth cyclist to win five tours and the first to win five in a row. A certain American came along a few years later and “won” seven, but we all know why that was, don’t we?
BRITANNIA RULES THE ROADS
In 2012 British cycling was at its peak and the Tour win by Bradley Wiggins (now Sir Bradley) was the icing on the cake of a perfect year. Not only did Wiggins become the first Englishman to win the Tour, he also went on to win the gold medal in the Olympic individual time trial a few weeks later.
DEATH ON THE ROAD
In 1995 Fabio Casartelli, who won gold at the Barcelona Olympics three years earlier, died after he crashed into a rock coming down from a mountain summit and fractured his skull. The accident changed the Tour forever, with officials ruling that it would be mandatory for riders to wear helmets except for mountain-top finishes.
On a baking hot day in 2003, Joseba Beloki’s tyre got stuck in the melting tarmac as he and Lance Armstrong negotiated a steep descent. Beloki went down and the American was forced to take evasive action. He did just that, going off-road into a field before braking, jumping off his bike, leaping across a ditch before getting back into the saddle as if nothing had happened. Armstrong would go on to win the Tour after more dramas when he fell on another stage after his handlebar got caught in a fan’s shopping bag.
They have all been taken off the record books now, but at the time Lance Armstrong’s seven straight Tour wins were seen as remarkable. He won his seventh in 2005 before deciding to call it a day. He did make a return in 2010, but, somewhat like his career, he took a tumble on some cobblestones after a puncture. Things would go from bad to worse after that.
There have been some down the years, but this tale of woe was one of the hardest for a rider to take. In 1922 Eugene Christophe was up in the mountains on the Col du Tourmalet when his forks broke. He was forced to carry his bike to a village some eight kilometres away where he borrowed the blacksmith’s forge to make some repairs which helped to keep him in the top three and within sight of a Tour victory. However, he was penalised for receiving help pushing the bellows which consequently cost him a shot at the title.
He is widely regarded as the best cyclist ever as his five Tour wins would attest but Eddy Merckx might have won a sixth in 1975 if it wasn’t for a supporter. Near the end of stage 14 up the Puy-de-Dome, the fan rushed out and punched the Belgian in the kidney. “The Cannibal”, as he was known, wasn’t able to recover enough to take out the Tour win.
Cycling fans were in mourning in 1967 when British rider Tommy Simpson died of a heart attack when riding up Mont Ventoux. It turned out later that Simpson had been taking amphetamines which were to blame for his death. There is now a permanent granite memorial on the roadside marking the spot where he died.
Long before Lance Armstrong, there was Greg Lemond. The American not only had to battle the peloton but his own teammate in 1986 when he won the first of his three Tour victories. Frenchman Bernard Hinault, known as “The Badger”, was not willing to concede defeat and fought hard to try to beat the American. He did relent by the time they got to the top of Alpe d’Huez, famously clasping hands when they finished the stage.
For the first time in 1910 the mountain stages in the Pyrenees made an appearance at the Tour de France. The Col du Tourmalet, a particularly brutal climb was one of those stages and was even harder considering the fact the riders were not allowed to use derailleur gears. As he reached the summit, Octave Lapize shouted at Tour directors: “You’re all murderers.”
It was the closest race in the history of the Tour de France and was made all the more remarkable by the way in which it was won. Frenchman Laurent Fignon held a 50-second gap over American Greg LeMond on the final stage of the 1989 race. In those days the last stage was not a procession, but a time trial along the Champs-Elysees. LeMond, who had been shot by his brother-in-law in a hunting accident two winters earlier, was the first to introduce an aerodynamic helmet and triathlon handlebars and he turned things around to win by eight seconds.
Lance Armstrong’s first win in 1999 came just three years after brain and testicular cancer almost took his life. After fighting off the cancer in an inspiring tale, Armstrong rode to victory and went on to win the race for the next six years too.
AUSSIE ON TOP
Cadel Evans was better known for being a mountain bike racer, having won the World Cup in 1998 and 1999. He took to road cycling in 2001 after finishing seventh in the mountain bike race at the Sydney Olympics. He came through the ranks to finish second twice in the Tour de France in 2007 and 2008. He finally achieved his dream in 2011 after two years of bad luck in the race. It looked like that bad luck would continue when he encountered mechanical issues up the Galibier - the highest stage in Tour history - during stage 18. He fought back and caught Andy Schleck to keep his advantage before going on to win the Tour. At 34 he was one of the five oldest winners in the race’s history and Australia’s first champion.
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