Honoring the colorful, sometimes unstable characters who have helped define the Tour de France. Photos from the new book Tour de France 100: A photographic History of the World's Greatest Race.
Federico Martín Bahamontes
A dominant climber in the 1950s, the Spanish rider had a notoriously hot temper—in the 1956 Tour, he threw his bike into a ravine during a poor showing—and an intense fear of fast descents. After leading a breakaway in the 1954 Tour, he waited at the top of a mountain pass for the peloton to catch up so he wouldn’t have to go down alone, famously killing time by eating an ice cream cone.
In the years after the Second World War, the great Italian helped restore his country’s morale in epic mountain battles with his countryman and teammate Gino Bartali. But more than that, Coppi defined the style of the sport of cycling; even a T-shirt was bettered, if he wore it.
The thing about the Tour is that somebody has to finish second, and Poulidor did so three times (plus another five third-place finishes). But he did so with a gallantry, attacking five-time Tour winner and lifelong rival Jacques Anquetil at every opportunity. His never-say-die approach reminded fans it’s not just winning that matters, but the quality of the fight.
In 1979, Austrian Schönbacher found himself in a pitched battle with Frenchman Philippe Tesnière for the lanterne rouge, an unofficial—and, in some circles, highly coveted—honor awarded to the last-place rider. When Tesniere stopped to pee, so would Schönbacher. The Austrian won (by losing), then repeated in 1980. In retirement he set a world record by traveling 242 kilometers per hour (150 mph) while strapped to the roof of a car on skis.
The archetypal cocky sprinter, Cipo, as he was often called during his heyday in the 1990s, liked to race in costumed Lycra kits: zebra stripes, shimmering gold, muscle print. In 1999, his bike stem sported an airbrushed rendering of Pamela Anderson. Asked why, he responded, “I know what my wife looks like.”
If Morrissey rode a bike, he’d be Millar, a pensive Scot with a self-awareness that’s rare in top athletes. After he got caught red-handed with EPO, Millar came back as a champion of clean cycling. But most people know him for his epic post-Tour parties at Paris’s hottest nightclubs.
Before every yahoo in a Borat suit started photobombing the TV coverage, there was The Devil, real name Dieter Senft. Since 1993, the German superfan (an inventor by profession) has shown up roadside, trident in hand—a real-life Robert Johnson metaphor for the trials and temptations of the road.
The last to win the Tour and the Giro d’Italia in the same year (1998), Pantani is remembered for his bandanas and gold hoop earrings, which earned him the nickname Il Pirata (the Pirate). Beset by doping allegations, he died of a cocaine overdose in 2004, at the age of 34.
Those muttonchops. That Mick Jagger strut. The yellow jersey. ‘Nuff said.
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