The Greatest Moments in Tour History
Big Moments 1910
It wasn’t until the eighth Tour that race organizers experimented with the first big mountain stages, in the Pyrenees. The 7,000-foot climb up the now legendary Col du Tourmalet took riders along goat tracks barely passable by car. When Octave Lapize, who was some 15 minutes behind the leader, reached the pass of the Tourmalet—in great pain and pushing his bike—he saw a group of race officials and yelled “Assassins!” Lapize sucked it up, though, going on to take the stage and the overall title.
Big Moments 1913
Got an Anvil on You?
Outside support wasn’t permitted until 1923, so when overall leader Eugene Christophe broke his front fork during Stage 6 in 1913, he had to shoulder his ride, run eight miles downhill, and find a blacksmith shop in the town of Sainte-Marie-de-Campan. He repaired the bike himself and finished the day, but he’d lost four hours and a chance at the overall. In 1919, Christophe would wear the first-ever yellow jersey, and he’d do so again in 1922, only to lose both years due to broken forks.
Big Moments 1951
This One’s for You, Bro
After 1949 winner Fausto Coppi’s brother, Serse, died from injuries sustained in a 1951 warm-up race, the Italian was so overcome with grief that during Stage 16, amid stifling heat, he stopped pedaling and lost more than 30 minutes to the leaders. Somehow Il Campionissimo regained his composure and went on to win the brutal Stage 20. It wasn’t enough to catch overall leader Hugo Koblet, but a year later Coppi would bag the first stage ever to finish on the fabled Alpe d’Huez and reclaim the title.
Big Moments 1967
“Get me up. Get me up. I want to go on.” Those are believed to be the last words spoken by Tom Simpson on the slopes of Mont Ventoux during Stage 13 of the ’67 Tour. Britain’s most accomplished rider pedaled a few hundred yards more, then keeled over for good. It was assumed he’d succumbed to the intense heat on the exposed peak, until amphetamines were found in his luggage. Rumors of drug use had been present for years, but with Simpson’s death the Tour was changed forever.
Big Moments 1969
After Eddy Merckx was thrown out of the 1969 Giro on unfounded doping allegations, the 24-year-old Belgian entered his first Tour de France looking for an upset. By Stage 17, he’d built an untouchable eight-minute lead, but still he went for the jugular, breaking away with 87 miles to go and earning himself a new nickname: the Cannibal. When the peloton reached Paris, Merckx owned the yellow jersey, the polka-dot climber’s jersey, and the green sprinter’s jersey—a trifecta that’s never been repeated.
Big Moments 1987
Out of Nowhere
When the closely fought ’87 Tour reached the base of the Alpine climb to La Plagne, Spain’s Pedro Delgado was two minutes ahead of Stephen Roche. Roche was out of gas, but the Irishman launched a monumental comeback in the last three miles, and as Delgado crossed the line, Roche appeared around the corner, four seconds behind. He collapsed and was taken to a hospital, but his comeback had brought him close enough to win the Tour with a victory over the Spaniard in the final time trial.
Big Moments 1989
Eight seconds proved the winning margin in what many call the greatest comeback in Tour history. Entering the final day’s time trial, Greg LeMond needed to erase a 50-second deficit over the brief stretch of 15 miles to win his second Tour. No one believed he could make up even half the deficit. But equipped with newfangled aerodynamic handlebars, the American—two years after a hunting accident collapsed one of his lungs—overcame Frenchman Laurent Fignon to deny the home fans a win.
Big Moments 2001
In ’01, during the pivotal Stage 10, when Lance Armstrong saw that his rival Jan Ullrich’s team was setting a blistering pace on the climbs leading to l’Alpe d’Huez, he decided to play along and move to the back, faking fatigue. Ullrich rode even harder. As Lance passed him at the bottom of the Alpe, he revealed his hand, looking back into the German’s eyes to see what he had left and let him know he’d been had. What followed was an attack heard round the world.