The Tour de France, Explained Millions of people worldwide are transfixed each and every year as the annual Tour de France is run. In case you aren't one of these people, and you don't really get what the fuss is about, or maybe you just don't understand the rules and terminology, here is a quick primer so that you can join in on the fun this year! The Tour de France started in 1903 when a French newspaper wanted to drum up some publicity and attract a larger readership to their publication. The idea to have a multi-day, multi-stage cycling race came from young Geo Lefevre, who was the cycling reporter for the newspaper. The idea was altered and molded into a reasonable facsimile of what we see today: a race that traversed through small towns in France, taking cyclists a few weeks of grueling rides to complete. The first race was a success, as it has obviously led to over one hundred years of tradition, and it also increased the readership of the newspaper, so it fulfilled its original objective. Since then, the Tour de France has evolved, but much of it has also stayed the same. Towns compete each year to be added as waypoints along the Tour de France route, and are selected by a committee to join the prestigious ranks of those who have hosted the race for a day. The race still attracts riders from all around the world, although the prestige (and money) of the Tour de France brings a much wider variety of cyclists than in the first years of the race. The race itself is also still a marvelous example of variety, as the race is split up into mountain stages large and small, hilly sections of road, and flat sections for quick sprints. Many fans who are new to the Tour de France don't understand why one rider is wearing a yellow jersey, and why sometimes a new rider is wearing it the next day (don't worry, they wash it first). Well, the yellow jersey is famous as being worn by the current overall race leader. Therefore, wearing the yellow jersey is not only a great honor, but a great responsibility. It essentially paints a target on your back, and reminds all the other cyclists what they are racing for. If you are wearing the yellow jersey, you'd best be ready to defend it! Other jerseys include the green jersey, the white jersey, and even the polka dot jersey. They are awarded to the race's point leader, best young (under twenty five years old) rider, and best climber, respectively. It was mentioned earlier that the race is split into stages. The stages are sections of the race that are traversed in a single day, which combine to make the race as a whole. Riders do get a break at the end of each stage- they're only human, after all- only to continue the next morning at the next stage. The 2008 Tour de France features twenty one stages. The riders also are recipients of two rest days, which are spaced out throughout the twenty three day event. Cyclists often compete as part of a team. This may seem strange, as cycling would appear to be an individual sport, but teams have been part of the Tour de France for a long time. Teams can actually help each other quite a bit in a race, by pacing each other, blocking off the competition, or "slip streaming" for maximum speed by riding directly behind one another. During some years, the teams were based on the national origin of riders, but now the teams are organized by sponsors. At the end of the Tour de France, the riders' finishing positions are determined by simply adding each rider's time on each stage together to get a total race time. The cyclist with the lowest overall time is the winner of the Tour de France, and joins a great tradition of legendary athletes dating back over one hundred years. Make sure to follow the Tour de France this year, as history is made yet again on the roads of France! The Tour de France: A Beginner's Guide The Tour de France is an incredibly exciting event that is followed by fans all across the world. However, the Tour de France can also be intimidating to those who aren't familiar with the sport of cycling, or the race itself. Let's go over some of the basics, so that you'll be able to follow this year's Tour de France with a better understanding of the events taking place! First of all, the object of the Tour de France is, of course, to finish the overall race with the fastest time. What complicates things is that the Tour de France is a race that is divided up over a period of about three weeks. It's important to know that the race itself is divided into different parts called stages. Each stage lasts one day, although the stages can be quite long. There are a total of 21 stages, and the complete race is usually well over 1,800 miles (or over 3,500 km) long! Although the object of the Tour de France is to win the overall race as a whole, each stage is treated much like its own individual race. Winners of stages receive prize money, and winning a stage of the Tour de France is often regarded as a bigger accomplishment than winning other single-day races. The stages themselves can be flat, mountainous, or anywhere in between, and often there are individual time trials that serve as stages. Competitors generally get a couple of days to rest during the race, as well. If you've seen footage of the Tour de France before, or heard others talk about it, you probably want to know what the yellow jersey is all about. The famed yellow jersey is one of four different jerseys that designate that the rider wearing it has achieved a specific feat. The rider wearing the yellow jersey is the overall leader of the race. To determine who has earned the yellow jersey at any point in the race, officials merely take the lowest overall combined time from all the stages. The green jersey is awarded to the points leader in the race. Points are earned according to passing order at the finish line or in intermediate sprints. For this reason, riders who specialize in sprints are generally those found wearing the green jersey. The distinctive polka dot jersey goes to the leader of the "mountain classification", with points being earned according to passing order on mountain stages. Therefore, it is often said that the rider wearing the polka dot jersey is the best climber of the race. Finally, the white jersey is only worn by riders aged 25 years or younger. This jersey is intended to spotlight the rising stars of the cycling world and the Tour de France. Many riders who wore the white jersey have also gone on to win the coveted yellow jersey in their careers. There are other awards given during the Tour de France as well. The combativity prize is also known as the fighting spirit award and is awarded by a panel of eight cycling specialists. There is also a team award called the team classification, which is given after adding the times of the top three riders for each team for each stage to get a total time. Riders in teams often assist each other by "slipstreaming" behind one another for better speed, or using other team tactics. Teams are grouped by common sponsors. It also bears mentioning that finishing straight stages in the top three can earn you bonus seconds, which help you shave precious seconds off of your total time. Also, the final mountain climb of the Tour de France is for double points, which is a great incentive for climbers. The double points were added to the official race rules starting in 2004. Now that we've addressed the basics of the Tour de France, you'll be better prepared to enjoy one of the world's most prestigious and historic sporting events. Make sure to pay attention to what's going on during the races, and you'll find that it's not nearly as complicated as it may have seemed. Before you know it, you'll be cheering your favorite rider on towards the yellow jacket! Understanding the Rules of the Tour de France To the uninitiated, the world of cycing and specifically, the Tour de France can be a bit confusing. With all the talk of yellow jerseys, time trials, race leaders and feed zones, the Tour de France is sometimes a bit intimidating to new fans. And what in the world is with the teams? It's an individual sport, right? Well, have no fear, cycling newbies: your initiation is here! First, let's discuss the whole team thing. Riders group up in teams as a part of their strategy, more than anything else. You might wonder how much strategy can be involved in riding a bike as fast as you can to a finish line, but you'd be surprised! Each team member usually has their own objective and role in the overall team strategy. The goal is for a member of the team to win the overall classification, or first place, in the Tour de France. Teams must adhere to rules, just like individuals. First of all, team members all wear matching outfits. However, the jerseys can deviate from that of the team designation if a rider of a team has earned an honor that gives them a special jersey. These honors include being the overall leader of the race (yellow jersey), the best rider on climbing, or mountain stages (polka dot jersey), the best sprint rider (green jersey) and the best young rider of 25 years or younger (white jersey). These jerseys are updated as the race continues, and can change hands several times during the race, or even with every new stage. Stage, you ask? What's a stage? Well, long races such as the Tour de France, which typically lasts over three weeks, are divided into one-day portions called "stages". The stages themselves are usually based upon a certain theme or type, of which there are a few. There are climbing, or mountain stages, sprint stages on flatter ground, individual time trials, where riders race alone for a great time, and others. The stages are generally mixed up and spread out throughout the overall race, and are balanced so no one type of rider can dominate the race. Since most riders specialize in a certain type of racing (for instance, climbing), you can understand how important it is to balance the stage types within the race. One of the newer requirements, or at least a requirement that is stricter than before, is the required use of a helmet in all stages of the Tour de France. It's hard to believe, but there was a time when helmets weren't required at all, even during 50 mile per hour descents down steep mountains! With injuries and even a rare death contributing to concern over rider safety, helmet requirements have stiffened over recent years. The feed zone may sound like it's from the world of cattle raising rather than cycling, but the eating and drinking of Tour de France cyclists is actually serious business. Tour officials closely monitor what goes into their competitors, and things like water bottles have to be approved by them before they can be used. The feed zone is just what it sounds like, an area where riders can grab some quick nourishment as they roll by on their bicycles. Sometimes, cyclists can also be handed water or snacks on other areas of the course by team officials in vehicles or motorcycles (no, seriously), but that's also closely monitored by Tour de France officials. One relatively sad, but necessary, evolution of Tour de France rules is reflected in the mandatory drug testing that takes place at every stage in the race. Every participant is tested before the race, and once the race starts, random cyclists are selected at each stage to be tested as well. The stage and race leaders are given a drug test at each stage automatically. The Tour de France is a simple, yet complicated affair. In essence, it is simply a bicycle race, with riders trying to finish as fast as they can. However, the level of competition has made many rules and policies necessary to ensure fair and efficient competition. Knowing the rules can help you enjoy the Tour de France much more. Make sure to learn all you can before this year's Tour de France kicks off! The Route of Champions: The 2008 Tour de France Race Route Every year, hundreds of French towns dream of being one of the towns along the route of the Tour de France. Over two hundred towns are considered on a permanent basis to hold one of the stages of the Tour de France, and each has to go through an extensive selection process to be chosen. If your town is chosen to be along the route of the Tour de France, that means that for one day, all eyes across the world will be on your town. With the Tour de France being such a prestigious event, steeped in history and tradition, it's easy to see why being selected is such an honor. The 2008 Tour de France race route will consist of 21 stages, covering a total of 3,500 kilometers. The stages will vary, as always, and this year's stages include ten flat stages, nine mountain climb stages (four of which are medium length), and two individual time trial stages. Included along the way will be two rest days, much to the relief of the riders who will be competing. The race itself will start off with three flat stages, beginning on Saturday, July 5 and running through Monday, July 7. A total of approximately 569 kilometers will be traversed as competitors begin in Brest and make their way to Nantes to end stage three. This is the first year since 1967 in which the race will not begin with a prologue. Instead, riders will jump right into the race and fight it out through a hilly first stage, arriving in Plumelec. The second stage will be short, but intense as riders endure a hilly route, and the third stage will pass through the current hometown of Tour de France legend Bernard Hinault. After an individual time trial on Tuesday, July 8, riders will face a variety of challenges over the next six days, leading up to the first rest day on Tuesday, July 15. Finally, we'll have our first medium mountain stages during stages six and seven, as riders will test themselves early in the race to arrive at the finish line at the summit of Super-Besse and at the descent to Aurillac. The riders will then rest in Pau before beginning a medium mountain stage beginning in Lannemezan and finishing in Foix. This stage, the eleventh of the 2008 Tour de France, will take place in the foothills of the Pyrenees for the first time. Cycling enthusiasts are keeping an eye on this stage as one that may bring surprises to riders and fans alike. Three plain stages follow, with riders going through Narbonne, Nimes, and finishing at Digne-les-Bains in stages twelve through fourteen. These stages represent a vital area for sprinters to make a push before heading into the difficult three high mountain stages that bring us toward the end of the race. A poor performance along these three stages will spell defeat for any sprinter, as things definitely will get no easier. As mentioned, the next three stages are very difficult mountain stages, with a rest day mercifully coming between the first and second of the three. Highlights include the highest passing in France, as climbers will attempt to take a final lead leading into the last few stages of the 2008 Tour de France. We will likely see a close finish, as a medium mountain stage on Thursday, July 24 leads into the final three stages of the race at the end of July. The sprinters will be back in the spotlight for the nineteenth through twenty-first stages, as the flat course will benefit them. One last time trial beckons on the twentieth stage, before the traditional finish at Paris Champs-...lysees crowns another Tour de France champion. The proverbial stage has been set for another hero to emerge at this year's Tour de France. From looking at the challenging route of this year's race, it's clear that this year's champion will have to race with heart and passion to persevere to the finish. The Tour de France: The First Extreme Sports Event? These days, with skateboarders and BMX bikers doing backflips and covering 50 foot gaps from giant ramps, it's probably hard for youngsters to think of the Tour de France as a dangerous sport. However, in the golden tradition of the Tour de France, there have been three tragic deaths due to injuries sustained while racing. While it's not very pleasant to talk about the tragedies that have occurred during the most prestigious cycling race in the world, it does highlight the dangers that cyclists face, the amount of skill that is required by the sport of cycling, and the importance of safety measures in the sport itself. The first cyclist to die during the Tour de France didn't actually perish as a result of the race itself. Instead, French rider Adolphe Heliere drowned during a rest day. The site of the tragedy was the French Riviera, where Heliere was resting and relaxing before heading back out on the course to finish the race. It was 1935 before the sometimes treacherous, always challenging Tour de France saw the death of a rider during the actual event itself. In a tragic and terrible twist of events, Spanish cyclist Francisco Cepeda passed away after falling down a ravine in the Col du Galibier stage. His skull fractured, Cepeda sadly died three days after the fall. We often think of performance enhancing drugs and other methods of cheating as a problem of modern sports exclusively, but the next death at the Tour de France was directly related to the issue, and it happened way back in 1967. English cyclist Tom Simpson died of heart failure that was brought on by the combination of the conditions, the stress on his body from the demanding race, and his use of amphetamines. Simpson was the first English rider to ever wear the yellow jersey, and his determination showed through even on the day he passed away. Exhausted, dehydrated, and suffering from the heat and his amphetamine use, he fell against an embankment as he couldn't go on during the climb of Mont Ventoux. Even though he was barely conscious, he insisted on being put back onto his bike, and he managed to ride on for several hundred meters before he feel unconscious. He passed away when he arrived at the hospital. The only silver lining after Simpson's tragic death was that it accelerated concern over substance abuse by riders. Eventually, more knowledge of nutrition, hydration techniques and the dangers of many substances helped to ensure that others would not suffer the same fate as Simpson. The most recent death in the Tour de France is also perhaps the saddest. Fabio Casartelli of Italy, a former Olympic gold medalist, was descending a dangerous part of the Portet d'Aspet when he crashed, along with several other cyclists. Unfortunately for Casartelli, his injuries were much more severe than those of the other riders. Casartelli slid and hit his head on a concrete railing area and didn't live long enough to reach the hospital. The next day, the entire group of Tour de France participants dedicated the stage to Casartelli, as Casartelli's team was allowed to finish first and as a group, with the rest of the field finishing behind, riding slowly. A fund was also set up to help out Casartelli's wife and infant son, and riders donated their day's purses to the fund, with the Tour de France organizers matching the donation. Like Simpson's unfortunate death, Casartelli's led to change within the Tour de France. Helmet rules were established and consistently made stricter, until recently where it has gotten to the point that riders must wear helmets at all times or be fined. As you can see, cycling is not a sport for the faint of heart. Each year, heart stopping crashes occur at speeds of 40 or even 50 miles per hour. Even with helmets, it's clear that cycling is a dangerous sport, especially in events like the Tour de France, where steep mountain climbs and descents demand tremendous skill and resilience from the athletes competing. Even if you're not a cycling fan, you should definitely respect the great athletes of the sport, who bravely risk their well-being and ride with the determination and passion of champions. Planning the Route of the Tour de France For a race with the tradition and amazing legacy of the Tour de France, as much effort must go into the preparation of each year's edition as the riders put into finishing the race in first place. The Tour de France is famous for its length, its variety, and the grueling demands it places on those who attempt to conquer it, as well as the other competitors. Therefore, the race organizers must put a lot of effort and time planning each year's race, to ensure that each installment is worthy of the reputation that the Tour de France has earned over the last 105 years. There are many things that have to be taken into account when planning the yearly route of the Tour de France. For one, stages must combine to make a certain overall length that will be similar to races past. At the same time, there must be a variety within the stage types, with small, medium and large climbs to go with sprints and individual time trials. It's important that the course be balanced, so that neither the climbers, sprinters or the time trial specialists have an unfair advantage over the other racers. One of the most charming aspects of the Tour de France is the fact that the race highlights French towns that otherwise would never get the kind of global attention that they do during the race. The Tour de France is the one time of year that a relatively small community can become, for one day at least, the center of the cycling universe. The experience can be overwhelming, amazing, and a dream come true all at the same time for the towns involved. To even be considered as a town that will be part of the Tour de France's route, towns must submit their request and be part of a long and sometimes tiring selection process. Meetings are had, town leaders give their best arguments for their inclusion and votes are performed, among other things that have to be done to decide which towns will be home to Tour de France stops. The decision can be a difficult one, as towns have to be able to accommodate all of the hoopla and saturation that can occur from being part of such a huge and historical event. Meanwhile, the individual stages must be combined to make a meaningful whole and to give the race a cohesive feel. The Tour de France has to be planned carefully, so that riders don't have several stages in a row of huge mountain climbs or sprints. Also, rest days have to be scheduled in, and in a town that can accommodate the swell of humanity that will come and go over a 24 to 48 hour period as a result of the Tour de France stopping by. It's also important that the race itself not be a stale retread of the ones from years past. Each Tour de France has to respect the tradition of the race while creating its own identity simultaneously. For this reason, some towns are a part of the race seemingly year after year, while each year, the race organizers attempt to add some new flavors to the proverbial stew to keep things fresh. As you can see, planning the Tour de France is quite a daunting task. Although the people behind the scenes will never get the fanfare and attention that the riders who traverse the race receive, they are in many ways just as important when considering the outcome of the race and how entertaining it is. Variety is Everything: Stage Types of the Tour de France One of the things that makes the Tour de France a great spectacle is the wide variety of stages that riders must endure to win the yellow jersey for once and for all. The Tour de France requires versatility from its cyclists, as each year the stages are made of a good mix of climbs, sprints, and other stage types. If you're lost as to what the different type of stage types are, and what strategies they require, read on! You'll enjoy the race much more if you understand what challenges are presented by the different types of stages. The prologue is a relatively new type of stage that has been introduced to get the race off to a fast start and determine a first stage leader for the Tour de France. This stage is much shorter than other stage types, usually clocking in at under 8 kilometers! This means that the fastest riders can usually complete the prologue in around 7 minutes. However, even with the short stage time, the prologue is a nice appetizer for the stages to come, and provides race fans with a quick look at the year's competitors. Winning the prologue is not exactly essential for winning the entire race, and it's more a formality than anything. Not every year's edition of the Tour de France even contains a prologue. Sprint stages are often very flat, and allow each team's sprint specialists to zoom down the road at top speed towards the finish line. Sprint stages often have a large peloten (or pack) of riders, as there is no real climb or descent to divide them or separate them. As such, sprint stages often seem like the less demanding stage type, but are often quite the opposite. After all, when racing in a thick pack at high speeds, the slightest slip up can lead to a huge crash that can end one's bid at the Tour de France's yellow jersey. The climbing, or mountain, stages of the Tour de France give the race much of its unique flavor. Climbing stages are often extremely demanding, as riders struggle to push the pace, or simply keep up with it, while enduring long inclines that are categorized by their steepness and length. Of course, the ascent of such mountain roads also lead to spectacular descents at high speeds which can lead to some of the most dangerous and exciting moments of the entire race. Many champions of the Tour de France have been excellent climbers, such as the great Lance Armstrong, or former champion Lucien van Impe. It's important to be a good all-around cyclist, but being a tenacious climber can allow you to put valuable distance between yourself and the pack in the Tour de France. Individual time trials can be the difference between rousing success and disappointing failure at the Tour de France. During an individual time trial, riders compete by themselves against the clock to achieve the fastest time possible, usually in a distance of around fifty kilometers. With the shorter stage distance, the competition to shave every millisecond possible is pretty heated, and the emphasis is on proper race strategy, pacing, and technique. Unlike other stages, where a rider's team can assist them, there is no one to help cut down wind resistance, push the pace, or provide other help in an individual time trial. The distance of a time trial is too far for a cyclist to start out at their highest possible pace, but not far enough that they can't push themselves throughout. Therefore, the strategy of a rider is one of the major factors that determines where they finish in an individual time trial. These are the main stage types of the Tour de France. As you can see, riders must be ready for everything, and work hard to overcome any weaknesses when they race in the Tour de France. The variety of stage types works to demand that each year's winner be a versatile cyclist who can persevere against all kinds of challenges. After all, that's what makes the Tour de France so great. The Yellow Jersey: A Standard of Excellence When you think of the most iconic trophies in all of sport, you may think of the Stanley Cup, or the World Cup trophy, or the Vince Lombardi trophy. However, it's hard to imagine an honor more distinctive than the Tour de France's yellow jersey. While not exactly a trophy, the jersey is awarded to the winner of each year's Tour de France. What sets it apart from other awards involves two major differences from the rest: that it is worn by competitors, and that it is actually awarded (and re-awarded) during the competition itself, not just at the end of the competition. One has to wonder exactly how a tradition like the awarding of the famed yellow jersey got started. If you talked to Philippe Thys, he would have told you that in 1913, Henri Desgrange (the original race organizer) asked him to wear a brightly colored jersey so observers would distinquish him from the field. Thys was not exactly into the idea of becoming a moving target for other riders, but later conceded. However, the first official awarding of the yellow jersey wasn't until six years later, in 1919. Eugene Christophe, a French rider, was the first to wear it during the course. Supposedly the distinctive color was either decided upon because of the yellow newsprint of L'Auto, which is the newspaper that created and organized the Tour de France, or because yellow was an unpopular color choice for riders and therefore would stand out and be readily available from manufacturers. It all depends on who you'd rather believe. Although wearing the yellow jersey today makes one the subject of admiration and praise, Christophe didn't receive that kind of reaction. Instead, he claimed that spectators would make canary noises as he rode by, as well as just generally heckling his "choice" of attire. The yellow jersey has gone on to have a history rivaling that of the Tour de France itself. One of the more memorable yellow jersey problems has always been when more than one rider ties for the right to wear the jersey. In years past, it was decided that tie breakers would be utilized to keep from having to have more than one yellow jersey-donning rider at a time. At times, there have also been a lack of riders wearing the yellow jersey. Switzerland's Ferdi Kubler was the first to pass up the chance to wear the yellow jersey, doing so because the previous race leader (Fiorenze Magni) had left the race as a result of alleged threats made to him and his Italian teammates by spectators. In 1971, the great Eddy Merckx, widely considered as perhaps the best cyclist of all time, started a tradition of sorts by declining to wear the jersey when the previous leader crashed. Luis Ocaña was in the lead when he crashed on the col de Mente, and Merckx wanted no part of the yellow jersey when he was able to take the lead as a result. This new tradition was followed by Joop Zoetemelk, who opted out of the yellow jersey in 1980 when Bernard Hinault withdrew from a knee injury, Greg LeMond, who did the same after Denmark's Rolf Sorenson was eliminated from the race by a crash, and most recently Lance Armstrong in 2005. Armstrong wouldn't start with the yellow jersey on because the previous wearer, David Zabriskie, was taken out of the race by a crash. Armstrong later reconsidered at the urging of Tour de France organizers. The only rider who refused the yellow jersey based upon its actual composition was Louison Bobet. Bobet, an eventual multiple time champion of the Tour de France, did not want to wear the yellow jersey because it contained synthetic fabrics. It seemed that Bobet was a wool man through and through, and he would not budge from his position. Finally, another jersey had to be rushed out (this one was pure wool) to avoid the lack of a yellow jersey wearer in the next stage. Although the yellow jersey has evolved into one of the most recognizable honors in all of sport, it had its growing pains, probably more so than any other sports award. As you can see, the yellow jersey didn't become a prestigious symbol of accomplishment overnight! The First Tour de France: A Humble Beginning The Tour de France is undoubtedly one of the most iconic and famous sporting events in history. For over one hundred years, great athletes have traversed vast roads and steep mountain climbs in France for the title of world's greatest cyclist. It's hard to believe, then, that the historic race began as a publicity stunt for a newspaper! In 1903, the publishers of the French newspaper L'Auto wanted to outdo the cycling race promoted by a rival newspaper. The paper's cycling journalist, Geo Lefevre, came up with idea to have a race throughout France, separated by stages. He discussed it with editor Henri Desgrange after lunch, and the idea took off. In January, the first ever Tour de France was announced. However, many details had to be ironed out before the race could even begin. Originally, the race was planned to be an incredible five weeks long. Unfortunately, that proved to be intimidating to most cyclists, as only just over a dozen were willing to take on a race of that magnitude. By cutting the length severely to a total of nineteen days, more entrants were enticed to give it a try. It also didn't hurt that participants were given a daily allowance for their efforts. The changes increased the participation in the inaugural Tour de France by four times the original number of riders, to sixty. The participants themselves were almost exclusively French, with a handful of riders from other countries, mostly Germany, Sweden, or Italy. The riders included some personalities that captured the imaginations of French cycling fans, such as the 20-year old Lucien Pothier and experienced cyclist Maurice Garin. Many of the riders, attracted by the promise of the daily allowance, were amateur cyclists, or unemployed and simply looking for something to do with themselves. Fans also were intrigued by the sheer scope of the race, and the fact that some of the stages were so long that riders had to keep cycling on into the night. Maurice Garin took an early lead once the race started, taking the first stage during the ride from Paris to Lyon. He held on to the overall lead, even as Hyppolite Aucouturier won the next two stages. Despite this spirited challenge, Garin won the last six stages, and the first ever Tour de France. Garin was actually quite dominant, finishing over two hours ahead of the afore-mentioned youngster, Lucien Pothier. Fernand Augereau rounded out the top three cyclists in the first race. There was definitely a disparity in talent in the first race, as the adventurous nature of the race attracted even the most unorthodox of challengers. In fact, Garin finished over 64 hours ahead of the last place finisher, Arsene Millocheau of France. Again, this only endeared the Tour de France to those who were already intrigued by the massive race. The 1903 installment of the Tour de France served its purpose not only by launching the overwhelmingly successful cycling championship that has lasted over one hundred years, but also by giving L'Auto the publicity and sales bump that its editors so badly wanted. During the race itself, readership of the newspaper almost tripled, as a matter of fact. The riders themselves would continue on into the next year. Garin, Pothier, and Aucouturier would compete in the 1904 Tour de France, which was a ragtag affair marred by cheating and occasional riots by fans. All three would end up being disqualified, which kept Garin from winning his second straight Tour de France. From such humble beginnings, an annual spectacle known the world over has resulted. Throughout the last one hundred and five years, heroes as well as villains have emerged to succeed the likes of Garin and Pothier. Almost as amazing as the athletes that compete in the Tour de France is the fact that the race itself came from such a humble and unassuming beginning, as a race organized to promote a simple French newspaper. Controversy at the 2006 Tour de France The 2006 Tour de France was set to be another of a long line of great races. The field, though without multiple time champion and cycling legend Lance Armstrong, was a competitive one, and the route was superb as usual. No one rider was primed to dominate, and the cycling world, while obviously sad to see Lance Armstrong go, was reinvigorated by the prospect of a tight race that nearly anyone could win. One of the contenders to win was American cyclist Floyd Landis, who had experienced success in the cycling world and was known as a versatile rider who could sprint as well as climb at a high level. He had been personally recruited by Lance Armstrong to race along with him on the U.S. Postal Service team, and had started off 2006 with a couple of wins, including at Paris-Nice. Even though he obviously had all the tools to win the race, he was considered one of many contenders who could do so. Floyd Landis' chances were bettered when two of the race favorites, Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso, were suspended and barred from participating just days before the 2006 Tour de France began. However, Landis himself didn't get off to the greatest start when the race opened. A cut tire in one stage and a handlebar malfunction in another conspired to keep him back from the lead through the first several stages of the race. However, in the middle portions of the race, Landis surged as he was able to lean on his climbing skills during difficult mountain stages. Unfortunately, on Stage 16, Landis fell far back, going from first place to eleventh in the overall standings. In doing so, he provided himself a stage (no pun intended) to put on a great show of courage and fortitude, although it would later become infamous for more controversial reasons. During Stage 17, Landis battled to win by over six minutes, coming to close within the lead that was held by Oscar Pereiro. He would continue the comeback in the final stages, and was crowned as the 2006 Tour de France champion in one of the greatest races in recent memory. Unfortunately, the story didn't end there. During the mandatory testing at Stage 17, Landis had failed a urine test, as he had an 11:1 ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone. Landis quickly denied doping, but his backup test came up with the same result, and he was suspended and released from his team, Phonak. Landis maintained his innocence, and proposed a variety of ways that his sample may have been tainted, misinterpreted, or resulted from normal human activity, not doping. However, an arbitration did not go Landis' way, and in September of 2007 Pereiro was crowned as the new 2006 Tour de France champion. Unfortunately, the win by Pereiro, and the exciting finish to the race itself, was marred by the new reality of performance-enhancing drugs and the problems they cause to all sports. Although Pereiro is as legitimate a champion as they come, it's hard to say that no luster has been taken off his considerable accomplishment after the circus that resulted in the media and in the courts. Landis himself is still fighting for his innocence, but he will likely not be able to change the minds of those who are convinced by the test results. It's truly unfortunate that such a historic year of a legendary event was decided in the courtroom, and not on the roads of France. Tragedy at the Tour de France Fabio Casartelli, like many young cyclists, dreamed of achieving infamy in the Tour de France. Unfortunately, in an unprecedented bike crash, Casartelli lost his life and remains only the third rider to ever die during the Tour de France race. Fabio Casartelli was born in Como, Italy in August of 1970. Throughout his amateur cycling career, he showed a lot of potential, most notably with his win of a gold medal in the road race event of the 1992 Olympic Games. He finished one second ahead of the Netherlands' Erik Dekker, who went on to win four stages of the Tour de France in his own career. The first Tour de France Casartelli competed in was in 1993, although Casartelli didn't accomplish much in his debut. For the 1995 Tour de France, Team Motorola selected Casartelli to competed in the race, and Casartelli was hoping to improve upon his first appearance in the legendary race. Casartelli was in the 15th stage of the 1995 Tour de France when he was suddenly involved in a crash with several other riders. The crash occurred during the descent on the Col de Portet d'Aspet in the Pyrenees. During the crash, Casartelli struck his head on the concrete blocks that lined the roadway, immediately causing him to lose consciousness. Sadly, Casartelli didn't make it to the hospital, as he stopped breathing during the helicopter flight and couldn't be resuscitated. After Casartelli's tragic death, there was some speculation that his life could have been saved, had he been wearing a bicycle helmet at the time of the accident. However, the senior doctor of the Tour de France, Gerard Porte, refuted such claims, as he said that the helmet would not have covered the area of Casartelli's head where he received the damage that led to his death. If anything positive could be taken from Casartelli's untimely death, it was the way the riders participating in the 1995 Tour de France came together after the tragic crash. In tribute to Fabio Casartelli, his comrades in Team Motorola finished the next stage as a unit, crossing the finish line together. The rest of the pack finished right after, riding slowly in a show of respect to their fallen peer. Fabio Casartelli left behind a wife and an infant son, and cyclists and the Tour de France officials themselves made sure they weren't forgotten. A fund was established for Casartelli's family, and all of the riders who received money for their participation and performances in the "tribute" stage donated their prize money to the fund. The Tour de France organizers matched the amount donated to the fund, and many individuals also pitched in to help do their part and help Casartelli's family. Fabio Casartelli's death also helped to accomplish stricter helmet regulations for Tour de France riders. Over time, helmet rules have consistently been strengthened, and now riders can be fined for not wearing their helmets during any portion of the Tour de France. Even if Casartelli's death couldn't have been prevented by the use of a helmet, the fact that helmet use has become more widespread and required by race organizations means that his death was not in vain. The thought of a sportsman like Fabio Casartelli losing his life in the midst of a competition is a dreadful one indeed. While there's no guarantee that a tragedy like what happened to Casartelli won't ever happen again, it's important to know that precautions are being taken to keep such things from happening, and that Casartelli has not and will not be forgotten. Great Cyclists of the Tour de France: Lance Armstrong Even those who are relatively unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the sport of cycling can tell you who Lance Armstrong is. There are many people worldwide who don't know the difference between the yellow jersey and the polka dot jersey, but are familiar with Armstrong's legendary triumphs at the Tour de France, and his courageous battles with cancer. Let's take a look at the many great performances of Lance Armstrong on cycling's biggest stage, the Tour de France. Armstrong was born in Plano, Texas in 1971. He began competing in his teens as a triathlete rather than as a pure cyclist. As he got toward adulthood, he began competing in cycling events, before turning pro in 1992 at age twenty one. He quickly found success, winning individual stages in several races, as well as being the overall winner of the Fitchburg-Longsjo Classic. In 1993, Lance Armstrong had his first slice of success in the Tour de France, winning Stage 8. Unfortunately, he was unable to build on that success right away, as his only other stage victory at the Tour de France in the next few years was in 1995, when he won Stage 18 of that year's race. Of course, Armstrong had an uphill battle, as he was diagnosed with cancer in 1996. Only in 1998, after extensive chemotherapy, was Armstrong able to return to competitive cycling. Then, in 1999, he began a run the likes of which has never been seen in the cycling world, and which will likely never be seen again. During the 1999 Tour de France, Lance Armstrong was excellent. He won four stages as well as the overall race for his first-ever Tour de France victory. The race itself was notable not only for Armstrong's win, but also for a twenty five rider pile-up at Passage du Gois. The next year, Armstrong only won one stage, but was consistent overall as he took the yellow jersey in Stage 10 and never surrendered it. Armstrong won his third-straight Tour de France in 2001, again besting the perennial runner-up Jan Ullrich by several minutes. Armstrong's characteristic endurance allowed him to again take the yellow jersey in the middle portion of the race and never relinquish it. Among the highlights of his 2001 win was his famous "look back" at Ullrich as they rode on Alpe d'Huez. In 2002, Armstrong again finished strongly, winning three of the last ten stages to hold onto the yellow jersey, after surrendering it early in the race. His arch rival, Jan Ullrich was unable to compete due to injury. Armstrong made it an unbelievable five straight with his win in 2003, which was almost made impossible by a near crash that Armstrong barely avoided, that took Joseba Beloki out of the running. By 2004, many fans and experts were wondering when Armstrong would run out of steam. However, Armstrong was as amazing as ever, winning an amazing five stages en route to his sixth straight Tour de France win. He did not take the yellow jacket until Stage 15, but still finished six minutes ahead of the competition. In his final Tour de France in 2005, Armstrong made history once again with his seventh straight win. The accomplishment was enhanced by the fact that Armstrong wore the yellow jersey for all but four stages during the race. It was also Armstrong's first Tour de France while racing with the Discovery Channel team. Armstrong finished his career as one of the only cyclists to transcend the sport and become a major celebrity outside of the cycling world, especially in the United States. His exploits in cycling and particularly in the Tour de France not only captivated the world, but brought new light to the great sport of cycling. Whether or not anyone is ever able to equal or best his amazing accomplishments, Armstrong will remain a legend in Tour de France history.
Great Cyclists of the Tour de France: Philippe Thys Philippe Thys, one of the better Belgian cyclists of all time, is one of the most prolific champions in Tour de France history, with three yellow jerseys to his credit. In fact, Thys is credited by some as being the first rider to wear a yellow jersey, though he wasn't presented it in an official capacity. Thys was one of the most talented young riders in the history of cycling. On October 8, 1890, Philippe Thys was born. A talented cyclist already at twenty years old, he was winning competitions in Belgium before winning his first Tour de France three years later, in 1913. Thys won only one stage, Stage 6, but was the leader from Stage 9 through the end of the race as he bested perennial runner-up Gustave Garrigou. Thys' win in 1913 would also contain a story that really summed up the era in which he raced. He was the unfortunate recipient of a broken fork on his bicycle, so he got the owner of a bicycle shop to repair it for him. However, the fix also got him a penalty of thirty minutes. Of course, Thys was still able to win, with a finishing lead of around two minutes. Also, many cycling enthusiasts trace the history of the yellow jersey back to Philippe Thys and the 1913 Tour de France. Thys claimed that he was asked by race officials to don a yellow jersey during the race by organizer Henri Desgrange. Originally, Thys said he declined, as the jersey would be akin to having a target on his back. After Desgrange explained that it was part of a promotion for his newspaper, Thys reportedly relented. In the 1914 Tour de France, Philippe Thys picked up right where he left off. He won the first stage from Paris to Le Havre, on the same day that Franz Ferdinand was assassinated to mark the beginning of World War I. Later on, just a week after Thys put the finishing touches on his second straight Tour de France victory, Germany declared war on France. As a result, Thys would not get a chance to win a third straight title. For the next five years, there was no Tour de France, and Thys unfortunately lost a great portion of the prime of his career during that time. Finally, seven years after his second Tour de France win, Philippe Thys returned to the race with a dominating win in 1920. Thys finished an astonishing 57 minutes and 21 seconds ahead of the second place Hector Heusghem, winning an impressive four stages (out of a possible 15) in the process. In Thys' final Tour de France appearance, in 1924, Thys won two stages but did not contend for the overall title. His cycling career would essentially end at that point. Thys lived on to be 80 years old before passing away. Thys was always known as being an intelligent rider with a great work ethic. As one of the more dominant riders in the early days of the Tour de France, Thys will always occupy a special place in the history of competitive cycling. Fans still marvel at what he accomplished, and wonder even more about what he could have accomplished, had he not missed out on competing during much of the prime of his career. Great Cyclists of the Tour de France: Miguel Indurain Miguel Indurain will always be known as one of the greatest cyclists to ever compete in the Tour de France. Indurain was the first cyclist to ever win five straight Tour de France championships, and was one of only five riders to ever win five championships at all. He was known as a gifted rider who excelled at time trials, and was nicknamed "Miguelón" due to his natural ability and his uncommon size for a cyclist. Indurain competed in eleven straight years of the Tour de France, beginning in 1985, the year he turned professional. He didn't get off to the best start, as he dropped out of the running both of his first two years, and failed to crack the top twenty until 1989, when he finished 17th overall. He did manage to build upon that success in 1990, finishing 10th, but no one could have predicted the incredible run he was about to begin the next year. In the 1991 Tour de France, he won just two stages, but was still able to pull out the win in the overall race. His two stage wins were individual time trials, contributing to his reputation as a time trial master. In fact, he never won a non-time trial stage in any of his Tour de France victories. In 1992, he would win his second straight Tour de France, aided by the infamous Stage 9 time trial, where Indurain won by over three minutes, even though the stage was only 65 kilometers long! In the end, Pascal Lino couldn't hold onto the yellow jersey, and surrendered it to Indurain in the 13th stage, who never lost it, finishing over 4 1/2 minutes ahead of Italy's Claudio Chiappucci. In the next three years, Indurain cemented his reputation as a legend in the making, as he continued to dominate the yearly Tour de France. He would win each year by several minutes, helping his own cause by continuing to race brilliantly in individual time trials while working hard to maintain his leads in the other stages. In 1995, he held the yellow jersey for the last 13 of the race's 19 stages. Unfortunately, in 1996 Indurain's incredible run came to an end. He was slowed significantly by an onset of bronchitis that occurred after a cold and soggy first week of racing. He would finish at 11th, his worst finish since 1989, and although he still was one of the most gifted cyclists in the world, would retire in later that year as one of the greatest riders in the history of the Tour de France. Almost as impressive as his string of victories was Indurain's reputation for being a kind and gracious competitor. With the media and other competitors, he was a quiet person who never let his success get to his head, even as he put together his unprecedented run of five straight Tour de France wins. He claimed to never feel superior to the other riders, despite the fact that he clearly was through much of his career. Not only was Indurain one of the most incredible talents to ever pedal a bicycle, but he always set an example of kindness and humility for fans, his countrymen, and fellow riders as well. Great Cyclists of the Tour de France: Lucien van Impe Lucien van Impe was one of the better cyclists of his generation, with five Tour de France podium appearances including one win at the 1976 Tour de France. Van Impe, known as a gifted climber who excelled in long, grueling mountain stages, won six Tour de France mountain classifications in addition to his overall race successes. Van Impe was born in Mere, Belgium in October, 1946. He became a professional cyclist largely due to the help of Federico Bahamontes, himself an expert climber who had won the Tour de France in 1959. Van Impe would repay Bahamontes' faith in him by eventually tying his record for most polka dot jerseys, with six. Bahamontes helped van Impe get his first professional contract, and van Impe raced his first Tour de France in 1969, finishing 12th overall. The next year, van Impe raced again in the Tour de France, this time finishing in the top handful of cyclists, in the sixth position. The year 1971 was when van Impe started to break out on his own and earn a reputation as a rider to be reckoned with, especially in mountain stages. Van Impe earned his first podium finish at the Tour de France, also winning his first of six polka dot jerseys as best climber of the Tour de France in the process. In the 1972 and 1973 editions of the Tour de France, van Impe would reach a personal milestone by winning a stage in each of the races, although he finished fourth and fifth, respectively, and wasn't on the podium following the races. He did add another of his six polka dot jerseys in 1972. The 1974 Tour de France held only frustration and disappointment for van Impe, however, as he finished at 18th. Luckily, the next year, van Impe proved that his 18th place finish was a fluke, as he again earned a podium finish with a third place performance in the 1975 Tour de France. It was also the race where van Impe earned another polka dot jersey as well as his first time winning two stages in the same Tour de France. It appeared that van Impe was primed to claim the title of Tour de France champion. The 1976 Tour de France saw van Impe do exactly that, as he won the yellow jersey for the first time in his career, while winning another stage victory along the way. Colorful stories have emerged to help explain van Impe's victory, including one that Cyrille Guimard shouted to van Impe to attack leader Joop Zoetemelk, unless he wanted to be run off the road by Guimard's car. Of course, van Impe denies that it happened that way. Try as he might, van Impe was never able to reach that level again. He did finish 3rd in the 1977 Tour de France and 2nd in 1981, and he also added four more stage victories and three more polka dot jerseys, but he could never win a second Tour de France. His successes were peppered with some disappointing finishes, including a 27th place finish in 1985 that marked the end of his participation in the Tour de France. Nevertheless, Lucien van Impe's Tour de France win in 1976, along with his other podium finishes and his reputation as one of the best climbers of all time, have reserved him a special place in cycling history. Van Impe is also notable for being second only to Joop Zoetemelk for the amount of times he finished the complete Tour de France race (fifteen times, in fifteen attempts). In 1987, van Impe retired for good, leaving behind a legacy as a tenacious competitor whose strength and perseverance in the climbing stages is still envied by those who race in the Tour de France year after year. His drive and determination helped make him one of the more notable cyclists of all time. Great Cyclists of the Tour de France: Lucien Petit-Breton Lucien Petit-Breton was not only one of the first dominant riders in the history of the Tour de France, but also a great symbol of the eccentric and sometimes tragic time that he lived. A two time champion of the Tour de France, Petit-Breton may have won more Tours had he not joined the French Army and died in World War I. Lucien Petit-Breton was actually born Lucien Georges Mazan in 1882. He was born in France and lived there until age six, but took on Argentinian nationality when he moved with his parents to Buenos Aires. He would later adopt the new identity of Lucien Petit-Breton because he wanted to take up cycling, but his father wanted him to do something else instead. He couldn't simply be Lucien Breton, because there was already one who was also a cyclist. Petit-Breton may not have ever gotten into cycling if he hadn't won his first bicycle in a lottery. He would use the free bicycle to help him get started, and as a young cyclist had some success in Argentina. He was the track cycling champion there, although he would end up moving back to France after being drafted by the French Army. In 1904, he continued his track cycling success before breaking the world hour record in Paris, cycling over 41 kilometers. This was in 1905, around the time when Petit-Breton began participating in road races, rather than just in track cycling events. 1905 was also Petit-Breton's first time participating in the Tour de France. The race was a quirky one, with changes being made to try to limit the rampant cheating and tampering from previous races, and many riders having their tires punctured early on when spectators spread nails along the road. Petit-Breton finished fifth among the chaos. Petit-Breton improved his finish the next year, finishing fourth in another zany race. More tires were punctured by spectator antics, and some riders even attempted to ride the train to get an edge on their competitors (they were disqualified). Finally, in the 1907 Tour de France, Petit-Breton reached the level he had aspired to get to, winning the prestigious race. Without the previous year's winner in the field, Petit-Breton was able to stay near the front and take advantage when ...mile Georget was caught borrowing a bicycle and received a penalty. Petit-Breton won two of the later stages and held off Gustave Garrigou to win the race. The next year, Petit-Breton repeated the feat by winning 5 stages (out of a possible 14), and proved those who considered him to be the race favorite right by easily besting the field. In doing so, Petit-Breton became the first cyclist to win the Tour de France two years in a row. Unfortunately, Petit-Breton would only compete in the Tour de France once more, in 1911. The race itself was one of the most brutal in Tour de France history, and Petit-Breton was one of many to drop out early on in the proceedings. Petit-Breton's cycling career came to an end with the onset of World War I. He would tragically die in 1917, bringing his life to an early end as well. However, Petit-Breton would live on in cycling history as the first of the Tour de France's truly great champions. Great Cyclists of the Tour de France: Louison Bobet Louison (or "Louis") Bobet was one of the great post-war French cyclists. In his career, he was able to win three Tour de France races (one of only eight riders to do so) and had four podium finishes in total. He was also known as a talented climber and tenacious, if sometimes stubborn, competitor. In 1925, Bobet was born in Brittany, a part of northwestern France, and would compete in his first Tour de France in 1947, at the age of 22. The race did not go so well and certainly didn't foreshadow Tour de France greatness, as Bobet failed to finish. However, the following year, Bobet won two stages, was the race leader for a time, and finished fourth in the 1948 Tour de France. It was in that year's race that Bobet famously rejected the chance to wear the yellow jersey, because he preferred all wool jerseys and the yellow jersey contained some synthetic materials. Race organizers had to have a wool version made up so that Bobet could wear it in the next stage. In the 1950 Tour de France, Bobet would capitalize on his success by finishing third and winning the polka dot jersey as the race's best climber. He also garnered another stage win for himself that year. Bobet didn't make waves again in the Tour de France until 1953, but in that year's edition he really put on a show. During the 1953 Tour de France, Bobet celebrated the Tour's 50th anniversary in his own way- by winning the overall race for the first time in his career. He won two stages during that year's race, including a five-minute victory over the field in a tough climb up the Izoard mountain that was celebrated as the race's greatest moment. He would ultimately finish almost fifteen minutes ahead of the next rider at the end of the race. In the next years, Bobet would only continue his impressive performances. In 1954, Bobet won a career-high three stages in a race known for being the first Tour de France not to start in France at all. Bobet would then win his third consecutive Tour de France in 1955, winning two stages and winning by his slimmest margin, that being 4 minutes and 53 seconds over Belgium's Jean Brankart. Unfortunately, Bobet would not reach that high level again. He raced his final Tour de France in 1958, finishing a modest 7th overall without garnering any stage wins. Then, two years later, a car accident near Paris basically ended Bobet's promising career. Aside from the famous yellow jersey incident, Bobet was known for having the mannerisms and demeanor of a Hollywood star, and carrying himself in a rather elegant way that was different from the behavior of many cyclists during that era. He also had a reputation for being somewhat moody, especially early in his career, where he took his defeats very hard and would sometimes cry in disappointment after a race. Regardless of his reputation away from racing, Bobet proved himself to be one of the legends of French cycling. His three consecutive wins put him in an exclusive class, and one can only wonder what he could have accomplished if he had remained healthy. Despite the abrupt ending of his career, Bobet is one of the greatest riders in Tour de France history. Great Cyclists of the Tour de France: Laurent Fignon Laurent Fignon was a two time winner of the Tour de France, and one of the most beloved French cyclists of all time. He won a variety of races other than the Tour de France in his career, and missed winning a third Tour de France by the smallest margin in race history. Fignon, born in 1960, won 18 races as an amateur before turning pro with the help of Cyrille Guimard. Fignon started his career with the famed Renault-Elf-Gitane team, and quickly burst on the scene with skilled and tenacious riding. In the 1983 Tour de France, Fignon figured to play a supporting role to five time winner Bernard Hinault before Hinault ultimately was forced to withdraw from the race due to injury. Fignon took full advantage of the opportunity he was given to shine, turning in one of the great time trial stage performances in history just before claiming his first yellow jersey midway through the race. Fignon won the final time trial as well en route to winning his first Tour de France. Fignon completed a repeat bid in the 1984 Tour de France, beating his former teammate, Hinault. Hinault changed teams before the race, but Fignon was dominant, winning five stages on the way to his second Tour de France victory. Fignon finished the race especially well garnering three of his five stage wins in the final several stages. Unfortunately, Fignon couldn't attempt a third straight win in the Tour de France, as a knee injury kept him from participating in 1985. He did not finish the Tour de France in 1986 and 1988, and finished the 1987 installment, but only in seventh place. In 1989, Fignon entered the Tour de France as the number one cyclist in the world, setting the stage for a legendary showdown between Fignon and the returning Greg LeMond, who was sidelined after being shot in a hunting accident. During the 1989 Tour de France, Fignon watched as LeMond surprisingly earned the yellow jersey at Stage 5. Throughout the race, Fignon played mind games with LeMond, challenging him through the press to ride more aggressively. In time, it became a two-man race, as Fignon and LeMond battled with all they had. From Stage 5 on to the finish, the yellow jersey belonged to either LeMond or Fignon, with the lead swapping from LeMond to Fignon, then back to LeMond briefly at Stage 15, then back to Fignon before the final time trial that would decide the victor. Fignon had a 50 second lead, but LeMond out-strategized the former Tour de France champion, using a more aerodynamically sound bike and helmet and beating the Frenchman by 58 seconds for an 8 second overall victory. Fignon was crushed, and the finish remains the closest in Tour de France history. After the disappointment of the 1989 Tour, Fignon would finish no better than 9th in subsequent years, dropping out in 1990 and finishing 23rd in 1992. He finally retired afterward, remaining one of the more popular French cyclists due to his persona and signature ponytail. Because of his talent as well as his memorable personality, along with his participation in the legendary showdown of 1989 with Greg LeMond, Fignon remains one of the more beloved cyclists to have participated in the Tour de France. Great Cyclists of the Tour de France: Joop Zoetemelk Joop Zoetemelk was a cyclist from the Netherlands who is widely regarded as one of the greatest riders of all time. Zoetemelk competed in an amazing 16 editions of the Tour de France, finishing the race in every one. In a 13-year span from 1970 to 1982 (he didn't compete in 1974), Zoetemelk finished no worse than eighth, appearing on the podium seven times. Zoetemelk won the Tour de France once to go along with his six second place finishes. Zoetemelk was born in 1946, and had success in the 1968 Olympic Games, winning the gold medal for team time trial along with three of his countrymen. He would then go on to begin his professional career, with his first Tour de France appearance coming in 1970. In the 1970 Tour de France, Zoetemelk came out of nowhere to finish second to all-time great Eddy Merckx of Belgium. Although Zoetemelk finished over 12 minutes behind and didn't win any stages, his performance was quite impressive, especially for someone making their first appearance in the Tour de France. Merckx would spend the next several years of his career coming close but not quite close enough to winning in the Tour de France. His second appearance, in 1971, led to another second place finish, again to Eddy Merckx. This time, Zoetemelk wore the yellow jersey for the first time in his career, albeit for just one day. In the next two years, he would not finish on the podium, although in 1973 he won his first stage along with the prologue, and spent another day wearing the coveted yellow jersey. In 1974, Joop Zoetemelk had a career threatening injury resulting from a crash where he fractured his skull. Luckily, Zoetemelk was able to make a full recovery and in 1975, he returned to cycling and to the Tour de France. He picked up right where he left off, finishing fourth and even winning a stage along the way. The next year, Zoetemelk had a legitimately good chance to come away the winner of the Tour de France, dueling with eventual winner Lucien van Impe in the mountains before finishing a few minutes behind him for yet another second place finish. Still, it was Zoetemelk's best showing yet, as he won three stages. After a disappointing step backward with an eight place finish in 1977, Zoetemelk added two more second place finishes in 1978 and 1979. Though he lost to the great Bernard Hinault both years, these were Zoetemelk's best efforts yet, as he wore the yellow jersey for four and six days, respectively, in the two years. Zoetemelk and his fans hoped that he had finally reached the level he needed to win the Tour de France, after five second place finishes. It turns out that he had. In 1980, Zoetemelk won the Tour de France for the first time with a margin of about seven minutes ahead of the second place Hennie Kuiper. Although Zoetemelk won only two stages, he was consistent throughout and held onto the yellow jersey for ten days of the race. After ten years of competing in the Tour de France, Zoetemelk had finally reached the summit. Many thought that Zoetemelk could add another win or two to his Tour de France resume before his career was finished, but it was not to be. He did add another respectable fourth place finish and a last podium finish (second place) in 1982, but in the mid-80's, Zoetemelk's performances declined in quality. He finished 23rd in 1983, 30th in 1984, 12th in 1985 and finally, 24th in his last Tour de France appearance in 1986. In 1987, he retired. It's easy to wonder what Joop Zoetemelk's resume would look like if he had not raced in an era with greats like Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault. However, despite the stiff competition he faced, Zoetemelk's Tour de France win in 1980 and five second place finishes place him squarely among the best to ever compete in the Tour de France. Great Cyclists of the Tour de France: Jan Ullrich Jan Ullrich was one of the great riders and personalities of the Tour de France. A German cyclist born in 1973, he would go on to become the first German rider to ever win the Tour de France. He also built a career on his legendary consistency that unfortunately coincided with that of Lance Armstrong. He finished in the top three of the Tour de France an incredible six times, with one win, four second place finishes and a third place finish. He also finished fourth in 2004. Ullrich was known as a powerful rider with great natural ability and athleticism. He was often criticized for getting too far out of shape in the offseason, but maintained that it was not an issue, since he was always ready to race when the time came. His start in competitive cycling came when he was 11 years old, as he had his first win at that age. He turned professional in 1994, signing with team Telekom. Although his first couple of years as a professional weren't very memorable, Ullrich experienced great success in his first ever Tour de France. Ullrich had the chance to compete in the Olympics in 1996 for his native Germany, but he passed up on the opportunity to compete in the Tour de France. It was a decision he wouldn't regret. He made quite a splash, finishing second overall and winning the coveted white jersey as the best rider at age 25 and under. He also won Stage 20 that year, finishing behind his own teammate, Bjarne Riis, by one minute and forty-one seconds. Ullrich quickly earned a reputation as a team player, as he dismissed any speculation that he would have won the race had he not been focusing on assisting his teammate, Riis. His performance nonetheless impressed many Tour de France veterans, including the great Miguel Indurain. He would go on to be one of the favorites for the 1997 race. In 1997, Ullrich would build upon his previous success by winning his first and only Tour de France. He won stages 10 and 12, while holding off a courageous comeback attempt by Marco Pantani, and was able to win the yellow jersey as well as a second consecutive white jersey in the overall competition. His win captured the hearts of his home country and sparked a resurgence of interest in the sport of cycling there. The next year began a rough period for Jan Ullrich. He fought hard but lost the 1998 Tour de France, finishing second as Marco Pantani won. It was a moral victory of sorts for Ullrich, as he had been fourth and several minutes back earlier in the race, but a disappointment nonetheless. Then, in 1999, a knee injury caused by a crash would keep him out of the Tour de France. It was the same year when Lance Armstrong won his first of seven straight Tours. From then on, Ullrich unfortunately became known as the "eternal second" to Armstrong. He was never able to beat Armstrong, although he finished just 61 seconds behind in 2003. He also struggled with depression at times at this point in his career, disappointed that he couldn't seem to defeat his rival. In 2007, Ullrich retired, finishing one of the most storied careers in the history of cycling. Great Cyclists of the Tour de France: Jacques Anquetil Jacques Anquetil is famous for being the first cyclist to ever win the Tour de France five times. Born in 1934, he would become an exceptional time trial specialist, as well as the only rider to ever wear the yellow jersey for the entirety of the Tour de France, during his 1961 win. The French-born Anquetil was 17 years old when he first took up cycling, which he did to impress girls. He would go on to win 16 races as an amateur, along with a bronze medal in the 1952 Olympic Games. Then, in 1957, Anquetil would shock the cycling world, if not himself. Anquetil had raced as a "semi-professional" for a few years when he entered his first Tour de France in 1957. Racing at an average speed of about 34 km/h, Anquetil won four stages while finishing nearly 15 minutes ahead of second place Marcel Janssens of Belgium. During that year's Tour de France, Anquetil wore the yellow jersey for an incredible 16 days. During the next three years, he would only compete in the Tour de France once, finishing third overall in the 1959 installment. However, Anquetil was not gone for good. He returned in 1961, boasting that he would take the yellow jersey on the first day and wear it for the entirety of the race. Incredibly, that's just what he did. On a difficult course (just over half of the participants actually finished the race), Anquetil won the first stage and never relinquished the yellow jersey en route to winning his second Tour de France by a margin of over 12 minutes. Even though Anquetil only won two total stages, he was consistent enough to dominate the field during the race. Anquetil was only just beginning, as he would go on to win the next three installments of the Tour de France for a total of four straight wins, which was a record at the time. In 1962, he won at a speed of over 37 km/h, which was not bested for 19 years. In the 1963 Tour de France, he finished at just over 3 1/2 minutes in front of Spain's Federico Bahamontes, and he won his last Tour de France in 1964. The 1964 Tour de France win was most notable for Anquetil's small margin of victory, as he only beat the second place Raymond Poulidor by 55 seconds. Spectators were energized at the sight of the two of them battling elbow to elbow as Poulidor attempted a late comeback, only to see Anquetil eventually hold on for the win. That win would be Anquetil's last in the Tour de France. The win in 1964 over Poulidor took a lot out of Anquetil, and he never raced in another Tour de France afterward, although he did race occasionally in other events until he retired completely in 1969. Anquetil retired as one of the greatest cyclists of all time, and definitely of his era. He was an inspiration to future greats, such as Bernard Hinault, and set a standard for consistency that wouldn't be reached until Miguel Indurain's five-year reign in the 1990's. Remarkably, Anquetil won five of the six times that he entered the Tour de France, and in the process he raised the standard of greatness for future champions to try to reach. Great Cyclists of the Tour de France: Bernard Hinault One of the legendary personalities and riders in the history of the Tour de France is unquestionably Bernard Hinault. Hinault was known as much for his outspoken and occasionally stubborn demeanor as he was for his considerable talent. His talent was incredible, as he won 28 stages of the Tour de France in his illustrious career. He was a gifted time trial rider as well, as 13 of his stage victories came from individual time trials. He won five Tour de France victories in his career, which only four other cyclists have ever done. Hinault was born in 1954 in France, and became a professional cyclist 20 years later, in 1974. Two years later, his mentor, Cyrille Guimard helped teammate Lucien van Impe, to a victory at the 1976 Tour de France. Hinault respected Guimard and listened to his advice by skipping the 1977 Tour de France in order to gain more experience. In the 1978 Tour de France, it appeared that the move paid off, as Hinault overcame the Netherlands' Joop Zoetemelk in the final time trial stage to take the yellow jersey. Hinault went on to win by 3 minutes and 56 seconds. In the 1979 Tour de France, Hinault repeated as champion, defeating Zoetemelk again, but by a much larger margin of 13 minutes and 7 seconds this time. Hinault had won three stages of the 1980 Tour de France, and looked like he could win his third overall yellow jersey in a row when a knee injury forced him to withdraw. Zoetemelk was able to take advantage, winning as his rival was forced to sit out the finish. Hinault made his return to the Tour de France in 1981 a triumphant one, as he won four stages and wore the yellow jersey for 18 days as he won his third Tour de France. He recreated his original accomplishment of winning two in a row by doing so again in 1982, winning three of the later stages after getting off to a great start in the prologue, and wearing the yellow jersey for 12 days in the process. Unfortunately, Hinault was again unable to pursue a third straight Tour de France victory, as his knee problems sidelined him again. Hinault was unable to change gears effectively, and took the 1983 Tour de France off to have the problem addressed. In the next year, Hinault returned to the Tour de France, finishing second but at 10 minutes behind leader Laurent Fignon. Then, in the 1985 Tour de France, Hinault made his last appearance in the victor's spot at the podium, as he won while famously racing with a black eye sustained in a crash. He devoted his final Tour de France appearance in 1986 to assisting teammate Greg LeMond, although Hinault's sometimes aggressive racing led many to question whether he was trying to win the race himself. Hinault relinquished the yellow jersey to LeMond after 16 stages, though Hinault would still go on to win Stage 18 and Stage 20. Shortly after his second place finish in the 1986 Tour de France, Hinault retired. The always respected and often feared competitor would remain involved in cycling for years to come as a part of the race organization team for the Tour de France, but he will always be chiefly remembered for his incredible five wins. Also, Hinault is exalted for never finishing below second place in any of the years that he completed the entire Tour de France. It's also noted that had he not suffered from knee problems during the prime of his impressive career, Hinault could very well have won anywhere from five to eight installments of the Tour de France in a row. Luckily, even though Hinault was occasionally hampered by injuries, cycling fans all over the world still got many chances to be witness to his greatness. Great Cyclists of the Tour de France: Gustave Garrigou Gustave Garrigou was one of the first great riders in the Tour de France. In his short but accomplished career, he was able to win the Tour de France once, and finish on the podium a total of six times. Although Garrigou's career ended over 90 years ago, he remains one of the beloved French cyclists in the legendary history of the Tour de France. Gustave Garrigou was born on September 24, 1884, and lived until 1963, when he passed away at the age of 78. He made his debut in the Tour de France at age 22, the same year he won at Giro di Lombardia and Paris-Brussels. His first Tour de France went similarly well, although he wasn't able to win. Garrigou was able to win stages 10 and 12, but wasn't able to gain much on the leader, Lucien Petit-Breton, as he finished right behind Garrigou. The race itself was a wild one, memorable because ...mile Georget was close to winning before being penalized because he borrowed a bicycle. The next year, Garrigou entered the 1908 Tour de France with high hopes, only to perform worse than in the previous years. Garrigou won no stages of the Tour de France that year, and ended up finishing a disappointing fourth, while Lucien Petit-Breton won again. The 1909 Tour de France brought more disappointment for Garrigou as well as French cycling fans, as it was the first year that a French cyclist didn't win the race. Garrigou finished second again (although he won a stage), and was the top French finisher of the race, with Lucien Petit-Breton not competing. Garrigou also won a stage the next year at the 1910 Tour de France, but still failed to win, finishing third to earn another podium finish. In 1911, it was finally Garrigou's turn to shine, though not solely because of his own performance. Garrigou's greatest asset in this Tour de France was his determination and grit, as this was the most grueling edition yet. Some of the stages required even the fastest of the field to race nearly 18 hours to complete, and only a third of the field ended up completing the race. Among those to quit were previous winners Lucien Petit-Breton, François Faber and Octave Lapize. Another cyclist, Paul Duboc, was in a good position to win and had been victorious in four stages, but fell ill. All of these circumstances conspired to help Garrigou win his first and only Tour de France. He won two stages in the process. The next year, Garrigou's team, Alcyon hired a new rider to assist Garrigou in repeating his win from the previous year. Unfortunately for Garrigou, the teammate (Odiel Defraye) clearly established himself as the more capable rider early on, and he ended up winning himself. At this point, it just seemed to be Garrigou's luck, as he was almost always the bridesmaid, but nearly never the bride. Garrigou gave one more good effort to win his second Tour de France in 1913, but finished 8 minutes, 37 seconds behind Philippe Thys, despite winning a stage. Garrigou's last appearance, in 1914, resulted in a fifth place finish three hours behind the winner (Philippe Thys, again), although he again one a stage. Garrigou would then retire, although he would be remembered by followers of the sport for years to come. He was the Charlie Brown of cycling for a time, always blending into the background, with only periodic success. Still, his win in 1911, along with his other solid finishes and podium appearances, allow him to be mentioned in an elite category among professional cyclists past and present. Cyclists of the Tour de France: Greg LeMond Greg LeMond was the first American to ever win the Tour de France, and went on to win it a total of three times. An outspoken critic of performance enhancing drugs and doping both during his career and afterwards, he was slowed during much of his prime by poor luck and injuries. He competed in six installments of the Tour de France in his impressive career. LeMond was born in Lakewood, California, and had success in his teens before being selected as part of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Cycling team. He did not attend, however, nor did any of the American athletes that year, and the following year he turned professional. He would compete in his first Tour de France in 1984. His Tour de France debut was a successful one, finishing third and winning the white jersey as the best rider aged 25 years and younger. LeMond was the first American to ever stand on the podium, but he was not done writing American cycling history. The next year, LeMond was no longer an unknown commodity, and he finished second in the 1985 Tour de France to teammate Bernard Hinault. Only 1 minute and 42 seconds behind Hinault at the finish, LeMond would go on to say that he could have won the race and essentially gave it away to Hinault. Hinault said that he would return the favor and support LeMond the next year, and repeated the promise many times before the 1986 Tour de France. The 1986 Tour de France had its share of drama, though. Hinault rode rather aggressively throughout the race, claiming that he was wearing down the opposition for LeMond, even if it sometimes appeared that he was trying to secure the win for himself. By the end, Hinault did relinquish the yellow jersey, though he won two late stages while finishing second to LeMond. LeMond made history as the first American cyclist to ever win the Tour de France, and appeared to be primed to win again the next year. However, fate intervened in a most unfortunate and unpredictable way. While turkey hunting with his brother-in-law, LeMond was shot in the back and seriously injured. As a result, LeMond was unable to compete in the Tour de France in 1987 and 1988. During that time, LeMond also underwent surgery for tendinitis and appendicitis in his leg. This incredibly disastrous series of events led to LeMond's return to the Tour de France in 1989, and one of the great races of all time. LeMond only expected to finish respectably in the 1989 Tour de France, but late in the race he found himself in second place by less than a minute to two-time champion Laurent Fignon. This set the stage for a showdown in the final time trial, which LeMond would win by 58 seconds, giving him an overall win by just 8 seconds over Fignon. It was the closest finish in Tour de France history, and the competitiveness of the race along with the tremendous story of LeMond's return brought great attention to the sport. In 1990, LeMond would win his last Tour de France, amazingly doing so without winning a single individual stage. Only a few riders, including LeMond, have ever accomplished such a feat. He got off to a poor start, at one point being over ten minutes behind, before slowly gaining on the leaders by consistently riding hard through each subsequent stage. After his final Tour de France win, LeMond continued to race competitively for a few years before retiring in 1994. He competed in his last Tour de France in 1991, wearing the yellow jersey for 6 days en route to finishing 7th overall. Since LeMond's retirement, American cyclists such as Lance Armstrong have continued to represent the United States at the Tour de France, but LeMond will always be the one who first carried American cyclists to the top of the cycling world. Great Cyclists of the Tour de France: Eddy Merckx Eddy Merckx is regarded by many to be the best cyclist of all time. His tenacity and refusal to relinquish his own chance to win earned him the nickname, "The Cannibal". Merckx is one of only five riders to win the Tour de France five times. He only competed in seven installments of the Tour de France to win such an incredible number of them, and also finished second once for a total of six podium appearances. Merckx, a Belgian rider, was born 1945. He started competing 16 years later, and participated in the Olympic Games in 1964 before turning professional a year later. Merckx was a talented mountain rider, winning the Tour de France mountains classification twice as well. Merckx holds many cycling records, including the most stage wins at the Tour de France, of which he had 34. Merckx made his first Tour de France appearance in 1969, and he wasted no time in turning the cycling world on its ear. Merckx became the first cyclist to ever win all three jerseys available by winning the yellow (overall leader), green (best sprinter) and polka dot (best climber) jerseys. He would have won the white jersey (best cyclist 25 years old and younger) if it had existed at the time. Unfortunately, Merckx was in a terrible accident in a derny race which resulted in a cracked vertebra and twisted pelvis. Although Merckx would go on to have even more success, he also acknowledged that the injury would go on to affect him permanently, as he was in near constant pain whenever he raced, especially while climbing. Despite the setback, Merckx followed up his 1969 win with a dominant performance in the 1970 Tour de France. Merckx won a record-tying 8 stages while winning the race and the mountains classification. He also finished second in the sprinter's classification, solidifying his reputation as a brilliant all-around cyclist. Many wondered who, if anyone, could challenge the dominance of Merckx. In 1971, Luis Ocaña answered that question by presenting a huge challenge to Merckx. Ocaña took the yellow jersey and held it until a crash sadly forced him to withdraw from the race. As a result, Merckx was able to take the lead and win the race for his third straight Tour de France victory. The next year, Ocaña was sick and could not race, so Merckx won his fourth Tour de France. Then, the inexplicable happened. Merckx was actually encouraged by Tour de France officials to not participate in the 1973 Tour de France due to worries of hostilities by French fans. Merckx was approaching Jacques Anquetil's then-record of five wins, and many French fans didn't want to see that happen. Incredibly, Merckx complied and did not compete. Merckx did compete in, and win, the 1974 Tour de France to equal Anquetil's record of five wins. However, when he attempted to win a sixth Tour de France in 1975, he was punched by a French fan after having led for eight days. A later crash with Ole Ritter left him with a broken jaw, and Merckx finished the race only to finish second. Merckx didn't enter the 1976 Tour de France, and finished in sixth place in his final Tour de France appearance, in 1977. In 1978, Eddy Merckx retired after an absolutely superlative career. He retired with the most total victories by a cyclist in a career as well as in a season, so his success wasn't limited to just the Tour de France. Still, his performances and his wins in the Tour de France are what many fans will remember Merckx more for. Even though Merckx almost definitely could have won more installments of the Tour de France than he did, his career stands as the standard of excellence in cycling that other greats have struggled mightily to reach. While other riders may have met the standard that Merckx set, it's doubtful that anyone will ever exceed it.
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