- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
- 0 Shares
The Tour de France started in 1903, but due to World Wars I and II, 11 editions of the race were not held. That makes this year's Tour the 100th race, and fans will celebrate the occasion by watching riders climb up Alpe d'Huez twice during Stage 18.
The riders, meanwhile, might not be quite so excited about the Double Alpe.
But grueling stages have always been a part of the Tour, beginning with the very first stage that covered nearly 300 miles and took almost 18 hours for the winner to complete. Given that, it's a miracle there was ever a Stage 2.
In recognition of the 100th Tour, here are the 100 most significant moments in the race's history. Don't mistake that with the 100 greatest moments. Significant isn't always great. In fact, as you'll see, sometimes significant is downright tragic.
But, like the Tour itself, significant is also frequently inspiring and almost always compelling.
(Note: Tour histories like, "Blazing Saddles" by Matt Rendell, "Tour de France" by Graeme Fife, and "Tour de France/Tour de Force" by James Start were helpful sources for early Tour moments.)
No. 100: The first (1903)
In what tyrannical founder Henri Desgrange first imagined as a five-week race, Maurice Garin won the first Tour de France (which covered roughly 1,500 miles) by nearly three hours, still the largest margin of victory. It was not televised.
No. 99: Did His Bike Play a Little Tune, Too? (1954)
Federico Bahamontes rode up the Col de Romeyere ahead of everyone, then stopped to eat ice cream while everyone caught up. As Rendell quotes his teammate, Jesus Lorono, "He's a very good climber but completely mad." Five years later, Bahamontes somehow won the Tour.
No. 98: Flattened (2012)
Some malicious morons tossed nails and tacks on the roadway during Stage 14, leading at least 30 riders to punctured tires. This was not the first time this was done at the Tour. In fact, fans usually behave much, much better than they once did (even if they do wear devil costumes and man-kinis).
No. 97: Snow tires (1909)
Luxembourg's Francois Faber won the Tour, surviving one mountain stage in which, according to Rendell, he rode through snow, was blown off his bike twice by wind and attacked by a horse. Does this happen to Mark Cavendish?
No. 96: Trainspotting (1935)
Romain Maes won the 1935 Tour thanks to a train. As Fife relates, on the opening stage, Maes rode through a railroad crossing just ahead of a train. The rest of the riders had to wait until the train had passed.
No. 95: Make way for the caravan (1930)
In one of his greatest contributions to the Tour, Desgrange added the publicity caravan, which now often excites fans more, as it slowly rolls through towns dispensing candy and trinkets, than the sight of the actual cyclists whipping through at 30 mph.
No. 94: The Rosie Ruiz of France (1904)
During the first stage, a rider known only as Chevalier was caught taking a ride in a car. And you thought cheating was something recent at the Tour.
No. 93: Tragedy strikes Tour (1935)
Spain's Francisco Cepeda crashed on a descent and died of his injuries a few days later. He was the first rider to die during the Tour. Unfortunately, he would not be the last.
No. 92: Ink-stained wretch (1905)
Back when riders had to prove themselves by signing in at certain spots, Louis Trousselir won the Tour after slowing his rivals by breaking the ink stands at one checkpoint.
No. 91: Barbed wire (2011)
In an accident that left recreational cyclists cringing, Jonny Hoogerland was hit by a car and sent flying into a barbed-wire fence. Although his flesh had been badly torn, he not only resumed the race, but he also took over the King of the Mountains lead that day.
No. 90: Three-peat (1913)
Belgium's Philippe Thys won his first of three Tours, though those three would be spread over eight years due to World War I.
No. 89: Three-Peat Deux (1953)
France's Louison Bobet won his first Tour en route to becoming the first rider to win three in a row. You don't see that much from the French these days.
No. 88: Aluminum men (1931)
The Tour allowed the use of aluminum wheels for the first time. They were much better than the stone wheels Desgrange probably favored.
No. 87: Less is more (2000)
As new materials made bikes lighter and lighter, the International Cycling Union (UCI) required that they must weigh at least 14.999 pounds, or slightly more than some of the riders.
No. 86: But was it carbon fiber? (1928)
In the second Tour de Frantz, Luxembourg rider Nicolas Frantz won again despite (as Rendell describes) breaking his forks on a stage and having to replace his bike with a ladies bicycle.
No. 85: Irish eyes smile (1987)
Ireland's Stephen Roche became the first Irish cyclist to win the Tour. He also won the Giro and the world championships, only the second cyclist to win all three in one year.
No. 84: National colors (1930)
Desgrange started a temporary period in which riders competed for national teams -- France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, etc. -- along with some regional teams. Red Sox Nation was curiously absent.
No. 83: High climbers (1975)
The polka-dot jersey was added for the best climber because, after all, what symbolizes the power, endurance and pain threshold of a great climber more than red polka dots?
No. 82: Carry the load (1921)
The Tour directors allowed riders to use spare parts for their bikes, but they had to carry those parts with them. Leon Scieur had to carry a spare wheel strapped and cutting into his back for nearly 200 miles. As Rendell details, Scieur won the Tour but also carried the scars on his back for the rest of his life.
No. 81: The Grand Tour (1906)
The Tour grew to nearly 3,000 miles and circled France, along with rides into Germany, Spain and Italy. Not a bad vacation, unless you have to cover the whole distance on bike.
No. 80: Free-wheeling (1912)
The Tour allowed free wheels for the first time -- which lets the wheels and bike to move without pedaling -- and thereby allowed riders to (occasionally) coast. Slackers.
No. 79: More tragedy (1960)
Frenchman Roger Riviere crashed and broke his back on a descent, and was found with stimulants in his pocket. He never fully recovered from the crash and was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He died from throat cancer at age 40 in 1976.
No. 78: The guns of June and July (1914)
The 1914 Tour started the same day Austria-Hungary's archduke Ferdinand was assassinated (June 28), an event that touched off World War I. The Tour would be completed two days before the war started (Thys won his second title) but would not be raced again for five years.
No. 77: Debut of the yellow jersey (1919)
After a four-year absence due to World War I, the Tour resumed in 1919, and the directors marked the occasion by introducing the now-legendary yellow jersey for the race leader and overall winner.
No. 76: A close call (1955)
Jean Mallejac, who had doped before the race, collapsed in the heat on the ride up Mont Ventoux. He survived. Ten years later, another rider would not be so fortunate. As Rendell quoted L'Equipe in the aftermath of the scandal: "The fight against doping seems to have been won."
No. 75: Lance bagged (2003)
Riding up the Luz-Ardiden, Lance Armstrong's handlebar got caught on a fan's musette bag, bringing Armstrong and his bike to the ground. He got back up quickly but, as TV analyst Paul Sherwen described it, "He almost lost his manhood on the crossbar" when his foot came out of his pedal clip. Yet he recovered (possibly due to Jan Ullrich slowing to wait for him) and won the stage en route to his fifth Tour title.
No. 74: Technical winner (1988)
Pedro Delgado won the Tour even though he tested positive for a substance that was banned from the Olympics and would be banned from cycling the next month.
No. 73: Hitting the Wall (1987)
Two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Tour de France started … in West Berlin. Fortunately, the stage did not include a race up and over the Wall.
No. 72: Gathering storm (1939)
In a race that included no German, Italian or Spanish riders, Belgium's Sylvere Maes won the Tour. It would be the last Tour until 1947 due to World War II, which broke out two months later.
No. 71: War's end (1947)
The Tour returned after a seven-year gap with Jean Robic winning after taking over the yellow jersey on the race's last day.
No. 70: The war resumes (1950)
On the Col d'Aspin, French fans threw rocks at Italy's Gino Bartali and knocked him to the ground. If only they had known what he did in the war (see No. 69).
No. 69: Birth of a champion (1938)
Bartali won his first Tour and would go on to win a second 10 years later (see No. 16) and probably would have won more had it not been for World War II. But his greatest accomplishment was during the war, when the Italian rider hid a Jewish family in his cellar and also carried messages to the Italian resistance while on his bike.
No. 68: Bonjour, pack mules (1925)
The Tour officially began allowing the domestique system, in which cyclists ride in support of another teammate. Welcome lads, now get me some water!
No. 67: Wire to wire (1924)
The first Italian to wear the yellow jersey, Ottavio Bottecchia, also wore the yellow jersey from start to finish that year. Bottecchia died mysteriously 18 months after his final Tour in 1926. He was found dead on a roadside with a fractured skull, possibly murdered by Fascists.
No. 66: W2W2 (1928)
The 1927 winner, Luxembourg's Frantz duplicated Bottecchia's performance of leading the Tour from start to finish.
No. 65: Indurain wins Numero Uno (1991)
Spain's Miguel Indurain won the first of his then-record-setting five consecutive Tours. In the 15 years from 1991-2005, two men (Indurain and Armstrong) would finish in yellow in 12 of the Tours. Indurain, however, is still the official winner of his races.
No. 64: "The Pistolero" fires (2007)
In a scandal-plagued race (see No. 32), Alberto Contador won his first Tour in one of the race's closest finishes, as podium finishers Cadel Evans and Levi Leipheimer each finished within 31 seconds of Contador.
No. 63: Today's riders have it cushy (1904)
Not only did riders have to contend with competitors accepting rides in cars in the second Tour (see No. 93), but they also had to survive angry mobs which scattered nails on the road, blocked their paths and even physically attacked them. Hope those guys had big bags of courage to dig into.
No. 62: Brother, can you spare a tire? (1919)
As Fife details, Scieur rode a stage in the 1919 Tour with four spare tires around his neck, and they all wound up used and punctured. He bought two new tires and repaired the punctures all that night.
No. 61: Lance joins the Tour (1993)
Armstrong competed in his first Tour, though he did not complete the race. He won Stage 8 before retiring after Stage 12. The Tour would not be the same by the time he ended his career.
No. 60: "The Cannibal" pushes away from the table (1977)
Belgium's Eddy Merckx ended his brilliant career with a disappointing sixth-place finish in a race won by Bernard Thevenet, who later admitted he used cortisone against the rules.
No. 59: Curtain time for Poulidor (1976)
Raymond Poulidor ended his 14-year Tour career with another third-place finish, the eighth time he made the podium without winning. He never wore the yellow jersey.
No. 58: A tyrant's reign ends (1936)
Desgrange fell seriously ill during the second stage of the 1936 Tour and was hospitalized. The man who demanded so many almost-inhumane sacrifices from riders was replaced by Jacques Goddet.
No. 57: Bad cow disease (2010)
Months after Contador won the Tour, it was revealed he tested positive for a banned substance. Contador blamed it on tainted beef he ate but was eventually stripped of the title and suspended for two years.
No. 56: "Fill this up, please" (1966)
After decades of abuse by riders, the Tour began testing for drugs by randomly checking urine and inspecting suitcases. Oddly, this did not quite take care of the problem.
No. 55: The last French champion? (1983)
Laurent Fignon won the first of consecutive Tours. While previous champ Bernard Hinault would win again in 1985, there has been no new French champion in the Tour since then.
No. 54: "The Badger" wears yellow (1978)
Hinault won the first of what would be five Tours. He is the only cyclist to win each of the three Grand Tours more than once. No wonder they called him "the Badger."
No. 53: The Whizzinator (1978)
After winning the stage on Alpe d'Huez, Michel Pollentier was caught trying to cheat drug testers with a balloon of clean urine hidden under his armpit.
No. 52: Seven for Hinault (1979)
Hinault won his second Tour by winning seven stages, including the final stage on the Champs-Elysees against second-place finisher Joop Zoetmelk.
No. 51: Not even close (1981)
Hinault won his third Tour by 14 minutes, 34 seconds, which remains the largest margin of victory since 1973.
No. 50: Another champion emerges (1957)
One of the sport's great champions, Jacques Anquetil, won the first of his five Tours, this race by nearly 15 minutes.
No. 49: Hinault doubles (1982)
Hinault joined Merckx, Fausto Coppi and Anquetil by winning the Tour and Giro d'Italia in the same year. It was also his fourth Tour win.
No. 48: "The Cannibal" diets (1973)
After winning that year's Giro d'Italia and Vuelta Espana (which was held earlier in the season in those days), Merckx decided not to ride the Tour. The decision kept him from winning more Tours than anyone and gave Luis Ocana a chance to win instead.
No. 47: "The Cannibal" keeps feasting (1970)
Despite a pelvis injury the winter before that would hinder him the rest of his career, Merckx won his second Tour. It took so much out of him he needed oxygen and an ambulance after winning the Ventoux stage.
No. 46: Lance wins second Tour (2000)
Just to prove his first victory wasn't a fluke, Lance won the Tour again, with Jan Ullrich finishing second to Armstrong for what would be the first of three times (he also finished third behind Lance once).
No. 45: Lance wins third Tour (2001)
Lance won for the third time, and Ullrich finished second again.
No. 44: Lance wins fourth Tour (2002)
Lance won his fourth Tour and was midway through his reign.
No. 43: Lance strikes back (2009)
Convinced he could still win at age 37, Lance came out of retirement to ride the Tour again. He dueled with his unhappy new teammate, Contador, and finished third overall. That gave him incentive to come back the next year. Big mistake.
No. 42: Tour de Pain? (1926)
The Tour was roughly 3,600 miles long, the longest ever. The average stage took more than 14 hours. There must have been some very, very sore saddles.
No. 41: Make that Tour de Agony (1926)
Lucien Buysse won that year's Tour despite a 200-mile stage through the Pyrenees in a terrible thunderstorm. The stage was so excruciating that many riders still hadn't finished by midnight, and some were so lost in the dark they had to be rescued. Buysse's daughter also died while he was riding in the race, but he continued on anyway.
No. 40: A little mercy (1937)
Riders breathed a little easier when Tour directors allowed the use of rear derailleurs for the first time.
No. 39: Bartali wins again (1948)
After 10 years, including seven Tours lost to the war, Bartali won the Tour again, still the longest gap between Tour wins.
No. 38: Coppi/Bartali duel (1949)
In an epic race with Bartali, Coppi won his first Tour to become the first to win it and the Giro in the same year.
No. 37: Storm clouds (1971)
Merckx and Ocana were riding intensely for the lead when a tremendous storm struck in the Pyrenees, hitting the riders with hail and turning the road into a slick, muddy mess. Ocana went down, was hit by another crashing rider and unable to complete the stage. Merckx declined to wear the yellow jersey the next day in recognition of the accident but went on to win his third Tour.
No. 36: Mountain view (1951)
The Tour rode up the daunting moonscape of Mont Ventoux for the first time. Or, as some riders sometimes likely feel, they were riding up to the moon itself.
No. 35: King of the mountains (1952)
The directors added the 21-bend, 14-kilometer ascent up Alpe d'Huez to the Tour for the first time, with Coppi winning the stage.
No. 34: Permanent fixture (1976)
The directors made Alpe d'Huez a regular part of the Tour after previously being ridden every other year. It would become the Tour's iconic stage, its own version of Yankee Stadium, only with even more drunken fans.
No. 33: King of the mountain (1997)
Marco Pantani, who would later die of a cocaine overdose in 2004, rode up the Tour's iconic climb in a record 37 minutes, 35 seconds. Hmm.
No. 32: "The Badger" drops (1980)
Excruciating tendinitis forced Hinault, the eventual five-time winner, to abandon the Tour even though he was in the yellow jersey in the 14th stage.
No. 31: Rasmussen drops out (2007)
Despite holding an insurmountable lead after Stage 16, Michael Rasmussen did not win the Tour because his team kicked him off the roster amid doping suspicions. Earlier this year, the Dane admitted to doping for 12 years.
No. 30: Contador and Schleck ride Tourmalet (2010)
In a highly anticipated duel, Andy Schleck and Contador rode up the Tourmalet together through fog and even herds of sheep. Schleck dropped the sheep but was never able to drop his rival (until a couple years later -- see No. 57).
No. 29: Down Under on top (2011)
After mechanical issues, Cadel Evans rallied to chase Schleck up the Galibier during Stage 18 -- the highest stage finish in Tour history -- and make up enough time to go on to win the race and become Australia's first Tour champ.
No. 28: Not Viva la France (1985)
Hinault won his fifth Tour de France. Little did anyone know then that it would be the last Tour won by a French rider. Teammate Greg LeMond would begin an American era the next year.
No. 27: LeMond's third (1990)
LeMond won his third Tour despite not winning a single stage.
No. 26: It hurts to lose (1968)
Poulidor finished second three times and third five times in the Tour, but he never won it. Perhaps his most painful loss was when a race official bike clipped his back wheel when he was in good position to win. He hit the ground hard, broke his nose …
and lost again.
No. 25: Chain-gate (2010)
What is the etiquette when the Tour leader or top competitor has a mechanical issue? Fans are still arguing whether Contador should have waited for Schleck after the latter's chain slipped on a climb. Contador didn't, though Schleck wound up with the yellow jersey a couple years later due to Contador's doping penalties.
No. 24: Indurain wins No. 5 (1995)
Indurain became the fourth cyclist to win five Tours -- and the first to win five consecutive titles (though a certain American riding that year would eventually come home in first place seven straight times).
No. 23: Rule Britannia (2012)
In the greatest season in British cycling history, Bradley Wiggins won the Tour to become the first Englishman to do so (he won the time trial at the London Olympics two weeks later) and set off a cycling explosion in his country.
No. 22: Casartelli killed (1995)
Italy's Fabio Casartelli, the 1992 Olympic gold medalist, crashed into a rock on a descent and suffered a fatal skull fracture. He was not wearing a helmet, which soon would become mandatory equipment for Tour riders except for mountaintop finishes.
No. 21: Lance wins sixth Tour (2004)
Armstrong did what neither Merckx nor any other rider ever had when he won his sixth Tour (all consecutive). And he wasn't done yet.
No. 20: "The look" (2001)
While racing up Alpe d'Huez, Armstrong glanced back and gave Ullrich a withering stare that basically said, "I dare you to keep up." Ullrich couldn't, and Lance won the stage.
No. 19: Cavendish wins first stage (2008)
Mark Cavendish began providing British broadcasters and writers plenty to cover when he won the first of what is now 23 Tour stage victories.
No. 18: Mr. Armstrong's wild ride (2003)
When Joseba Beloki's tire caught on the melting tarmac, Armstrong steered his way off the road and across a field, braked, got off his bike and leaped with it across a ditch, and then got back on and continued riding as if nothing had happened. He was great to watch.
No. 17: A ride too good to be true (2006)
Riding with a bad hip that would later require replacement surgery, Floyd Landis broke away early and gained nearly eight minutes on his rivals to put himself in position to win the Tour. Even though he later finally admitted he had doped, it still remains one of the great rides in Tour history.
No. 16: Positively true (2006)
Just days after winning the Tour, Landis was busted for testing positive during Stage 17. He initially blamed it on alcohol, authored a book denying he doped and then brought down Armstrong when he finally admitted the truth.
No. 15: Duel (1964)
In one of the most celebrated stage finishes in Tour history, Anquetil and Poulidor battled so fiercely up a mountain climb that they literally leaned against each other at times. Neither won the stage, but Anquetil went on to win his fifth Tour.
No. 14: The Festina Affair (1998)
Doping had always been a part of the Tour, but this scandal stained cycling forever when a driver carrying human growth hormone and other banned drugs was stopped just days before the first stage. The Festina team was kicked out of the race.
No. 13: Sit-down strike (1998)
Showing how misguided they so often were, the riders of the peloton protested the Festina investigation, by twice stopping during Stage 18, which was eventually annulled.
No. 12: Lance wins last Tour (2005)
Armstrong extended his Tour record by winning his seventh consecutive yellow jersey, then retired from the sport. He should have stayed away.
No. 11: The Blacksmith (1922)
In perhaps the best Tour story of all, Eugene Christophe's forks broke high on the Col du Tourmalet. He carried the bike five miles to a village where he borrowed the local blacksmith's forge to repair his bike. And then, the Tour directors penalized him for receiving help pushing the bellows.
No. 10: Why do you think they call it dope? (1924)
The Pelissier brothers, Henri and Francis, revealed that, to improve their performance, they rubbed cocaine in their eyes, chloroform on their gums and ointment on their knees. "Basically, we're on dynamite."
No. 9: "The Cannibal" attacked (1975)
The greatest cyclist of all time might have won a record sixth Tour title, but a fan rushed out of the crowd near the end of Stage 14 up the Puy-de-Dome and punched Merckx in the kidney. He wasn't able to recover enough to win the Tour.
No. 8: Simpson dies on Ventoux (1967)
Tom Simpson, who had been using amphetamines, had a heart attack and died while riding up Mont Ventoux. There is a granite memorial marking the spot where he died.
No. 7: Americans in Paris (1986)
The 7-Eleven racing team made its Tour debut with future Tour TV commentator Bob Roll. More impressive: 7-Eleven's Alex Stieda won the 1986 Tour's first stage to become the first American to wear the yellow jersey. Another American would wear it a little longer that same year. So began the American era in cycling.
No. 6: LeMond beats "the Badger" (1986)
LeMond became the first American to win the Tour when he held off Hinault, a teammate who was not quite willing to concede the race. The two did, however, famously clasp hands when they finished the stage up Alpe D'Huez.
No. 5: Lance crumbles (2010)
Lance's comeback took a nasty turn when he punctured across the cobbles in an early stage, then crashed several times in later stages. It was a symbolic end to his racing career -- and the literal end would be much, much worse.
No. 4: "Assassins!" (1910)
Pyrenees mountain stages were added for the first time, including the Col du Tourmalet. Octave Lapize rode over the summit of the Tourmalet, then shouted, "You're all murderers!" at the Tour directors. Considering this was back when derailleurs weren't allowed in the Tour, he probably wasn't far off.
No. 3: "The Cannibal" feasts (1969)
Merckx won his first Tour while also becoming the only cyclist to win the green and mountain jerseys, as well. Yeah, he was good.
No. 2: LeMond beats Fignon (1989)
In the closest Tour in history, LeMond (who had been shot by his brother-in-law in a hunting accident two winters before) introduced the aerodynamic helmet and triathlon handlebars to overcome a 50-second gap and beat Fignon in a time trial along the Champs-Elysees on the final day to win the Tour by eight seconds. Yes, there was a time when the final stage meant something other than a chance for the announcers to express their love for Cavendish.
No. 1: Lance wins first Tour (1999)
Just three years after brain and testicular cancer nearly killed him, Lance rode to victory, his first of seven consecutive Tour wins (well, they were wins at the time). Sigh ... if only his story had stayed so inspiring.
4dMichael Better and Elliott Parshall
4dBonnie D. Ford