Arguably the hardest bike race ever. The Tour de France covers over 2000 miles through France and sometimes surrounding nations. It lasts for around 21 days in June and July, with about 160 miles of nastiness per day. Men have actually died on the Tour -- recently a fellow lost control during a 60-MPH mountain descent and went off the road. One of the few Englishman ever to wear the Yellow Jersey (signifiying the overall lead; lowest total elapsed time) died from exertion on the brutal Mon Ventoux climb. Greg Lemond used to be the only American winner (3 times) but recently Lance Armstrong has bested that with four consecutive wins, after a heroic battle with cancer.

Nobody has won the race more than five times -- the four five-time winners were Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, and Miguel Indurain. Of those four legendary riders, the most notorious was Eddy Merckx, a Belgian, who earned himself the nickname "Cannibal"; in addition to winning the yellow jersey for the overall victory, he also got the green jersey for best sprinter, the polka-dot jersey for best climber (riding steep mountain roads on a bicycle is a singularly painful form of athletic contest) and the patched jersey for most versatile rider. Unlike other winners of the race, Merckx echewed strategy and won by brute force, whereas other tour winners tend to try to minimize their losses in the mountains (with the help of their teams) and win the individual time trials by large margins.

The winner of The Tour is not the rider who crosses the finish line first, but rather the one who has the lowest cumulative time at the end of the final day of racing.

The official website of The Tour is at

Tour de France winners notes:
* leader from start to finish
** Tour victory without a single stage win
1 Stripped of Titles on 2012.11.26 after USADA publication on banned substance abuse.
2 Removed from 98 tour due to Festina Scandal
3 No winner awarded due to large scale doping use.
4 Never caught on banned substance abuse, but the Kelme Team was controversial.
5 Implicated doping use in Operacion Puerto
6 Stripped of 2005 Vuelta, and banned 2 years for testing positive on EPO.
7 Banned for EPO use in 2003 Giro, and suspended for drug importing in 2006.
8 Banned for Nandrolon use in 2000. Doping related Suspension in 2002.
9 Kicked out of 2007 Tour de France for use of Blood Doping
10 Banned for use of Blood Doping in the 2005 Vuelta. Retired after being caught with DHEA in 2009.
11 Allegations on illegal blood transfusions in 2006 Tour de France.
12 Stripped of title in 1996 due to Ephedrine use. 13 Ejected in 2007 Tour de France for misleading Doping officials relating to his whereabouts, and suspended.
14 Stripped of 2006 Title due to Testosterone use.
15 Tested Positive for Clenbuterol in 2010.
16 Admitted use of Growth Hormone, Cortisone, and of EPO in the 2006 Tour de France. Was stripped of his 2006 title, but reinstated in 2008 by the UCI. The Tour de France Organisation does not consider him the 2006 winner.

Youngest winner: 1904 - Henri Cornet, 20 years old.
Oldest winner: 1922 - Firmin Lambot, 36 years old.
Best multiple winners:

"The Tour"
A Brief History

"To be a cyclist is to be a student of pain.... at cycling's core lies pain, hard and bitter as the pit inside a juicy peach. It doesn't matter if you're sprinting for an Olympic medal, a town sign, a trailhead, or the rest stop with homemade brownies. If you never confront pain you are missing the essence of the sport. Without pain there is no adversity. Without adveristy, no challenge. Without challenge, no improvement. No improvement, no sense of accomplishment and no deep-down joy. Might as well play Tiddly-Winks." Scott Martin

The Tour de France. 21 teams, 9 riders each, and a load of lycra floating around until they land just above the knees of the worlds best and represented male cyclists. These teams will duke it out with their best riders to claim the coveted yellow, green, white and polka-dot jerseys proclaiming the best riders and teams in the world. Being one of the largest sporting events in the world, its only known rivals in prestige are the World Cup (Futbol or Soccer) and the Olympics.

The Tour, as it is affectionately called, started by a crazy idea to sell newspapers in 1903. The paper L’Auto was to be the only one to cover, not to mention host, the incredible race. The papers where printed on a yellow paper which later became the colour that the best overall general time and Tour winner jersey would become. The paper did so well that it eventually beat out and made its competitors go bankrupt from the scam.

The first race saw only 60 riders travelling a distance of 2,600 km during 19 days. There were only six stages in the race with no breaks for sleep. Cyclists were expected to ride through the night. This race soon produced its very tired and very well known initial winner, Maurice Garin, who was nicknamed the “Chimney Sweep.”

In the following year though, it looked like a soon and almost all to sudden death for the young Tour. Fans began aiding their favourites by placing nails in front of rivals, while competitors themselves began taking car and train rides to make it to the finish. L’Auto had become infuriated at all the cheating and proclaimed that the Tour would end where it had started. However, something made the newspaper keep with the fledgling bike race and the soon enforced new and stricter rules.

Soon, the harsh mountain roads that the Tour is famous for were introduced into the cycling race and Ballon d’Alsace made its debut in the new cycling track. Rene Pottier was the first rider to the top of the new challenge in 1906 when the obstacle was introduced. The race nearly doubled its length soon after to a massive 4,500 km but the average speed of these cyclists would continue to rise. Then in 1910, the introduction of the real high mountains of the Pyrenees and then the Alps a year later made the cycling competition even harder than before making several of the competitors reluctant to continue on this perilous journey. Many riders accused the race officials being assassins.

More rules were too being added to the Tour as it grew with admiration throughout the European world. The rules consisted of bike changes being not allowed, nor were outside assistance to fix inevitable repairs and punctures on the roads. These rules were reinforced by allegations that rival teams were poisoning riders. The Tour stopped officially for a short period during World War I but came back soon there after.

The first race after the war saw the introduction of the yellow jersey. However, the first leader to which it was offered rejected the jersey as it had made him a target to the other cyclists. Today, however, it is the most sought after and coveted jersey of the four offered by the Tour.

When the race became 5,500 km in length it had to introduce the long overnight stages and perhaps the most Draconian rules a sporting event has ever created. Riders were restricted from any outside assistance and could still not change bikes, or anything else. This rule mostly pertained to the clothing of the cyclist. The cyclist had to finish the stage with everything that he had started with. No matter how hot or cold the cyclist had become he had to maintain that jersey or shorts or jumper or whatever until he had finished, on average, 10 hours later. The defending champion, Henri Pelssier, was fined when he threw his jersey away in a stage in the 1924 Tour. He became so disgusted with the rule that he withdrew from the race in front of the entire peleton.

"Beware the man who has just one bike. He may know how to use it." Scott Hodges

The cyclists were not always praised for their out spoken acts or struggles against the system. In 1924 Ottavia Bottecchia became the first Italian winner, repeating the victory the following year. With these two wins under his shorts he soon became one of the country’s leading sports heroes. However, in 1927, he was murdered while out on a training ride only to be found out years later that he had been the victim of Fascists who he had spoken out against.

The controversies and underhandedness put several people off the race when the 30s began. These troubled times led to experiments with team trials and the national squads in the late 20s. These experiments also introduced the substitute rider in the case someone was injured and unable to continue the ride for the team. Cycle manufacturers’ teams were replaced by national squads of eight riders, picked by the Tour’s founder Henri Desgrange and paid by the Tour itself. Everyone would ride identical bikes nocking out the dependency on various bicycle manufacturers and a publicity caravan was introduced to make up for the money these manufacturers would of brought to the Tour.

"Think of bicycles as rideable art that can just about save the world." Grant Peterson

The Tour was soon put on hold yet again when World War II reared the pipes of war and called for many of the brave cyclists to go fight for democracy against the Nazis. The Tour also instituted another rule that made the new Derailleur systems legal. The systems would have been an asset to the rider as they allowed the cyclist to change the gears without having to remove their wheels. Until then, competitors would have to get off their bikes and change their wheels around when proceeding up or down hill. An improved braking system also became a new toy to be found on the bikes of the race.

"The bicycle riders drank much wine, and were burned and browned by the sun. They did not take the race seriously except among themselves." Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

One of the greatest cycling rivalries of all times sprung forth from the ashes of war. This began a competition between two Italians that shook the Tour and all those who watched it louder than the bombs that dropped on Japan. Gino Bartali, who had already won the Tour in 1938 and Fausto Coppi lost much of their career to the war. Most of it was gained back at the Giro d’ Italia, which Bartali won three times, and Coppi five. However, the Tour was the debut race that everyone had gathered to see and had been well worth waiting for. The defending champion, Bartali, lost by 10 minutes to Coppi in 1949. Coppi ’s second win, in 1952 beat that margin when he raced through a full 28 minutes ahead of the runner up.

The following years were met by a hat trick, the first ever in the Tour, by Louison Bobet. This Frenchman rode to victory over the Alpine Izoard climb in 1953 despite a row over bonuses in the French team. He claimed the mountain yet again the following year but lost the stage in 1955. However, he gained what strength he had left to muster propelling him over the gruelling Mont Ventoux to clench his third win.

Between 1957 and 1964 Jacques Anquetil won an unbelievable 5 Tours. However, it was Raymond Poulidor that made all the newspapers. He was dubbed the “eternal second” as he had finished 5 times in second and third in three further Tours without even wearing the yellow jersey. The switch back to sponsored teams only helped intensify the rivalry between the two individuals. The two extremely opposite of each other were fierce competitors as one incident illustrates in 1964.

Poulidor had taken 42 seconds out of his rival after a shoulder-to-shoulder ride on the Puy de Dome during the time trials, Poulidor’s major strength. However, as the battle raged on between these two cyclists, Anquetil took back almost every second of the time that Poulidor, “The Master”, had lured over his head in the very thing that had propelled him to greatness. The time trial. Until the appearance of Miguel Indurain, Anquetil was considered the greatest time triallist in cycling history. He won 12 such tests in the Tour alone and set a world hour record even before his first Tour win.

The 1967 Tour will always be remembered as the one that Tom Simspon died on Mont Ventoux. He was the best British rider of his day and fell victim of the heat and his own limitless determination. He also, later found in the autopsy, was found victim of using drugs. The drugs were not only to ease the pain of a rigorous training regiment demanded by the cycling sponsors but also for the performance enhancement they needed to appease them. The rider was taking amphetamines when he collapsed leading to the first drug tests on the Tour in 1968 after he died.

"I won! I won! I don't have to go to school anymore." Eddy Merckx, after winning his first bike race

There was no time for tears for soon perhaps the greatest rider ever to be seen in the Tour graced the scene in 1969. With a stunning debut Eddy Merckx soon developed one of the most well known nicknames in the history of the sport, “The Cannibal.” After completing a solo effort of 130 km across the Pyrenees, the Cannibal had 17 minutes to spare when he crossed the finish line. Not only did he win races but he also took the green jersey for the points classification, introduced in 1953 and representing the colour of hope, and the best climbers’ prizes including King of the Mountain, Polka Dot jersey introduced in 1933 for the best time over the mountains. He remains the only person to have made a clean sweep of the race in the Tour’s history.

The event could be a single-day race or a Tour of the Pacific Ocean entire for all the Cannibal was concerned for he was not to be undone. He won 250 major races, one a week for six years. He had won 5 Tours before he finished his career. No one today can come close to his dominance of the cycling world and only Tiger Woods has come close to matching the excellence in a single sport.

Bernard Hinault was not nearly as good as Merckx by own declaration however he championed the 78 and 79 Tours. His overall 5 Tour wins were marked by a series of rows with rivals and teammates. His peers even went as far as to attack him when Hinault punctured on the cobblestones in a section in northern France.

Soon several English-speaking riders were making names for themselves as cyclist like Phil Anderson (Australia) and Sean Kelly (Ireland) began to make their mark. Phil Anderson managed to nab the first yellow jersey for Australia while Kelly clutched the green jersey for the Emerald Isle for two years.

"It never gets easier, you just go faster." Greg Lemond

The emergence of American Greg Lemond became an increasingly big obstacle when he finished third in the 1985 Tour. In 1986, however, he cycled across the finish line to gain his first Tour and imprint an English speaking campaign to the furthest corners of the Tour dominated Europe. However, he soon found himself paired with a formidable thorn from the past, Hinault.

Hinault and Lemond’s relationship was always a bit rocky. Hinault had obtained a court order to keep Lemond from striking him. Hinault led Lemond astray when he insisted that he would help the young American the following year but ended up repeatedly striking him in a very memorable Tour. Hinnault had claimed the green and polka dot jersey and smelt his way towards a sixth victory. As Lemond and Hinault rode to the finish line in linked arms from fists of fury, Lemond crossed to clench his first win and ruin Hinault’s day. The ultimate revenge. Lemond won another 2 Tours with revolutionary aero bars and an unknown bike by an incredible 8 seconds.

"I'm fascinated by the sprinters. They suffer so much during the race just to get to the finish, they hang on for dear life in the climbs, but in the final kilometers they are transformed and do amazing things. It's not their force per se that impresses me, but rather the renaissance they experience. Seeing them suffer throughout the race only to be reborn in the final is something for fascination." Miguel Indurain

Enter the age of Miguel Indurain. The man who had come in 10th in the race that was to be Lemond’s last. No one had dominated the Tour like Miguel Indurain. His physique was almost unique with a resting heartbeat of 29 beats per minute and lungs that could scoop up eight litres of air. No one could ever quite match up to the man they called the “extra terrestrial” and they claimed that the 5 Tours in which Indurain raced and won were so incredibly boring as there was no competition.

In 1994 Indurain attacked the Pyrenees when Marco Pantani, tempted him to follow up a climb. In the 1995 he proved just how he really could ride with a superb attack on a flatter stage into Liege, Belgium. Belgian rider Johan Bruyneel likened the tow he got that day to sitting behind a motorbike. That Tour would also be Indurain’s last win and the Tour where gold medallist Fabio Casartelli died on the Pyrenean descent. His team leader, Lance Armstrong, won a stage in tribute to him a few days later. Indurain would retire a few years later, a gold medal in his pocket, and leaving the jersey to fly from hand to hand until another cyclist would dominate the scene.

The race nearly fell into a dismantled mess of bike chains and lycra before good ol’ Lance could even make the scene. The murky world of performance enhancers schemed its way into a ground force in the cycling world. EPO was the substance that was raising all the eyebrows and the French police knew all about it. They had found some in team cars before the big race igniting media frenzy when top teams and riders were thrown off the race. The rider’s response was one of anger, sit-ins and go-slows before Paris was reached by a relieved peleton. A victory over Jan Ulrich, previous Tour and three time white jersey (Best Young rider 25 and younger started 1975) by Marco Pantani brought the Italians the first yellow jersey in 33 years.

Now stricter rules and rigorous testing were enforced into the race. It would seem that every winner of the Tour would now be under suspicion of drug use, especially when the American Lance Armstrong made his astounding comeback from testicular cancer. But none of the suspicions were proven and the rest of the world celebrated the genuine good news story of the second American Tour winner. He last victory was in 2003 which set him at the record for 5 wins. After a narrow escape from Jan Ullrich who clipped at his heels the whole way through. Ullrich certainly showed he had a lot to prove and a great respect for Lance Armstrong when Armstrong fell of his bike during one of the stages. Ullrich stopped and waited for the incredible cyclsit to mount his bicycle before he began his rotations once again. Armstrong had done the same for Ullrich in a previous Tour so one could speculate he was only returing the favor. However, most believe it was simply because the cyclist in the peleton have a desire to win not based upon some others misfortune, but to win simply because they are the best.

Riding nestled within the protective shell of US Postal, Lance Armstrong played the last stage of the 2004 Tour de France safely. Going into the final leg of the tour with a large margin over the rest of the peleton, Armstrong found time to pose with the Tour's director, Jean-Marie LeBlanc, with a glass of champagne during the begining moments of the stage. Though the stage win went to rider and former team mate of Armstrong, Tom Boonen, Armstrong won his 6th and record breaking 2004 Tour with a margin of 6 min 19 sec over rival Andreas Kloden, 6 min 40 secs over Ivan Basso and 8 min 50 secs over the man who was said to be Armstrong's strongest competition Jan Ullrich. This has been in comparison Ullrich's worst ride having never finished lower han 2nd in previous tours. With US Postal brandishing special jersey's for the historical event, this will be their last ride. The Discovery Channel will be taking over their funding and one must question if Lance Armstrong will come back in the new team next year to make it 7. With Robbie McEwen winning the Green Jersey for the 2nd time, Richard Vrenque clenching onto the King of the Mountains title yet a 7th time, and LeBlanc announcing his retirement for 2007, the 2004 France will surely not be soon forgotten as so much will change as a result of this one monumental event.

"It's not about the bike." Lance Armstrong

An Intimate Portrait of the Tour de France by Philippe Brunel
Cat by Freya North
Champion: Bicycle Racing in the Age of Miguel Indurian by Sammuel Abt
The Great Bike Race by Geoffrey Nicholson
Le Tour De France Official Guide: Australian Editon 2004

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