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Wednesday, 28 June, 2000, 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK
Five Tour greats
Eddy Merckx: The greatest rider who ever lived
The stars of the Tour's past 40 years are easy to pick out.

Four men with five wins each, and an American who forged a new era with three victories.

First was the Frenchman who supposedly trained on whisky and cigarettes, then the Belgian nicknamed the Cannibal for his hunger.

After that came another French hero, an American who triumphed in the most dramatic finish of all and a Spaniard who was described as extra-terrestrial for his sheer perfection during the 1990s.

Master Jacques: Jacques Anquetil

  • Winner: 1957, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964
  • 16 stage wins

Until Miguel Indurain's emergence this Frenchman from Rouen in Normandy was the greatest time-triallist in history, winning 12 such tests in the Tour alone.

He was never the best in the hills, but like Indurain 30 years later he had often gained enough minutes against the watch.

But Anquetil did not always follow what Indurain later called "a monk's life" in order to race.

His idea of training? "A few whiskies, blonde cigarettes and a woman," he once suggested with tongue only slightly in cheek.

And over-indulgence at a Tour rest day barbecue in 1964 almost cost him his record win, until revitalising champagne was handed to him on the bike the next day.

Anquetil won his first Tour in 1957, but the next few years were disrupted, partly thanks to disharmony in the French national team.

He used time trials to win in 1961 and 1982, before 1963 saw him set a new record of four wins, and defy the critics with two mountain wins.

Then there was 1964 when barbecued chicken and Raymond Poulidor's superiority in the mountains almost did for him, in a narrow 55-second win.

As with all the subsequent five-times winners, he tried for a sixth in 1966, but injury forced him out of his last Tour.

The Cannibal: Eddy Merckx

  • Winner: 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974
  • 34 stages in seven Tours
The most successful cyclist in history, the Cannibal basically devoured his rivals and never resisted an opportunity to extend an advantage that was already commanding.

Merckx: The Cannibal devours another time trial
That made him unique. Other champions have always needed to call in favours when the going gets tough, and so have allowed lesser men to have their day.

Merckx rarely did so, probably because he did not need to, even if the domination was never arrogant, just merciless.

He won his first Tour in 1969, and every one he entered until 1974.

In 1970 he wore the yellow jersey for every day except one, although 1971 saw a close shave as Luis Oçana crashed out while leading the Cannibal

Merckx sat out 1973 and returned for a final win in 1974 with eight stage wins.

But 1975 saw him finally falter on the road from Nice to Pra-Loup, after he had already overcome a spectator punching him.

Merckx also won the points and mountains classifications in the Tour, as well as almost every event in the sport.

He now makes bicycles while son Axel has the unenviable task of being compared to his father while riding for Mapei, but finished 10th in last year's Tour.

The Badger: Bernard Hinault

  • Winner: 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1985
  • 28 stage wins

Frenchman Bernard Thevenet ended Merckx's reign in 1975, but it was Hinault who was to emulate the Belgian.

The nickname came from his looks - and his attitude.

Hinault in French colours at the World Championships
Coming from the individual area of Brittany, Hinault did not suffer fools gladly.

Like Merckx, he won his Tour debut, before proving his class a year later in 1979, despite a controversial attack by rivals when he punctured.

In 1980 he suffered tendinitis, and he missed 1983 because of the recurring problem.

That allowed Frenchman Laurent Fignon to win, something he repeated in 1984 despite Hinault's return.

But there was to be one last victory for the Badger in 1985, when he was helped by rising team-mate Greg Lemond.

And he then proved that he was still his own man by refusing to honour his vow to return the compliment in 1986.

The American still triumphed that year but Hinault took the mountains jersey and win on Alpe d'Huez in his final Tour.

Not bad for a man who was not a true climber.

L'American: Greg Lemond

  • Winner: 1986, 1989, 1990
  • Five stage wins

The French were not imaginative with their nickname for Lemond, but it did not matter since his real one is almost French for "the world".

Lemond brought cycling into a new era
That global label really sums up his contribution, even if he is the only one of our greats not to win five Tours.

Until Lance Armstrong, Lemond was the only non-European to win the Tour, and he did it with innovations which changed the cycling world.

The first win came in 1986 when the La Vie Claire team split into two factions supporting either Lemond or Hinault.

Lemond won the Tour, as he might have done in 1985 had he not helped the Badger.

The next two years were written off because of a shooting accident while Lemond was out hunting back home.

The American was never quite as good again, but still won two more Tours, including the most dramatic finish of them all in 1989.

His margin over Laurent Fignon was just eight seconds, with Lemond seizing the lead on the last day's rare time trial into the heart of Paris.

He won using an aerodynamic helmet and skin suit plus tri-bars to allow him to cut through the wind.

Fignon and the French reckoned these new straight-ahead handlebars restricted breathing, but everyone uses them now, whether amateur or professional.

Lemond also helped popularise ski-style clipless pedals which replaced the old-fashioned toe clips and straps.

The innovator won one more Tour in 1990, but could not repeat the feat and retired to emulate Merckx with his own bicycle firm.

He now races cars and runs tourist trips to the Tour from the US every July.

Big Mig, El Ray: Miguel Indurain

  • Winner: 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995
  • Five stage wins

This farmer's son from north-east Spain created history by winning five Tours in a row.

Like all others he could not, or perhaps in his case would not, make it six.

Classic Indurain: Eyes down for a fast time trial
Indurain's physique was almost unique, with a resting heartbeat of 29 beats per minute and lungs which could scoop up eight litres of air.

It was against the watch that Indurain destroyed rivals with amazing power, before holding his advantage on the climbs.

Some said it made for boring racing, and it was certainly not as thrilling as seeing Marco Pantani suddenly ride away on the slopes.

Labelled an extra-terrestrial, Indurain was not a charismatic figure and never had a great head-to-head battle for the public to remember.

Yet there was plenty of drama about the way he attacked and beat Lemond in the Pyrenees in 1991, before 1992 saw a time trial in Luxembourg where he tore up a closed motorway to beat everyone by three minutes.

In 1994 Indurain answered the critics by attacking in the Pyrenees when a young Pantani tempted him to follow up a climb.

And 1995 saw roles reversed as the climbers came under attack on a flatter stage into Liege in Belgium.

It seemed the Spaniard was still honing his method despite five straight wins, so it was a massive surprise when he cracked in 1996.

Dane Bjarne Riis attacked on a dramatic day in the Alps, and like Merckx in 1975, Indurain lost three minutes.

It was the end of an era, yet the world was surprised when he retired that year after winning Olympic gold in Atlanta.

The 1996 problems had been caused by poor weather and lack of food rather than ability.

But he shunned a lucrative chance to change teams and the offer of public relations work with his existing employer, to return to the farm and his family.

Now when he watches cycling it is rarely from a VIP enclosure, but alongside fans on the road with his family and a picnic.

See also:

28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
Links to more Tour de France stories are at the foot of the page.


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