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Last Updated: Monday, 28 July, 2003, 12:19 GMT 13:19 UK
All-time Tour of champions
By Alex Trickett


From the two-gear titans of the early years to the daredevil descenders of 2003, the Tour de France has known all manner of heroes during its 100 years.

Five-times winners Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Miguel Indurain and Lance Armstrong loom above all.

But which of these pedal-pushing princes would reign as king in the all-time Tour?

BBC Sport strips each man of his domestiques, takes out the team stage and speculates how they would have got on head-to-head over this year's course.


The Alps

The calm of the flat stages gives way to the serious business of climbing, and Merckx attacks first on the slopes en route to the ski resort of Morzine.

Bernard Hinault
Hinault attacked in the Alps
"The Cannibal" fails to devour his rivals this time, pulling Hinault and Armstrong up the category one climb and opening a slim 20-second gap to the other two, which is soon pulled back on the descent.

Frenchman Hinault cuts loose the next day.

His first surge on the Col du Galibier weakens everyone and a second thrust on the Alpe d'Huez breaks Indurain and Anquetil, who work hard together to limit their losses.

Armstrong hangs on until a steep section 5km out and then - unthinkably - the Texan loses contact with the leading pair.

The poker face of Merckx cracks to reveal his discomfort, but he clings on, before letting Hinault take the stage win.

Section result:
1. Hinault
2. Merckx at 7 secs
3. Armstrong at 1:38
4. Indurain and Anquetil at 2:45.


First time-trial

Stung by their major set-backs on Alpe d'Huez, Indurain and Anquetil ride like men possessed under hot, sunny skies.

"Big Mig" hauls his big frame around the final corner, narrowly avoiding collision with a spectator barrier, to take the win.

Anquetil is only three seconds off his pace, and Merckx shows his all-round ability to take the yellow jersey.

Armstrong's high cadence keeps him close, but Hinault suffers for the first time, losing more than a minute on the stage.

Section result:
1. Indurain
2. Anquetil at 3 secs
3. Merckx at 34 secs
4. Armstrong at 39 secs
5. Hinault at 1:15


The Pyrenees

Each man shows his climbing pedigree, but Hinault ups the stakes on a second day littered with six savage climbs.

Miguel Indurain
Big Mig was helped by Spanish fans
The Frenchman breaks away on the Col de Mente and looks in position to strip Merckx of the yellow jersey.

But the Belgian answers, dragging the others back to within a minute at the end of the stage.

Hinault is made to pay for his long escape on the next day.

He and compatriot Anquetil have a torrid time on the towering Col du Tourmalet.

And Armstrong pips Merckx to Luz Ardiden for the stage win.

Indurain is the star of the day, however, drawing heavily on Spanish support after a sticky patch to fall over the line within sight of the leaders.

Section result:
1. Merckx and Armstrong
3. Hinault at 26 secs
4. Indurain at 63 secs
5. Anquetil at 2:32 secs


Final time-trial

Two days in the mountains have cost Anquetil dear, but he fires a superb parting shot by taking a gutsy stage win.

Eddy Merckx
Merckx: The greatest of them all
With Merckx already clear at the top, however, the major battle is for the podium places.

Fourth-placed Indurain comes out fighting, but Armstrong limits his arrears to only 16 seconds to stay in front of the Spaniard.

So it falls to Hinault - who has a 36-second gap over Armstrong - to protect second spot.

He is 30 seconds adrift at the second check.

But, in typically-dogged fashion, Hinault throws his bike around the final corners to cross the line in the nick of time.

Section result:
1. Anquetil
2. Indurain at 13 secs
3. Armstrong at 29 secs
4. Hinault at 55 secs
5. Merckx at 56 secs


Champs Elysees:

The champagne tastes sweetest for Merckx en route to Paris.

The 1970s icon has held off legends from four other decades to win the all-time Tour.

And, as if that honour was not enough, "The Cannibal" sprints past his disbelieving rivals to win the glory leg on the Champs Elysees as well.

Overall result:
1 Merckx
2 Hinault at 59 secs
3 Armstrong at 1:09
4 Indurain at 2:24
5 Anquetil at 3:43





Links to more Tour de France 2003 stories


 

VOTE RESULTS
Who is the greatest ever Tour de France champion?
Jacques Anquetil
 1.83% 
Eddy Merckx
 39.57% 
Bernard Hinault
 3.71% 
Miguel Indurain
 16.68% 
Lance Armstrong
 38.21% 
26613 Votes Cast
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

TOUR DE FRANCE 2003


STAGE REPORTS
 

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SEE ALSO
Greatest ever Tour de France rider
28 Jul 03  |  Have Your Say
Armstrong eyes history
28 Jul 03  |  Tour de France 2003


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