As the 1996 Tour started, it appeared Miguel Indurain was the man who would set a new record of six straight victories.
Riis ended Indurain's domination in 1996
The Tour had even arranged to visit Pamplona, his home town miles across the Spanish border, to pay tribute.
Who could stop him? Swiss Alex Zulle had come second in 1995 with Frenchman Laurent Jalabert also fancied from Banesto's Spanish rivals ONCE.
There was also the French housewives' favourite Richard Virenque, but his time trialling ability for inferior to the rest.
It was left to the Dane Bjarne Rijs to do the deed.
He attacked Indurain repeatedly throughout the Tour, and cracked the Spaniard on an amazing day in the Alps.
It was the end of an era, with Indurain retiring months later with an Olympic gold medal in his pocket - not bad for a poor final season.
Riis was no youthful challenger and his sudden elevation to the top table raised eyebrows.
1996: Bjarne Riis (Den)
1997: Jan Ullrich (Ger)
1998: Marco Pantani (Ita)
1999: Lance Armstrong (USA)
2000: Lance Armstrong (USA)
2001: Lance Armstrong (USA)
2002: Lance Armstrong (USA)
He was helped by a young team-mate from Germany, who finished second in 1996 and then won the Tour in 1997.
Jan Ullrich appeared to have all the attributes of Indurain - a superb time triallist with the ability to stay with his rivals in the mountains.
Ullrich was also just 23 years old in 1997, and the two northern Europeans had each become their country's first Tour winners.
After the English speakers of the 1980s, cycling was spreading to further new audiences.
The 1998 Tour would even begin in Ireland, with a ferry transfer similar to that of 1994 when the UK had been visited.
But this was the year when the race nearly came off the rails, as the mirky world of doping in professional cycling was laid bare for all to see.
Riis' win had been the subject of rumours about the Dane's medical state, and there were plenty of tales about a new wonder drug that boosted ordinary riders to superman levels.
EPO was the substance, and the French police knew all about it when they found some in a team car days before the race.
As the Tour convoy returned to France, the police and media questions became ever more difficult.
Armstrong: Latest Tour master
Top teams were thrown off the race and riders were arrested alongside team bosses and doctors.
The riders' response was one of anger at their treatment - and there were roadside sit-ins and go-slows before Paris was reached by a relieved peloton.
Marco Pantani's victory - the first by an Italian in 33 years - was almost forgotten outside his homeland.
Whatever the rights and wrongs, the brilliant way the little climber thrashed Ullrich in the mountains should not be forgotten.
The following year the Tour returned with "ethics" leading the organisers' revised list of priorities.
There was a more stringent selection procedure and stricter testing was introduced by the world governing body.
But it was the identity of the last Tour winner of the 20th Century that provided many with their greatest hopes for the future.
The American Lance Armstrong did raise French suspicions with his amazing comeback from cancer.
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Erik Zabel is the Indurain of the green jersey - six straight wins
But none of them were proven and the rest of the world celebrated the genuine good news story of the second American Tour winner.
His first success was regarded by some as a fluke, since Ullrich and Pantani were both absent.
But the millennium Tour left no doubt as the best in the world were decisively beaten by the Texan's second straight win.
His strength in the mountains was obvious while his fast-pedalling riding style seemed to hark back to a different age.
Some of Armstrong's time trialling was every bit as efficient as Indurain in his pomp.
The combination left Ullrich with a third second place - and no doubt a desire for revenge as he approached the 2001 event.
Sadly for the German, he once again had to make do with second best to the American rider and worse was to follow a year on when he missed the race amidst drug controversies and injury setbacks.
Joseba Beloki took up the mantle as the number two to Armstrong but to no avail as the Texan romped home once more.
A fifth consecutive win was duly delivered in 2003, and now Armstrong has the chance of sporting immortality by going for an unprecedented sixth Tour win this year.