Tour De France Part V: Top V Iconic Moments

Moments of Great Magnitude And Great Madness

So here is my entirely subjective, completely biassed and in no way scientific account of the Tour’s top five iconic moments. I have shamelessly ignored many of the moments outlined in my earlier posts and gone instead for those moments which stand above and apart from, general race history. What makes these moments iconic is not the greatness they hold in themselves but rather their sheer ability to open up the bigger world that is everything we know and love about the Tour De France. I’m sure you’ll have plenty of opinion on what I’ve missed out so please feel free to leave a comment and let us share in that one Tour moment which keeps inspiring you. 

1. 1956: The Year of The Under Dog 

Thousands of riders have ridden the Tour over many years and never come close to winning, there job was not to win but to enable the victory of others. In the modern sport of competitive cycling potential winners are often identified and named just weeks before the big race and will in any case number only a few realistic candidates. My first choice of iconic moments therefore goes to Roger Walkowiak who in 1956 emerged from the unsuspecting shadows as an attacking force capable of winning the greatest race on earth. For many enthusiasts Walkowiak’s victory is seen as an inconvenient blip in race history, people like Walkowiak shouldn't win the Tour yet for me his victory a great reminder of the Tour’s constant invitation to believe in the unexpected.

2. 1958: The Mountains Are What Seproates Greatness

Known as the ‘Angel of The Mountains’ Charly Gaul did what few riders before him had  done, he broke away in the mountains and maintained sufficient lead to win the race. Winning on the infamous Mount Ventoux and taking the ‘Yellow Jersey’ only a few days later Gaul’s contribution to the Tour was not only to win but to establish a new way of riding in the mountains. ‘Pick a low gear and spin as fast as you can’. Such technique would influence riders for years to come and was evidenced in Ullrich’s notorious climbs against Lance Armstrong in which Ullrich would spin away whilst Armstrong preferred a higher gear and a grinding pace.   

3. 1986: LeMond and Hinault

In 1985 LeMond offered his assistance to team mate Hinault enabling Hinault’s victory of the Tour and establishing an implicit assumption that Hinault would return the favor the following year. Throughout the early stages of the 1986 Tour such signs of expected reciprocity were difficult if not impossible to evidence. Then came the infamous Alp d’Huez a stage known for defining Tour winners. LeMond and Hinault matched each other stroke for stroke around all 21 corners of the almost tortuous climb. If Hinault was enabling LeMond his style of doing so was unique in the extreme, sitting constantly on LeMond’s tale pushing him on. Hinault and LeMond eventually crossed the line arm in arm in what became known as one of the greatest stage finishes in Tour history. Four days later LeMond became the first American to win the Tour de France.

4. 2001: Armstrong and ‘The Look’

Ok, ok, ok I hear your cry that Lance Armstrong should not be anywhere near a list of 'iconic moments' because he is little more than an iconic idiot. Disliking what Armstrong did, or more specifically 'how' he did it, does not however make it possible to magically erase his many contributions to Tour history.  Our current understanding of Armostrong's history simply establishes that what once appeared as victory was in fact nothing of the sort. In any case, I am much less interested in Armstrong's victory (or lack there of), and much more interested in what happened on the route to victory.

In the Alp d’Heuz stage of the 2001 tour Armstrong appeared way back in the Peloton and had the appearance of a beaten if not seriously sick man. Such an appearance, observed by international media and relayed to the ride leaders allowed his competitors to take the lead, set the pace and most importantly to Armstrong burn themselves out. While Armstrong appeared week and floundering he was in fact pushing from the back while taking the entire protection of the leaders pack. Race teams were communicating to the ride leaders the visible observations of Armstrong's condition with absolutely no idea what he had planned. That was Armstrong’s tactical genius. Love him or loathe him it was an iconic moment. Armstrong then chose his opportunity (and here comes the real iconic moment) and in the final climb of the stage set about an unbelievable attack of his, by then exhausted rivals, passing Ullrich and his team with plenty left in the tank. Having passed all other riders Armstrong then turned back and stared at a beleaguered Ullrich for what seemed like an eternity. A moment forever known as ‘the look’.

2012: Wiggins Wins With A Gentleman’s Finish

On the 8th July 2011 Bradley Wiggins participation in the Tour De France ended with a broken collar bone; many suspected this may be the end of his Tour career, but not Wiggins. Wiggins knew there was still much to give. And so after a grueling winter training season and an incredible start to the 2012 race season Wiggins came back to win the 99th Tour De France. Having sealed victory in the individual time trials Wiggins lead Cavendish and then allowed him the honor of a final sprint finish down the Champs Elysees. Cavendish won the stage and Wiggins won the Tour. A day many of us will never forget. 

There’s my top 5 now tell me yours and if you haven’t got any tell us what you’re most looking forward to in this years Tour De France. Your views add to our rich learning. Don’t be shy!! 

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