Greg LeMond awoke in Paris on Sunday, July 23, the final day of the 1989 Tour de France, and wondered what the next 12 hours held in store. The previous evening he had told his soigneur, Otto Jacome, that he thought he could do
We had two and a half weeks to go,” says David Millar, reflecting on the situation he and his team, Garmin- Sharp, found themselves in, just one week into the 2012 Tour. “So we had to pull our heads out of our arses and find a new way of racing.”
It was a stage destined for the history books. But that was the whole point. On the 100th anniversary of the Tour’s first expedition into the Alps, the 18th stage finished at the top of one of the most mythical of mountains, the Col du Galibier.
Climbing the Col du Tourmalet, Mark Cavendish slips out the back of the group. His loyal teammate, Bernhard Eisel, remains at his side and tries to encourage him. “Big effort, Cav, come on, stay with the group.”
Lance Armstrong is angry. “I mean, listen, look. Travis Tygart and his band of haters can say what they want. Those Tours happened. . . . It was an unfortunate time, most of us if not all of us played by the same set of rules. . . . I consider myself the winner of those seven Tours.”
“Anyone who says they can do it naturally is a liar,” says Maertens, meaning racing without drugs.
The biggest winning margin by an individual rider on a stage of the Tour de France? That would be José Luis Viejo, on stage 11 in 1976.
“Every day, including the stage to Plateau de Beille, he was just sitting at the back with his team,” recalls Bobby Julich, the American who was fourth in the Dublin prologue. “This is before race radios, and when you’re going back to talk to the team car there’s Marco sitting at the back, in last position.
Ten minutes later, the electronic gate clicks and whirs and begins to slide open. Instantly recognizable, the cyclist once known as “El Diablo” (the devil) appears behind the wheel of an SUV with a 20-something girl in the passenger seat. He is 50 but looks and dresses about 30 years younger.
There’s a photo of me washing his face at the finish,” says Shelley Verses, “but really I was trying to cover his face, to hide it.”
Herrara, the little bird, is set free. Now he is flying up l’Alpe d’Huez, while Hinault labors, and a little lower down the mountain, Laurent Fignon, in the tricolore of French champion, sets off in pursuit.
It wasn’t that Urs Zimmermann didn’t like his fellow cyclists. It was just that, after two weeks in their company, he felt like he needed a change.
The trouble with Merckx is that there are so many deeds to choose from. The pick for many is 1969 and his Tour de France début, specifically the stage that tackled the “Circle of Death” in the Pyrenees—Col de Peyresourde, Col d’Aspin, Col du Tourmalet, and Col d’Aubisque. Merckx attacked over the top of the Tourmalet, then rode alone for 140 km—about 87 miles—to win in Mourenx. That performance prompted the Tour director, Jacques Goddet, to coin a new word, Merckxissimo.
The trio was over 15 minutes clear of the peloton; now there were only 35 km remaining, just 22 miles, and it was certain that one of them was going to win. Then one of the three, having spoken to his team car, stopped working. He moved to the back. When he moved forward to do his turn on the front, he soft-pedaled. The speed dropped dramatically.
The memory is as vivid as the stain that could be seen darkening the road. It was a damp patch, a small puddle emanating from a stricken rider’s head, expanding on the asphalt as riders sprinted past, rubbernecking at 45 mph to catch a glimpse of the figure on the road. He was lying on his side, curled up in the fetal position.
“It’s bollocks, this race. You’re working like an animal, you don’t have time to piss, you wet your pants; you’re riding in mud like this, you’re slipping. It’s a piece of shit. . . .”
Hinault keeps a wary eye on his former protégé, Laurent Fignon, as the two go head-to-head in the 1984 Tour.