It’s the greatest bike race of them all which has produced any number of legendary champions. Here are the five greatest Tour de France champions.
1 Miguel Indurain
They all said Indurain was too big to be a super climber and therefore lacked the all-round skills required to win Le Tour. And boy, did he prove them wrong.
‘Big Mig’ silenced all his doubters in 1991 when he broke overwhelming favourite Greg LeMond on the fearsome Tourmalet, went on to win that year’s Tour, and to prove it was no fluke, duly went on to win the next four as well.
With the feats of drug cheat Lance Armstrong now wiped from the record books, Indurain is the only man to ever win five in a row.
2 Jacques Anquetil
The Tour’s first true super champion, a five-time winner between 1957 and 1964, yet a rider who rarely endeared himself to the French public.
The Norman bragged before the 1961 race that he would wear the yellow jersey after day one’s time trial and not relinquish it – and incredibly was true to his word.
And he featured in one of the legendary battles in the history of the race, wheel to wheel alongside his nemesis, the hugely popular Raymond Poulidor, up the Puy-de-Dome, seeing off his rival and winning his fifth and final Tour.
3 Eddy Merckx
The Belgian, known as The Cannibal, has won more Grand Tours than any other rider (five Tour de Frances, five Giros, five Vueltas) and his 34 stage wins in Le Tour was a record only matched in 2021 by sprint star Mark Cavendish.
Merckx won each of the first five Tours he entered and had he not been infamously punched by a spectator ascending Puy-de-Dome in the 1975 race, many think he would have become the first man to win six.
4 Bernard Hinault
Quite simply, French cycling royalty. Awarded the Legion d’honneur by President Mitterand in 1986, his final year on the road, and one of four five-time winners of the race.
Hinault’s last two Tours were momentous, pipping team-mate and rival Greg LeMond for glory in ’85 before promising to return the favour to the American the following year. He did – but that support was begrudging, except for their famous ascent of L’Alpe d’Huez when, after streaking away from the field, they crossed the line together, arm in arm in a show of unity and friendship. Of sorts!
5 Philippe Thys
The Belgian won the Tour in 1913, 1914 and again six years later and many cycling historians agree that but for the war he would have won the race many more times.
His greatest achievement surely came in 1913 when, on the penultimate stage, he was knocked unconscious after a fall. When he came round he had to find a bike shop to fix a broken fork (no help was allowed back in the day) and saw his lead in the race cut from over an hour to just eight minutes.