The Greatest Cyclists to Never Win the Tour de France

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The yellow jersey, or maillot jaune, is one of the most iconic and revered garments in sport, worn by the rider who leads and then ultimately wins the Tour de France.

Nairo Quintana

Last year, Mathieu van der Poel became the 295th man to don the jersey after winning Stage 2 on the Mur-de-Bretagne but despite his brilliance, his style and physique mean he is unlikely ever to win the race overall.

In a similar vein, it may come as a surprise that Fabian Cancellara wore the yellow jersey for 29 days but never had a chance of winning the Tour. ‘Sparticus’ was known for his aggressive riding but that innate power soon became a weakness in the mountains, where he often found himself off the back of the peloton.

However, there are plenty of riders who have had the attributes to win La Grande Boucle but not quite made it to the top of the podium and here are some of those to have missed out.

Poulidor’s misses only boost his popularity

When a rider is nicknamed ‘The Eternal Second’, you know where things are going.

Raymond Poulidor never won the Tour and is perhaps famous for his rivalry with Jacques Anquetil, who won the Tour five times, and always had the edge.

Their most iconic duel took place in 1964 when the pair pushed each other to their physical limits on the Puy de Dome.

‘Pou-Pou’ would go on to lose by 55 seconds overall that year, one of three second places he recorded, as well as five thirds.

However, as is often the case, Poulidor’s failures only increased his popularity with the French public and even after his death in 2019, he remains somewhat of a sweetheart amongst his compatriots.

TT issues hurt Quintana

Another rider with an iconic nickname is ‘El Condor de los Andes’, Nairo Quintana.

The Colombian burst onto the scene to finish second in 2013, a performance that made it feel inevitable that he would one day win the Tour.

To add to that feeling, he then recorded another second in 2015 and third the following year, claiming the young rider classification in the former two.

In truth, though, he never quite had the consistency to match Chris Froome, who won all three of those editions of La Grande Boucle.

Quintana does have Giro d’Italia in 2014 and Vuelta a Espana in 2016 on his Palmares but failed to build on his early promise at the Tour, with his brilliance in the mountains often counter-balanced by struggles against the clock. Even today, his time-trialling remains his biggest weakness.

The 32-year-old has recorded encouraging finishes at both Paris-Nice and Volta a Catalunya so far this year. However, he will surely struggle to transfer that form to the top step of the podium at the Tour.

On a similar theme, his former Movistar teammate Alejandro Valverde, who finished in the top 10 at the Tour seven times, also deserves an honourable mention. Meanwhile, two-time Giro winner Ivan Basso podiumed twice, finishing behind Lance Armstrong in 2004 and 2005.

Will Roglic ever wear yellow into Paris?

For all the brilliance of the likes of Poulidor and Quintana, there is an argument to suggest the greatest rider never to win the Tour de France is currently in the peloton.

Primoz Roglic may have won the last three editions of the Vuelta a Espana but he is still to wear yellow into Paris, with bad luck always seemingly sneaking around the corner whenever he races in France.

The Slovenian even looked in danger of letting Paris-Nice slip earlier in the spring but held on thanks to a heroic performance by teammate Wout van Aert.

While he crashed out at last year’s Tour, the Team Jumbo-Visma rider’s most infamous Grande Boucle horror show came in 2020. Holding a 57-second lead heading into the penultimate day’s time-trial, Roglic was eclipsed by compatriot Tadej Pogacar.

The 32-year-old was gracious in defeat but visibly shellshocked. Having dominated for much of the race, the TT seemed a formality but he simply couldn’t respond as Pogacar went out hard from the off and built his advantage the longer the stage went on.

Roglic will be back for more in July and having won Olympic gold in the time-trial in Tokyo, a yellow jersey is one of the few things absent from his CV.

The question is, can he stop Pogacar from making it three in a row?

The first choice in any quiz team, Jack is your man for stats, facts and information across a wide range of different sports. As well as a vast knowledge of football, he specialises in cycling, rugby and tennis amongst a number of other sports.
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