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The greatest climbers of the Tour de France

Cyclist magazine
2 Jul 2018

As the 2017 Tour de France is almost upon us, we look back at some of the greatest climbers in Tour history

Although time trialling and tactics on windy stages play their part, most Grand Tours are won and lost in the high mountains. Tom Dumoulin may have clinched the pink jersey thanks to his performance on the final stage TT at last year's Giro d'Italia but it was his strength on the climbs that kept him in touch with his rivals and made that win possible, but it was also on the climbs where he couldn't match the eventual winner this year.

As we head towards the Tour de France we know the time trials and flat stages will have some level of influence, but a bad day in the mountains can see a rider tumble out of contention, possibly losing the best part of an hour and seeing their hopes disappear.

Things would have to go pretty wrong for a GC contender to lose a similar amount of time on an individual ride against the clock and still finish the stage.

To celebrate those who best conquered the climbs of the Tour in the past, we've gone into the archives to look at the riders who made the mountains their own.

Fausto Coppi

‘Il Campionissimo’ earned his nickname – ‘champion of champions’ – with five Giro d’Italia wins, two Tour victories, a world title and numerous Classics.

While an all-rounder, it was in the mountains where he excelled. At the Giro in 1949 he attacked 192km out, with five category one climbs ahead of him, and beat nearest rival Gino Bartali by just under 12 minutes.

Charly Gaul

‘The Angel of the Mountains’ won the Giro twice and the Tour once. In the 1958 Tour he won the pivotal 221km Stage 21 in a torrential storm.

He broke away early on the climb, but was so far behind in the GC that the major contenders were unconcerned – until he took the stage by 12 minutes 20 seconds and put 15 minutes into leader Raphael Geminiani.

He went on to win.

Federico Bahamontes

‘The Eagle of Toledo’ remains one of only two cyclists to have been King of the Mountains at all three Grand Tours.

He won the KoM at the Tour six times and the GC once. Despite competing against some of history’s greatest climbers, Bahamontes excelled, securing his 1959 yellow jersey by beating Charly Gaul by a minute and a half on a 12.5km mountain time-trial.

Lucien Van Impe

Between 1971 and 1983 Lucien Van Impe won the King of the Mountains competition at the Tour de France no fewer than six times - a record he shares with Bahamontes.

Like the Spaniard, Van Impe also won the overall classification just once, in 1976, which remains the last time a Belgian won the race. 

Marco Pantani

‘Il Pirata’ may well be the most iconic (and infamous) climber of all time. In 1998 Pantani won both the Giro and the Tour in the same year, a feat only achieved by seven cyclists - and no one since.

His ascent of the Galibier in 1998 saw him attack 48km from the finish to beat race leader Jan Ullrich by nearly nine minutes and claim the yellow jersey.

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